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Terun, iTalico bring authentic cuisine, community to California Avenue

Terun%2C+iTalico+bring+authentic+cuisine%2C+community+to+California+Avenue

Maico Campilongo said he always had a dream to open a restaurant in Silicon Valley, and in 2013, with the opening of Terún on California Avenue, that dream came true. iTalico followed in 2016, and now both restaurants –– home to handcrafted meals, warmth and hospitality – help bring the community together.

Both Terún and iTalico are owned by Maico, his brother Franco Campilongo and their close friend, head chef Kristjan D’Angelo, who gained experience through working at his mom’s restaurant in Asti, Italy. 

“We’ve been friends (and) roommates. (D’Angelo) is an important part of our life,” Maico said. “We would say we’re brothers from a different mother.”

Born in southern Italy, Franco and D’Angelo moved to California in 2002 and Maico followed three years later. Maico said their journey was no easy feat. 

“I spoke no English at all when I came here 18 years ago,” Maico said. “My first job was at Cafe Venetia on University Avenue. I worked with a guy that used to go to Stanford University for business, and this guy showed me some tech ideas about filtering pictures.”

Unbeknownst to Maico, this coworker was Kevin Systrom, who later co-founded Instagram. Maico continued to work with Kevin for the next two months. 

“He gave me the first impression of the magic of Silicon Valley,” Maico said. “You wash dishes one day, and then if you have a good idea, something can happen.”

That “something” materialized months later when the three co-owners, now with newly found perspectives of Silicon Valley and its opportunities, decided to open a pizza restaurant.

“(Since) we had no money to open the restaurant, we asked for some help from some friends, so basically (Terún and iTalico) are startups,” Maico said. “We were so scared when we opened because (California Ave.) was dead. During dinner time, offices were closed, and it was mostly a lunch time destination because of all the tech companies.”

The owners created their menu by taking inspiration from growing up close to Naples, Italy. Maico also said his mom helped shape his view on authentic Italian cuisine. 

“I grew up with a home mom. She made any kind of food but specifically Italian,” Maico said. “So I grew up with a sense of taste and food. Before I cook the pasta I make sure there’s salt in the water. I make sure I use good quality products because it involves my body and my health. I make sure I use good tomatoes. I don’t want to burn the garlic. All that attention.”

Sophomore and Maico’s stepson Logan Sweat said his favorite dish in iTalico is Trofie, a rustichella pasta crafted with fresh homemade pesto, octopus, oven roasted potatoes and Grana Padano, a cheese originating from northern Italy. 

Despite the good food and reputation, Maico said his team faced many hurdles during the pandemic. However, with quick problem solving, Maico said the restaurants were able to optimize their operations and continue through the pandemic.

“During the pandemic, things were terrible,” Maico said. “We were starting to lose parties and business, but we stayed together. We started to sell wine and were selling tomatoes so we were like a grocery store. And that gave us cash flow, and we made it through.”

Maico also said the restaurants’ survival through the pandemic can be attributed to the local community.

“It was amazing how during the pandemic, people were very supportive,” Maico said. “(People) would come and ask ‘Can I buy something?’ or ‘How can I help you?’”

After persevering through the pandemic, Maico said the team has seen a steady success in their operations due to their teamwork. 

“There’s no way a restaurant can be successful with one person,” Maico said. “It’s an aspect that’s very important in any kind of business. We have different skills – Kristjan is the kitchen operator, (Franco) is the CEO and the one that looks at the numbers, and I’m the front man covering the social aspects.” 

Maico said close teamwork led these restaurants to their success. According to the Food Network, Terún is “top 7 of America’s most authentic neapolitan-style pizzerias.” And less than a block away sits their more upscale restaurant iTalico, recognized as a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant, an award highlighting restaurants with exceptionally good food at moderate prices.

The restaurants are also well known for their hospitality and warmth. Maico said he likes to socialize with customers, and it makes him happy to give back to customers.

“50% of our customers are regulars,” Maico said. “I even see people coming five days a week.”

Sweat said while he’s at the restaurants over the weekend, he watches people create countless friendships and memories. 

“When I’m there, I see a lot of people getting along and conversing with each other, and these can either be people who know each other or people who don’t,” Sweat said. “They become really good friends, and I think it’s just a good atmosphere for everybody.”

To upkeep this ambiance, the owners said they prioritize creating a community. Maico said he appreciates the city’s decision to keep California Avenue closed.

“I’m very happy that the community of Palo Alto expressed the pleasure of keeping (California Ave.) closed,” Maico said. “Now, we get to move forward to create something else for everybody in the community to have a promenade. (A promenade) is something I grew up with, and every little town in Italy has a stretch where you can go walk, get your gelato, get your food, go buy shoes and everything. And I hope California Avenue will be like that.”

In addition to the restaurants, Maico, a passionate cyclist, said the owners bring the community closer together through the Terún cycling team. 

“We’re ready to communicate with cyclists. We have our Terún team (in the Bay Area) and in Italy, “ Maico said. “We try to support every cyclist team in the Bay Area so we’re very connected.”

Maico also brings people closer together through music, even sometimes playing guitar at his restaurants. He recalled one night when a grandmother and her two grandchildren came to Terún to celebrate her 102nd birthday. 

He sang her “Can’t Help Falling in Love,” a song she used to dance to with her husband.

“She started to cry because she was so happy,” Maico said. “For the lady, I could bring her a big cake or whatever, but being there for five minutes, singing for her, made her day.” 

Maico, Franco and D’Angelo hope to continue to spread their hospitality and food in San Carlos, with a third new restaurant, Impasto. Maico said there’s so much more to their restaurants than just authentic Italian food. 

“When you come here, come to feed your soul,” Maico said. “Don’t go to a restaurant just to eat the food: live the experience and meet new people.”

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Luca Vostrejs, Staff Writer
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    Maico CampilongoDec 25, 2023 at 8:41 pm

    Honored thank you.
    Maico

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