Follow-Up File: Giancarlo’s Ristorante: very classy

Name: Giancarlo Cucumo

Job: Owner

Business: Giancarlo’s Ristorante Mediterraneo

What he said then:

A few months after Giancarlo Cucumo opened his newest restaurant in Morro Bay during December 2008, The Tribune highlighted its exhibition kitchen.

“This is my sixth restaurant,” the chef said of Giancarlo’s Ristorante Mediterraneo. From 2003 to 2005, he owned Giancarlo’s Bay Front Bistro on the Embarcadero.

In designing the larger uptown space on Morro Bay Boulevard, Cucumo recalled the favorite feature of his first restaurant. Opened 20 years earlier in San Francisco’s North Beach, it had an open kitchen where diners could chat with the chefs.

“They were the best seats in the house,” he said. “It’s like watching a cooking show.”

What he says now:

For the past month, Cucumo has been hosting an actual cooking show to promote Giancarlo’s Ristorante Mediterraneo. It appears on Charter cable channel 25 Saturday nights at 11.

Early next year, he plans to add cooking classes.

“It’s part of building the reputation of the restaurant,” the chef said. “Customers come in and say, ‘Hey, I saw you on TV last night.’ It really works.”

In his present location, wintertime is busy season. This is when peak tourism subsides in the town and locals, Cucumo’s target customers, resume their dining-out habits.

In the summer, he said about half his business came from European travelers, especially French and German, looking for familiar fare over fish and chips.

“They used to tell people you have to be on the Embarcadero to make it,” Cucumo said. “’Location, location, location’ — sometimes it’s not.”

The frequency of visits from regulars in recent years is down from the “boom times” when his bistro was open, he’s noticed. Then customers might reappear three times a week.

“In 2008, people were going, ‘Don’t open a restaurant now,’ but we took a chance,” he said. “You have to work with the locals. That’s what keeps your door open all year.”

The restaurant’s payroll has fluctuated between 15 and 24 employees. It now has 22 part-timers, he said, mostly long-term, family-oriented folks.

While sales in 2009 were “really bad,” he’s encouraged that in recent months he’s seeing the average spending for wine with meals creeping up a bit.

After five months of waiting, he expects to receive a liquor license to add a martini bar with fresh juices and happy-hour specials.

“With a liquor license, now we are a complete restaurant,” Cucumo said. “It’s very classy.”

— ­Raven J. Railey