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Gerard Guidice on building community

Thursday, November 1st, 2012 | Posted by

Gerard Giudice , co-owner of Sally Tomatoes in Sonoma Mountain Village. (Jeff Kan Lee / PD)

By NICOLE ZIMMERMAN / Rohnert Park Correspondent

Gerard Giudice believes that if you live your passion and you love deeply, you’ll leave behind a legacy.

The 50-year-old co-owner of Sally Tomatoes isn’t just talking about running a successful catering business. Although he and his partner, Bill Pettibone, have increased their revenue each year despite the economic downturn, the legacy Giudice refers to is community-building.

Giudice, who served on the board of the Cotati Chamber of Commerce for six years, currently holds a seat on the Rohnert Park Planning Commission. He’s involved with the Active 20/30 Club and just accepted a post as incoming president of the Rotary Club.

And that’s all in his spare time.

“I’ve stepped back a little bit,” he says of his recent resignation from the boards of Sonoma County Adult and Youth Development (SCAYD) and the Jewish Community Free Clinic.

Guidice works a minimum of 60 hours a week making Sally Tomatoes, located in Sonoma Mountain Village, a top destination. Catering banquets, community events and corporate conferences in a space that holds up to 600 people is what makes the business profitable.

Helping nonprofits fundraise by offering a private room to set up an auction and an all-you-can-eat buffet is how Sally Tomatoes runs its public relations.

“We provide the location, the food and the format,” says Giudice. “My job is to introduce as many people to others as I can, and then sit back and watch the process of human engagement.”

Giudice wasn’t always this devoted to his community. For the first six or so years that he lived in Rohnert Park, it was just a place he returned to sleep after work in Marin. It wasn’t until opening Sally Tomatoes in October 2005 that he developed a vested interest in the region and its residents.

“That really changed my perspective, big time,” he says.

After thirty years in the restaurant business always working for someone else, including Guy Fiere–Sonoma County’s celebrity chef–Giudice had decided it was time to run his own show.

“I knew if I didn’t try to start my own business I was never going to do it.”

Collaborating with Pettibone, Giudice knew they were taking a big financial risk to make payments on what was then a 600-square foot deli on the Cotati strip.

He calls Pettibone, 49, a perfect partner. “We’ve been together for 20 years, for as long as I’ve been married!”

For two years it was just the two of them at the deli. They made the food, went on deliveries and washed all the dishes by hand in a three-compartment sink.

“It was a leap of faith, but I was happy,” says Giudice. “I started doing what I like to do, which is network and talk to people. Pretty soon we had steady clients.”

When they stumbled across the massive space at Sonoma Mountain Village—a sustainable, mixed-use community—it was boarded up and in disrepair. Brad Baker, CEO of Codding Enterprises and owner of the site, wanted a food and beverage kiosk for its employees.

So the duo agreed to remodel the Event Center‘s banquet rooms—including a boardroom and plaza room—and the café, where they sell 50-60 lunches a day. They purchased a liquor license for the adjacent bar.

Gradually, as their profits increase, they add services, all of it run by solar power.

Although he says he’s driven toward financial success, it’s philanthropy, especially for seniors and children, that seems most important to Giudice.

Next up at Sally Tomatoes is their annual Thanksgiving offering. They’ll donate and hand-deliver 120 turkey dinners to residents at The Children’s Village and to COTS families in Rohnert Park.

Giudice talks a lot about improving the quality of life for the people who live here.

“Rohnert Park has been treated like the cousin you keep under the staircase and don’t want to talk about. But there’s an incredible community spirit that exists here. This is my town.”

Join Sally Tomatoes and Old Redwood Brewing Company for a Brewer’s Dinner at 6 p.m. Friday, Nov. 2. The menu, paired with four brews, includes wild mushrooms, smoked duck, braised pork tenderloin and stout-infused tira misu. $60 per person. RSVP 665-9472 or info@sallytomatoes.com

Order your ready-to-warm-and-serve Thanksgiving dinner from Sally Tomatoes. Pick-up is on-site Wednesday, Nov. 21, or until noon Thursday, Nov. 22.

Sally Tomatoes cafe, bar and Events Center is located at Sonoma Mountain Village, 1100 Valley House Dr. in Rohnert Park. Visit sallytomatoes.com for more events and information.

Writer Spotlight

Nick Walden is our Rohnert Park + Cotati correspondent.
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