Ferguson remembers taking naps as a young girl in the booths of the landmark local Italian restaurant in downtown Mill Valley, while Petrone vividly recalls his dad sitting he and his brother down at a dining table with a big stack of napkins and "we would fold like 100 of them for ice cream money," he says with a laugh.
Petrone and Ferguson are the children of Paolo Petrone and Domenico Petrone, respectively, the brothers who opened Piazza D'Angelo in 1981, drawing inspiration from their hometown of Decollatura in Calabria, the “toe” of the Italian peninsula. The Petrones built Piazza D'Angelo's in a local institution, pairing with nearby La Ginestra to make Mill Valley a destination that could boast some of the best Italian food in the North Bay.
Over the past three decades, the Petrones have expanded their business to include an array of hotels and restaurants, including the Acqua Hotel and the Mill Valley Inn here in Mill Valley, as well as the Waters Edge Hotel in Tiburon. Their Piazza Hospitality firm built the Hotel Healdsburg and Pizzando restaurant in Healdsburg, and developed and debuted the h2hotel and Spoonbar restaurant, also in Healdsburg.
While they were doing all that, their children taking their respective paths into the business world. Petrone, who began working at Piazza D'Angelo at the age of 15, got his degree in hospitality management form San Francisco State University and worked with his father in hotel development afterward. He returned to the restaurant in 2007 as an assistant manager, working with his uncle and longtime GM Natale Cardamone.
But then she took a creative detour, going back to school to get a degree in merchandise marketing. Serendipitously, she met fellow Mill Valley resident Margaret O'Leary at Piazza D'Angelo, and took her up on a job offer at the company's corporate headquarters in San Francisco. She worked in a variety of roles at the company, eventually becoming the director of retail operations.
In August 2016, when Cardamone and Paolo Petrone got the opportunity to take over the operations at the Cooperage House restaurant in Lafayette, Luigi Petrone was left running Piazza D'Angelo solo. It was at that moment that Ferguson decided to leave the fashion world and return home. She became the co-manager in September, and the family is in the midst of transferring stock ownership to Petrone and Ferguson.
The pair are thrilled at the opportunity to continue the traditions their fathers have built, and to expand upon them. They've consulted with some interior designers on a few minor changes to the natural light-soaked dining room, they've redesigned the restaurant's website and are much more fully engaged on social media than in the past.
"Mill Valley is changing with so many new families and people coming up from the city," Ferguson says. "But we don't want to shock anyone – this place has done so well for so long for a reason. So any changes will be moderate and over time. To change all at once would be a bad idea. This will remain an upscale trattoria for simple Italian food with fresh ingredients and crafted Italian dishes that reflect our Calabrian roots and down-to-earth personality."
"We're lucky to have built such a community presence here and to have our fathers to have built such strong relationships here in town," Ferguson says. "We hope to continue to do the same for another 35 years, at least, and we've been lucky to have the support of our families as we make this transition."
"Every time we need any advice, they're right there for us," adds Petrone. "There's 35 years of institutional knowledge to draw on."
The 411: Piazza D'Angelo is at 22 Miller Avenue. The restaurant will be serving food on the Downtown Plaza for the the the 36th Annual Mill Valley Wine, Beer and Gourmet Food Tasting on June 4. MORE INFO & RESERVATIONS.