KINGS MOUNTAIN -- As this secluded mountaintop community celebrates the 50th anniversary of its beloved art fair, it also marks a sad occasion: the closure of iconic Bella Vista restaurant.
As its name suggested, the restaurant offered some of the most breathtaking views of any eatery in the Bay Area -- if not California. Tucked amid towering redwoods on Skyline Boulevard, the intimate Bella Vista served French and Italian cuisine in a romantically lit dining room overlooking the Peninsula roughly 2,000 feet below.
Co-owner and general manager John Ward talked about his beloved establishment this week for the first time since he shut down the Kings Mountain restaurant on Aug. 10. He says Bella Vista will go up for sale Saturday along with the acre and a half of land on which it sits. He said he hopes to see it continue as a restaurant.
"It was just time," said Ward, 48. "We had accomplished everything that we had hoped to."
Ward's parents and two other families purchased the Bella Vista in 1979 from Bob and Jetty Hogan, who had run the place as a checkered-tablecloth eatery serving fried chicken and other comfort food. The Bella Vista was built as a restaurant in 1927, he said, and went through various incarnations in its early days, from a speak-easy during Prohibition to a brothel and casino.
When Ward's parents and their partners took over, they introduced a new menu and scaled up the service. Bella Vista eventually became a comforting anachronism: an old-world restaurant where waiters in tuxedos performed tableside flambes of steak Diane and oysters Rockefeller. It became a famed destination for San Mateo County residents celebrating special occasions, not to mention tourists, Silicon Valley executives and occasional celebrities.
But after 34 years, Ward said, it was time for a change. He declined to delve too deeply into the reasons for stepping away. Ward acknowledged Bella Vista, like other restaurants, was affected by the recession, but insisted the volume of customers remained strong. Having spent most of his adult life in the restaurant business, Ward said he is looking forward to trying something different.
"There's a beginning, there's a middle, and there's an end," said Ward. "And we had reached the end."
What made the restaurant special was its staff, he said. By the time it closed Bella Vista had six employees besides Ward, two in the dining room and four in the kitchen, who had been there more than 20 years.
"I still consider them my superiors as far as the restaurant business is concerned," said Ward, who came aboard as an apprentice in 1991 and fell in love with the controlled chaos of running a bustling dinner service with a diverse staff. "It was a blend of personalities and different cultures from all over the world. It was magic."
Ward's family, which assumed sole ownership of the Bella Vista about a decade ago, will put information regarding the sale on the restaurant's website (http://bvrestaurant.com) on Saturday, the same day the Kings Mountain Art Fair gets underway.
Eileen Fredrickson, who has lived on Kings Mountain for 33 years, said she's sad to see the business close, but optimistic it will reopen under new ownership.
"We're certainly hoping that the new people will treat it gently," she said.
Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.