On any given day in Playa del Rey, Cantalini’s Salerno Beach is filled with people celebrating milestones, holding business meetings and catching up with friends and family over glasses of wine and plates of Fettuccine Alfredo and Spaghetti Bolognese, but on Sunday, January 4, the restaurant will be celebrating its own special occasion with its fifteenth anniversary.
“It has been a pretty wild ride. I have learned so much and met some amazing people,” said Cantalini’s owner Lisa Schwab. “I am so grateful to the many regulars who have supported us and become our friends. We have shared so many memories together: proposals, graduations, weddings, births and even deaths. There are lots of treasured moments that have woven a beautiful fabric over the years.”
The restaurant has come a long way in fifteen years. The location originally housed another restaurant, Giovanni’s Salerno Beach, which opened in the 1960s. Schwab remembers its owner, Giovanni Cimino, as a colorful personality, often breaking out into an operatic song during dinner service and keeping Christmas decorations up year-round. When she purchased the restaurant from him in 2000, she promised to uphold his standard of high quality authentic Italian food and she added Cantalini’s to its name in honor of her grandmother Anna Cantalini. Today the holiday decorations are gone, replaced with walls and shelves full of family pictures and photographs of stars from years gone by from her mother’s days as a hatcheck girl at a Hollywood hot spot.
It’s no surprise that Schwab renamed the restaurant in honor of her grandmother, because anyone who knows her knows she takes the idea of family very seriously. After all, it’s the recipes that were handed down by her grandmother that are used every day in the restaurant to make dishes like raviolis and gnocchi. While most of the menu is influenced by her grandparents’ hometown of Abruzzi, Italy, specialties from across the country are available.
“I was fortunate to grow up with my grandparents and our menu is a reflection of the very best in homemade Italian cuisine. Some families have large volumes of recipes, carefully recorded and ready to hand down for generations, but my grandmother made sure I had them in my soul…how the dough should feel when kneading it, the color and fragrance of herbs and spices, the importance of fresh vegetables and to vent the lid on the sauce pot,” said Schwab. “Everyone in my family has had a little something special to contribute and I am grateful to all who have shared with me over the years, especially those who are no longer with us.”
If her grandma’s legacy lives on through food served, Schwab keeps her grandfather’s memory alive through the restaurants laid back atmosphere and live music every Sunday. Schwab fondly remembers her grandfather’s love of music every time she sees his accordion, which she proudly displays at the restaurant.
“Music, joy, family, food and honest, heartfelt love dished out one meal at a time, that is what I have tried to create at Cantalini’s,” said Schwab. “Cooking is such a passion of mine. There is nothing more rewarding or loving than feeding people. It’s a wonderful way to spend your time.”
While Cantalini’s is a dream fulfilled for Schwab who always wanted her own restaurant, she is also passionate about giving back to the community who supports her. Schwab is an active member of groups like the Elks Lodge and the Playa Venice Sunrise Rotary Club and supports numerous local nonprofits with donations and silent auction items. Her generosity has earned her countless accolades, including the Howard B. Drollinger Achievement Award in 2011.
Schwab is profoundly aware that she couldn’t have built a successful restaurant alone. She is honored by the dedication of her staff and the loyalty of her customers, who come back week after week, month after month and year after year.
“All of this wouldn’t be possible without the Cantalini’s family, most of whom have been with me since the beginning. I am grateful for their dedication,” said Schwab. “I love what we have been able to create here and I love what I do. It’s great that the community supports us and we can support the community. I am truly blessed to be a part of such an amazing neighborhood.”
The community is invited to help celebrate the restaurant’s anniversary on Sunday, January 4 from 12 to 3 p.m. The restaurant will be holding an open house with free food, drinks and live music.
“Our customers, employees and community mean so much to us. It seems like only yesterday that we opened the restaurant,” said Schwab. “I can’t believe it’s been fifteen years. I hope everyone can come out and celebrate with us.”
Cantalini’s Salerno Beach is located at 193 Culver Blvd. in Playa del Rey.
Posted January 2015.