Buona Forchetta founder debuts his first nonprofit eatery

Matteo in South Park is Buona Forchetta founder Matteo Cattaneo's latest restaurant and the first to be set up as a nonprofit, with profits going to local educational projects.
(Lori Weisberg/The San Diego Union-Tribune)

New South Park cafe, which occupies former Rebecca’s coffee house, will donate profits to projects benefiting local schools and youth


Matteo Cattaneo, founder of the rapidly growing family of Buona Forchetta restaurants, has debuted his first nonprofit eatery, a fast casual spot in South Park serving all-day breakfast with an Italian flair.

The eponymous restaurant — Matteo — will be donating all of its profits to charitable causes benefiting schools and young students in more underprivileged areas. Within just three weeks of its soft opening this month, Matteo has already contributed $9,000 in profits to McKinley Elementary School to help finance a new audio system and upgrades to the auditorium and its media center. Cattaneo supplemented the donation with $10,000 of his own money.

The 2,800-square-foot restaurant at Juniper and 30th streets occupies the former home of Rebecca’s coffee house, which closed in late 2017 because of an eviction that followed a longstanding dispute over a sizable rent hike. While Matteo is initially serving only breakfast and lunch, Cattaneo said he plans to expand to dinner service sometime before the start of summer, a move that he expects will help raise even more money for education-based charitable projects.

Matteo marks the second nonprofit restaurant to open in San Diego County in recent years. In 2017, the Cohn Restaurant Group debuted Tacos Libertad in Hillcrest, which each month donates profits to a different charitable cause. Late last year, the Cohn group reported that it had donated over $100,000 to 29 charities in the more than two years it had been open. Its commitment from the start was to donate a minimum $3,000 a month.

Cattaneo said he hopes that by the end of the year, the already busy South Park cafe will have made enough money to donate as much as $160,000 to a total of four education-related efforts. He already has identified a second project that will benefit Chavista Cesar Chavez Service Clubs, a longstanding local organization that creates leadership experiences for young students and is active in many of the schools. In future years, Cattaneo is hoping the restaurant will help fund up to four or five charitable efforts a year.

“We try to keep the costs very low,” Cattaneo said of his efforts to maximize profits. “We have good deals with our producers to help us with our margins, and for this restaurant, I am not taking a salary. I’m really happy and even though we opened very quietly, we are always very busy, and the neighbors are very supportive.”

An official grand opening has been scheduled for Saturday, March 7.

Cattaneo, who is close to opening his fourth Buona Forchetta location — in Coronado — said he spent roughly $100,000 on transforming the former Rebecca’s into the light-filled cafe and market, which sells pastas, sauces, olives and other Italian imports. Joanne Sherif, who closed her Cardamom Café in North Park last year, has teamed with Buona Forchetta pizzaiolo Luca Zamboni on the venue’s wide variety of baked goods. Sherif, the restaurant’s general manager, specializes in the breakfast pastries, while Zamboni, originally from Rome, handles the fresh-baked breads, focaccia and pizzas.

Menu items include a variety of breakfast pizzas, frittatas, pancakes and French toast specialties like tiramisu brioche, and salads, as well as more hearty offerings such as short rib hash.

The idea for a nonprofit eatery took root in 2018 following a financial contribution Cattaneo made to McKinley’s annual arts program and show. He hungered to do more for the schools and decided a nonprofit restaurant was the best vehicle for raising money. School officials advised him to work with individual school foundations to determine their greatest needs and formulate a specific plan for funding them.

“I wanted to go on with this kind of program at McKinley because I saw how good it was for the kids and how proud they were of what they were doing,” Cattaneo said. “ So we wondered how could we do that and decided, restaurant are something I know how to do and how to be successful, so why don’t we do something like that. And when Rebecca’s space came up, we decided we wanted to keep it in the community, for all the residents, and when we have a project we want to do, we have a place for doing that.

“Our focus is more for educational programs for kids, not just for art, but for language, theater, computer sciences, wherever we can help. We try to help schools that really need it, not a rich school. There are some schools where the kids don’t even get breakfast before they go to school.”

Even as Cattaneo works to upgrade Matteo to dinner service, he is poised to open three more restaurants this year, including two in March. Garage Buona Forchetta, one of Cattaneo’s more ambitious endeavors, will open inside the historic 1904 El Cordova Garage building on C Avenue in downtown Coronado. The 4,100-square-foot restaurant will have an open kitchen, large chef’s table and a full bar, plus a 1,200-square-foot market selling imported Italian pastas, meats and cheeses as well as Buona Forchetta sauces and gelato.

Also opening next month is Gelati & Peccati, a small pizza stand in North Park specializing in pizza al taglio (Roman-style pies by the slice) and gelato. Carbón, a BBQ-centric restaurant in South Park, will likely open sometime this summer.