When you hear a restaurant has been successfully operating for 30 years, you want to learn more about their “keys to success.” But when you learn they source most of their vegetables, produce and herbs from their own property, have ventured into their own estate-grown wine business, put on large-scale events catering to hundreds of people at one time, and maintain happy employees – some of whom have been with the company for 25+ years, you REALLY want to learn more.
The passionate and extremely hard working owners of Boccali’s Pizza & Pasta, DeWayne and Marilyn Boccali, along with their kids Joe, Nick and Marde, have been serving the Ojai Valley with authentic “Original Ojai Italian” food since 1986.
Stemming from his strong Italian roots, DeWayne saw the need for an authentic Italian eatery in the Ojai Valley. A local to the area, he started Boccali’s original location (there is now a second in nearby Oak View, operated by his daughter, Marde) on the corner of highway 150 and Reeves Road. Not only did DeWayne know this prime location would provide access to commuters passing through town, but it’s also located on a nice piece of land, full of towering trees and lush landscape – the perfect “retreat” for locals alike.
A “frontiersman” of sorts, DeWayne and his family began using their large estate to grow their own tomatoes for their famous tomato salad, lemons for their fresh-squeezed lemonade, onions, bell peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and herbs (just to name a few) for their various menu offerings, including their homemade pasta sauce. Currently, the Boccali’s are the largest grower of citrus in the Upper Ojai Valley.
With 50 years of farming business under his belt, DeWayne insists sourcing his “legitimate” farm-to-table menu offerings is not an easy task. “Our customers truly appreciate the direct-sourcing we offer them from our own ranch. We truly do it on such a large scale for our customers,” DeWayne says. Growing your own garden is a big deal. As soon as it gets warm, people think you can grow tomatoes in Ojai, but it’s only a summertime thing. We have to be efficient and mindful in rotating our crops in and out throughout the entire year.”
One of their most popular menu items is their homemade strawberry shortcake. A recipe from DeWayne’s mother, he began offering it 25 years ago as a Valentine’s Day special (after all, Ventura County is the strawberry capital of the world). Although he doesn’t grow his own strawberries on the property, his talented team makes everything from scratch – down to the whipped cream. In the fall, they offer a scrumptious apple cobbler sourced from Granny Smith apples from their ranch.
Boccali’s honest, homemade approach to cooking truly brings their customers back for more. “We are consistent – consistent with our food, consistent with our staff, consistent with our service,” he says. “When a repeat customer walks through the door, they know what to expect, and when a new customer experiences us for the first time, chances are they’ll return again. After all, that’s what it’s all about!”
In order to keep up with growing trends and accommodate customers with specific allergies or eating habits, Boccali’s now serves a myriad of gluten-free items, including gluten-free pasta purchased through Jordano’s. They also offer numerous vegan options served with hearty vegetable sauces.
In 2004, DeWayne and his oldest son, Joe, decided to take a leap of faith and grow their own wine grapes for the restaurant. Ironically enough, there was an old winery on their ranch that had been dilapidated over the years – in fact, DeWayne’s grandfather used to buy wine grapes from the property before it was theirs.
With many naysayers telling them they couldn’t pull it off, this determined father-son team went to work, first planting Syrah grapes – which produced! With that success behind their belt, Joe went on to produce estate-grown Grenache Blanc, Cabernet, Zinfandel, and most recently a Rose Syrah just 4.5 miles down from their flagship restaurant. Not only is their wine served at both restaurant locations, but it’s now available in local stores and other establishments around the county.
Turning to those elaborate aforementioned events, the Boccali’s are known to have a good time. What started as a small barbecue to do something “special” for their customers has turned into two very large-scale events – their annual Tomato Festival in the summertime and their Pumpkin Patch in the fall. With music running through the veins of the Boccali family – DeWayne was a member of the popular Ojai Valley Boys back in the day and his son, Nick, is a drummer for the local band Blue Latitude – these events are a fun way to entertain and bond with their patrons. “This industry is truly all about relationships,” DeWayne says. “Happy customers equals a successful operation, and we’re so thankful for our ongoing success.”
And, a huge part of their ongoing success stems from their strong, long-term relationship with Jordano’s and their Account Executive, Corey Young. “I’ve known Corey for decades. Not only is he a great businessman, but he has become a part of the Boccali family. He’s attentive to our needs and always delivers top-notch customer service,” says DeWayne. “The best thing about working with Jordano’s is they’re always there. And if something is wrong, they fix it. Our three-times-per-week deliveries are always on time and delivered with a smile. We’re truly lucky to have Jordano’s and Corey to lean on.”
One thing’s for sure, Boccali’s is a local success story that will be around for years to come. DeWayne adds with a laugh, “With six grandsons in our family, hopefully our legacy will continue and they’ll take over the business one day. One day!”
For more information about Boccali’s, visit www.boccalis.com.