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Frugatti’s to expand to brand-new location in 2023

Wallace & Smith Team

Working with contractor Wallace and Smith, the new Frugatti’s will be double the size but most of that space will be devoted to the kitchen, which will have two wood-fire ovens and a separate prep kitchen for the catering side of the business. 

There’s a chain slogan out there about customers being family but Ralph Fruguglietti really practices it at Frugatti’s, which he has run since 1990.

So when he was ready to announce the popular Italian restaurant’s plan to move to a brand-new location by next fall, he made sure to start with some of those close to the business.

“We made the announcement to all the employees last week, told neighbors (in the shopping center) and hotels,” he said, noting a lot of business comes from them. “They’re family.”

Luckily for customers, this move, slated for next September, should be relatively painless since the new standalone restaurant will only be a block north at Coffee and Brimhall roads.

“We didn’t want to move too far away from where we were,” he said. “We waited to find land that we could purchase to do what we wanted to do.”

The location is adjacent to land slated for, respectively, the Bakersfield Commons multi-use project and a hospital from Adventist Health Bakersfield.

Fruguglietti said he has been happy to call the current shopping center home for more than three decades but the shutdown in 2020 got him thinking bigger.

“During COVID, we started doing a lot more takeout. When we reopened our dining room, it took over and our kitchen was having a tough time keeping up with both.

“We realized we should do something to be better set up for the type of volume that we’re doing.”

Working with contractor Wallace and Smith, the new Frugatti’s will be double the size but most of that space will be devoted to the kitchen, which will have two wood-fire ovens and a separate prep kitchen for the catering side of the business. 

Seating will expand by about a third, Fruguglietti said, with the dining room seating 190, 100 more on the expanded patio and increased seating in the private wine cave. The larger Vespa bar, with an actual scooter on display, will serve as a focal point of the restaurant.

A separate area for takeout customers, complete with its own entrance, will be another new feature.

The look will be “Italian farmhouse,” with tall ceilings and wrought-iron gates in front of the portico in the waiting area.

“We want the sights, the sounds, the smells of Southern Italy,” Fruguglietti said.

“It will have a definite look and feel of being in Italy. Even along the main driveway there will be olive trees and Italian cypresses.”

Along with family, the restaurateur leaned on longtime friend and fellow business owner Skip Slayton of Jake’s Tex-Mex to fine-tune the concept.

“He’s another great talent in the restaurant business. Between us, we’ve got over 70 years of restaurant experience.”

“We’ve been friends for so long, taken trips together. We took classes at UCLA, restaurant classes. We’ve gone to different states, visited 40 to 50 restaurants to get ideas and develop concepts.

“This being a big project, because we’re literally starting from scratch, he’s been a big, big help. … He’s not the architect but he’s helping create a vision.”

One thing that won’t change is the menu. Although Frugulietti usually does a slight menu update (replacing up to 10 under-performing dishes with something new) each year, there won’t be any major adjustments.

“I wouldn’t change success. … People come to us for a reason and we wouldn’t change it.”

That includes the pastries now made by Fruglietti’s daughter Theresa. Her gluten-free Oreo cheesecake has been popular, and the menu also includes truffles and seasonal cheesecakes including pumpkin and peppermint.

“I’m very proud of her as only a dad can be. A daughter steps in and says, ‘I want to make our family desserts.’ She has improved it. She has done a great job.”

That paternal pride also extends to daughter Katina, who serves as office manager, and son Anthony, who has been working at Frugatti’s since he was 16 and now oversees all catering.

“They’re all involved and I love it,” Fruguglietti said. “From a dad standpoint, it doesn’t get any better.”

Even his wife, Anne, who created the restaurant’s beloved creamy garlic dressing, serves as a sounding board for Fruguglietti.

He also considers longtime employees part of the restaurant’s family, which he expects to grow from 70 workers to 100 at the new location.

Although people in the past have told him he should franchise his brand, Fruglietti is excited to simply expand the restaurant he has built with loved ones.

“I’d rather put our money into building a bigger and better Frugatti’s than spreading myself too thin.”

“It’s pretty neat to be able to do this with your entire family.”

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