Salute E Vita, a popular Italian restaurant in Richmond, Calif., will close on July 7 after 25 years.

KCBS Radio

Beloved Restaurant That Fed Homeless Prepares To Close In Richmond

July 05, 2018 - 11:02 pm

By Carrie Hodousek

An iconic Italian restaurant in Richmond, that has fed thousands of needy and paying customers alike, is preparing to shut its doors after 25 years.

Salute E Vita Ristorante, which sits along the Richmond Marina Bay, will close Friday, because of rising rent, the restaurant owner said. 

“It’s not easy,” said owner Menbere Aklilu. "A lot of customers have a lot of memories here. So many hungry people that came here and then they left happy.”

To celebrate Aklilu’s birthday and the restaurant's history, diners got free meals on Thursday.

Yousseff Barns, of Richmond, has eaten at Salute E Vita for more than a decade.

“We always come here for anniversaries, birthdays. Any special time of celebration, this is the first place we think of,” Barns told KCBS Radio.

Mary Heim, another frequent diner, said she enjoys the friendly atmosphere.

“It’s beautiful and elegant. I feel like I’m really well-taken care of here,” she said.

The restaurant has served as a beacon for thousands of low-income families and homeless individuals.

“I open my door for the homeless to give them the best experience. It’s not about food. It’s about experience. We serve them with love and dignity,” Aklilu said.

Aklilu, an Ethiopian immigrant who was once homeless herself, has provided over 30,000 meals through charitable events and has donated more than $80,000 to charitable organizations by her count. 

Her restaurant, she said, welcomes all people.

“This is home to everyone. It doesn’t matter who you are — black, white, gay, straight — it doesn’t matter," Aklilu said. "The door must be open."

She started her career at Salute E Vita as a hostess 23 years ago. After several promotions, she became manager. When the previous owners decided to sell the restaurant, a customer encouraged Aklilu to buy it and even offered to loan her the money. She took him up on the offer and has owned the eatery since 2003.

Salute E Vita faced closure in 2016 when Aklilu got hit with an order to vacate within 30 days. An outcry from loyal customers followed and the eviction was rescinded. Problems with the landlord continued to simmer.

“It’s sad. It shouldn’t be this way. Let’s put it that way,” Aklilu said.

She said she plans to reopen the restaurant at a new location in Point Richmond.

Donations poured in on Thursday for staff members set to lose their jobs.

“So I said 'Come everybody. Eat free. Instead of paying me, pay for the workers. Give all the money to them,’” Aklilu said.