Buona Forchetta expanding again — to former Rebecca’s in South Park


Buona Forchetta is expanding yet again but this time is staying relatively close to its original South Park home, with plans to open an all-day cafe in the now closed Rebecca’s coffee house.

In a departure, though, from other Buona Forchetta ventures, the new cafe will donate all profits to San Diego city schools and possibly other community beneficiaries, says owner Matteo Cattaneo.

Rebecca’s, a South Park mainstay for 25 years known for its house-made scones and strawberry jam, was evicted from its longtime home at Juniper and Fern streets late last year after a dispute over a significant rent hike.

Cattaneo said he had been looking for a space that had the right community feel to house his new nonprofit concept, and Rebecca’s seemed ideal, he said.

“Rebecca’s was not just a coffee shop but a gathering place for the community,” he said. “We want this to be a place for everybody and keep it like a mom and pop thing. We weren’t in a super rush because there is always a lot going on with us right now, but you take it or lose it. It’s a part of South Park, and there’s a soul to that building.”

Buona Forchetta has been operating its pizzeria in South Park since 2013. Last year it opened Officine Buona Forchetta in Liberty Station with a partner and will soon be selling its pizzas at Petco Park during baseball season.

In the next couple of weeks it will be opening a wine bar and grocery on the same block as its South Park restaurant (it is awaiting approval of its license to sell wine) and in April plans to debut a second Buona Forchetta in Encinitas. The North County location was originally supposed to open by late last year.

Still far off are plans to transform a 70-year-old building near Coronado’s main thoroughfare into another Buona Forchetta. That will not open until at least 2019.

Cattaneo said he plans to spend around $100,000 on fixing up the former 2,800-square-foot Rebecca’s space, with much of the investment going into upgrading the kitchen.

He also will be spending more than $9,000 a month on rent — more, he says, than what he pays at Liberty Station and about three times the rent that Rebecca’s owner, Rebecca Zearing, had been paying.

Still, Cattaneo said he is confident that even with the high rent, the new venture will generate enough business to eventually donate $5,000 to $10,000 a month, after expenses, to local schools.

He is in the early stages of talking to the San Diego Unified School District about his plan and where best to use the restaurant’s profits within the school system.

“We want to focus on schools that really need our help,” Cattaneo explained. “We want to focus on what they really need, but they know better than I. We also are looking at different kinds of projects for the community like maybe a vegetable garden to bring healthy food to people who cannot access that.”

Cattaneo is not the first in San Diego to launch a nonprofit restaurant. Last year the Cohn Restaurant Group opened Libertad Tacos a la Brasas in Hillcrest and each month is donating its profits to a different charity, from the Balboa Park Conservancy to Mama’s Kitchen.

The Cohn group guarantees a minimum of $3,000 each month to individual charities and hopes to donate more once Libertad becomes profitable, after taking into account the $250,000 investment to develop the restaurant, plus other expenses.

There is no name yet for Cattaneo’s new concept but part of the idea is to offer breakfast and cafe-style food all day long, plus Italian baked goods, from ciabatta and breads made from ancient grains to cannoli. Pizza by the slice will also be sold, as will be produce and house-made sauces and take-away food.

Cattaneo said he is bringing in a baker from Rome for the new cafe.

Ideally, Cattaneo would like to revive Rebecca’s beloved scones in his new restaurant and he has reached out to her to see if she has any interest. Zearing, contacted Monday, said she hasn’t responded to Cattaneo and could not comment on whether she might be amenable to his offer.


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Twitter: @loriweisberg