This fact will not come as a surprise to Tutto’s cadre of devoted customers, as the restaurant at 246 East Blithedale Avenue has been in long-term limbo for more than three years since the 29,565-square-foot lot on which it sits was bought by San Francisco-based WorldCo., with plans to redevelop its 71-year-old buildings. WorldCo. intends to begin construction on the project in February, and the building in which Tutto is located will be razed as part of the redevelopment. It is unlikely that Tutto will have a space in the new development, as you’ll learn below.
The elongated foreshadowing of Tutto’s closure hasn’t dimmed the sentiment of his customers. “Tony is the real deal both as a human being and also as maker of genuine and authentic pizzas that are delicious,” wrote Michael Banks on a Nextdoor thread that included dozens of comments. “Tony exemplifies much of the best of ‘small town life’ – friendliness, kindness, generosity and a genuine care about his customers,” added TC Rikert.
Tutto, who had a decades-long career in the music industry under his pre-pizza given name as the manager for the likes of Carlos Santana and Narada Michael Walden and jumps at the chance to talk music with his customers as he makes their pizzas, is in the midst of figuring out his next move, but he’s adamant that there will be a next chapter for Tony Tutto Pizza, noting that 2016 was his best year ever and that each year has been better than the last.
“I’m actively looking for a new space,” Tutto says. “I just love making pizzas for this community. “It’s been a lovefest. I’ll miss the sea of smiles from our customers. I’ve been holding out all this time because I love Mill Valley so much. All I’ve wanted to do is stay here.”
Tutto adds specific thoughts for his customers of the young and four-legged varieties: “To the children, if you look closely enough, the twinkle in our eyes are really little shining pizzas!” he says. “And to the legions of dogs that have been to Tony Tutto Pizza, I am very sorry you won’t be getting any more pizza crusts or the chance to lick cheese off my fingers.”
The long run-up to Tutto’s closure is complicated.
WorldCo. first took its redevelopment plans to the Mill Valley Planning Commission for a study session – an informal opportunity for a property owner to get feedback on a proposal without a specific approval or rejection of those plans – in November 2013. Then and again at a subsequent study session in March 2014, commissioners told WorldCo. officials that its proposal for two restaurants on the property was too intensive in terms of parking and noise given its proximity to a residential neighborhood.
WorldCo. revised the proposal to include three retail spaces and one restaurant, and after two public hearings, was approved by the Commission in May 2016. WorldCo. Principal Alvin Chan says the project’s evolution was driven by input from the community and the Planning Commission, but also from outside forces.
In September 2014, after struggling financially for several years, longtime local print shop and stationery store Mill Valley Services closed its doors at 250 East Blithedale, with owner Dave Semling saying at the time that the business “was just too far under water.” Mill Valley Services’ closure in the nearly 4,500-square-foot space changed WorldCo.’s plans, as did the June 2015 decision by Summerhouse owner Robert Adams to move out of 6,000-square-foot adjacent warehouse and relocate across the parking lot to the space at 238 East Blithedale that was vacated by Cabana Home.
“When we first bought the property, we had every intention of keeping all three tenants in the project,” Chan says. “But that wasn’t meant to be.”
When WorldCo. learned that it could only get approval for one restaurant space, Chan says he counseled Tutto that he would have to go with the best offer available, and that he should work with a broker to identify other available spaces for his restaurant. Boo Koo owner Matt Holmes, also a principal at commercial real estate firm Retail West, has been helping Tutto to look at other spaces and in his negotiations with WorldCo.
Chan declined to comment specifically on what kept Tony Tutto Pizza from being the restaurant in the new project, saying that he’s held out hope that Tutto could be a part of the project if he were able to convince the City to let them include a second restaurant space.
“If there was a push to have a second restaurant space, we would work at it together,” Chan says. “And with his help, maybe it has a chance. There would only be a second restaurant if it is Tony.”
Such a request would trigger a new public hearing process for the project. With his impending closure to accommodate the construction regardless of the new development’s future, and after three years in limbo with the property owner, Tutto is ready to move on.
“I’m excited because I know we’re relocating somewhere else – just not sure where yet,” he adds. “Our website will be updated as we get more info, and you can submit your email address there to receive updates.”
“We’ve had an amazing run here, and I’ll appreciate that more after Sunday. I can’t thank all of our friends and customers enough for being a part of the community we created here. It’s been an absolute joy. I just really hope I can find a way to stay in Mill Valley.”