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Original Joe’s Westlake and Duggan family merge old with new in grand reopening

John Duggan ’59 and his daughter, Elena, shortly before the February opening of Original Joe’s Westlake. Standing in the background is executive chef Sergio Santiago.

You would have thought the Pope was coming to town the way people buzzed with anticipation about the opening of Original Joe’s Westlake, now housed in the former Westlake Joe’s, which fed countless SI families over the years.

“One day at the Olympic Club, I counted 28 people who asked me when we were opening,” said John Duggan ’59. “The chatter never stopped.”

The restaurant did open in late February thanks to John’s daughter, Elena Duggan Jackson, and his son, John Duggan ’92. Word quickly got out, and now the lines are long beginning at 11 a.m. for folks eager to see how the Duggans married the menu from Original Joe’s on Union Street with the old favorites from Westlake Joe’s.

“You’ll still find steak a la Bruno and the famous house-made raviolis with the meat sauce that everyone remembers,” said the senior Duggan. “We wanted customers coming here to walk in and not think that we stole their memories, despite all the upgrades and changes. When they walk in here, they’ll find their memories are here too.”

Customers will find some of their favorite decor, including the two paintings of Seattle Slew, the glass grapes and the Sputnik-inspired chandelier. One fireplace is original as are the counter stools and the bar. Even more essential, the restaurant still offers free parking for 122 cars, a rare thing anywhere near San Francisco.

“Everything else is new, as we brought the interior down to the studs,” said Duggan. “Even the exterior paint is slightly different, as we used International Orange, the same color used on the Golden Gate Bridge.”

The restaurant has more light thanks to new windows and more open space with fewer walls. All facilities have been upgraded from stem to stern, including the kitchen equipment and the bathrooms. Two large banquet rooms can be combined into a space that seats 125, where event organizers will have access to LCD projectors.

The restaurant will also include a wall featuring local celebrities from SI, Our Lady of Mercy, Mercy High School and two local public high schools — Jefferson and Westmoor.

“My brother and I both thought long and hard about what we wanted to change,” added Elena. “We walked a fine line, as this was a place of celebrations and of gatherings that followed funerals.”

They also added new items to the menu that distinguish Westlake Joe’s from Original Joe’s, including a variety of salads and sandwiches.

From the start, the food at Original Joe’s had its roots in Italy, “but we truly are the epitome of the Slow Food movement,” said Elena, who decides what goes on the menu. “We broke down and used every part of the cow, pig and lamb, which is why we had tripe and osso bucco on our menu in the old days. Now we have them on request for special parties. We were doing Slow Food before Slow Food was cool. We also use as many organic ingredients as we can, including olive oil, which makes our menu more relevant for a younger crowd.”

Her family also uses wine made by many SI grads, including Joe Toboni ’70, Tom Leonardini ’59, Tony Leonardini ’97, Paul Giusto ’90, John Cleary ’75, Tom Cleary ’79 and Rennick Harris ’59.

Elena worked her magic previously after a 2007 fire gutted Original Joe’s Taylor Street location. In 2012, after the family moved its restaurant to North Beach on Union Street across from Washington Square Park, she contemporized the menu with a variety of seafood and salads.

The relationship among the various restaurants in the area bearing the name of Joe can be a bit confusing. With two partners, Tony “Ante” Rodin opened the first Original Joe’s on Taylor Street in San Francisco in 1937. He was later joined by Lou Rocca. When the elder Duggan married Ante’s daughter, Marie, he become an integral part of the business and purchased Rocca’s shares in 1984.

In 1939, Rodin, Bruno Scatena, the Della Santina brothers and a few others opened Original Joe’s #2 on Chestnut Street. As there were so many partners, Rodin remained there only a short time and left after an agreement regarding the use of the name.

In the early 1950s, the Della Santinas branched off to open Marin Joes, and Lou Rocca’s son Louis Jr. opened Original Joe’s in San Jose in 1956.

Around 1955, developer Henry Doelger approached Scatena with an offer he hoped Bruno couldn’t refuse — to open another branch of Joe’s in Doelger’s newly built Westlake development. Doelger even built a restaurant hoping he would come. Scatena asked Rodin to join him in this venture, but Rodin declined given his hours at Original Joe’s on Taylor Street.

Scatena, however, took the chance and opened Joe’s of Westlake. He leased the restaurant for the first decade before buying it. “Rodin always admired his courage and vision to make Joe’s of Westlake the success it became,” said Marie Duggan.

After Scatena passed away, his daughter, Melinda Scatena, took over the restaurant and ran it with the help of Hal Bobrow. When both experienced failing health, they agreed to sell the property to the Duggan family, with whom they had a shared history. Joe’s of Westlake served its last meals on Jan. 26, 2015.

Last February, Melinda returned to the restaurant along with Marie, the two matriarchs of two of the most popular restaurants in the Bay Area. They walked into a lobby that drew its inspiration from Daly City’s City Hall, which is decked out with terrazzo flooring and with redwood, “something Doelger would have used if he were around to remodel the restaurant,” said Elena.

The irony, she added, “is that my family ate at Westlake Joe’s more than we did at our own restaurant, as we lived near St. Stephen’s.”

As much as the restaurant has been and will continue to be a hotspot for SI families, the Duggans have reached out to local synagogues and schools to ensure that everyone feels at home as soon as they walk through the glass doors. “We try to be as community oriented as we can be both here and on Union Street, where we’re a home for tourists as well as locals. Here in Daly City, there are 13 Catholic schools within a 15-minute drive of Westlake, and we hope they call us home too.”

To ensure the success of their new venture, the Duggans had chefs Sergio Santiago, Jason Korwin and Brenda Mora work in the Westlake restaurant, as well as Julio De La Rossa, the genius behind Westlake Joe’s raviolis. SI grads also work at the new location, including managers Francesca Flaherty ’05 and Tracey McDonnell Celebrado ’00 and bartender Tom Golden ’93.

The restaurant had two soft openings, including a wedding reception for Elena after her marriage to Matt Jackson. The restaurant opened again for the confirmation party for Siobhan Linehan, the daughter of the late Dan Linehan ’83.

“I knew Dan since he was a student at St. Gabriel’s,” said Duggan. “He was a pillar there as well as at SI and USF. I adored him. I coached his daughter’s basketball team. I even spoke with him shortly before he went to the hospital. I know Dan would have wanted his daughter’s party to be here. I’m glad we were ready when the time came.” 

Posted by Mr. Paul J. Totah on Friday April, 15, 2016

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