Stockton Record Cover Article
Published Saturday, November 12, 2005

"Warehouse filling up on eateries"

A new upscale restaurant that mixes jazz music, white table linens,
regional fine wines and eclectic American cuisine with an Italian influence
is cranking up the action in an old restaurant haunt on downtown's waterfront.

La Spiaggia (pronounced: luh SPA-zhee-uh) is the brainchild and creation
of a couple of couples who wanted to invest in an exciting challenge at what
they see as a prime spot on the Stockton Deep Water Channel.

The waterfront's north shore is bustling with construction activity at a nearly
completed sports and entertainment arena. On the south shore, La Spiaggia has
opened in a space where, symbolically, there should have been revolving doors.

Two restaurants -- the Fish Market and the Bella Vista Italian Restaurant --
have come and gone within the past few years at the west end of the
Waterfront Warehouse, 445 W. Weber Ave.

And now, the location looks great, with so much improvement going on in
downtown Stockton, from the recent renovation of the old Hotel Stockton
and the opening of a minor-league baseball park to the impending opening
of the arena across the water, said Donna Gendjar, general manager and
one of four co-owners of La Spiaggia (Italian for "the beach").

"We want to be a part of it all, because it's so exciting," she said.

Opened just last month, the restaurant is already attracting steady customers
as well as first-time walk-ins, she said. Even on Veterans Day, with most downtown
workers off for the holiday, the tables were nearly full at lunchtime, for example."

Plus, the restaurant has already booked six banquets.

Gendjar said the restaurant, with a staff of 25, already is pretty much breaking even, although this is due in no small part to the fact that she isn't getting a paycheck.

The owners anticipate that the place will be making money within a couple of years,
she said, as word of mouth builds and as the arena, where events will be staged
120 days per year, draws crowds of up to 10,000 people per event.

"I'll take 150 of them any time," she said. The four -- Donna and Kurt Gendjar of
Stockton, and Kathy and Jamie Marshall, who live in rural south SJ County -- opened
the restaurant with cash investments, because they wanted an interesting challenge
with financial rewards... Their shared vision, from menu to music, is eclectic.

There's a varied cuisine that ranges from an open-face Dungeness crab cake melt
with avocado -- "We sell more of those than Cokes," Donna Gendjar said -- to
Sicilian-style halibut rubbed with coriander, sea salt and lemon, served over risotto.
There's a long, sturdy bar, complete with a big rack holding fine regional
wines, and mellow jazz music is piped throughout the restaurant.

A Thanksgiving Day buffet with live jazz is set. A regular Sunday buffet with live jazz
will be coming soon. Live jazz on Friday and Saturday nights also will begin soon.
Perhaps there will be a comedy night -- G-rated fare only --
once per week at some future point.

"Jazz is great mood music," Gendjar said. "It's about creating a place where
grown-ups can go and have a great time. We wanted something sexy and upscale.
I know it's going to be a great place. It feels like we were meant to be here."

A top-flight chef, she said, was imported from, of all places, tiny Bar Harbor, Maine,
where he had met Donna's daughter Rebecca, working there for the summer.
Another chef specializes in pastry. Everything is made fresh,
nothing out of jars, Gendjar said.

"I hope it stays," said Sunny Vasisht, a longtime Stockton resident dining at
La Spiaggia for the first time Friday with friend Jamie Pollard. "Stockton needs
something like this big time." They both pronounced their lunch fare
delicious and a good deal.

Stockton Record
Reporter Bruce Spence

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