For many residents of Pacific Grove, Joe Rombi’s restaurant is missed. Rombi worked in the restaurant business for the last 50 years, most recently at La Piccola Casa, which he opened in 2005. Rombi closed the doors of the pizza and pasta place in June, and has no regrets: “I haven’t made a dime in the last three months, and I’ve never been happier.”
Weekly: What made you decide to close?
Rombi: It was time. I’ve been doing this since I was 14. I started with my grandparents at Rappa’s [now Big Fish Grill on Fisherman’s Wharf], then I opened Old Rowe in 1977. I loved La Piccola Casa and I miss my customers, but it was time.
Is it more difficult to run a small business now?
Yes, it’s harder now than it’s ever been. The costs have gone up. A once $85 health permit is now nearly $1,000 for the same thing. Plus, food costs are a lot more expensive. Mom-and-pop businesses just can’t afford it. I predict more small restaurants will head to self-serve to survive, which means they will also be impersonal.
Does social media help or hurt restaurants?
It definitely has helped. But for me, I’m old-school, and I didn’t want to reinvent myself just for more social media attention.
What’s your favorite thing to cook?
Pasta. The type depends on my mood. Honestly, I miss my own cooking. I used to eat here at the restaurant six days a week. Now when I am in the mood for spinach and meat ravioli, I go next door to La Mia Cucina.
Is it OK to put pineapple on pizza?
I do not care what anyone puts on their pizza, as long as it makes them happy. All types of pizza are great. There is no right or wrong – even in Italy.