When Michael and Janet Verlander rented the shoebox-sized storefront at 1522 North Main Street in Walnut Creek in May of 1977, they had no idea that 38 years later, it would have become the East Bay’s premier wine and food destination. It started as a deli with a cheese counter, a hot plate and a few racks of wine. But these were dynamic times, and Michael, driven by a passion for wine, quickly forged close relationships with some of California’s newest and best names in the wine business. Duckhorn, Silver Oak, Kistler and Au Bon Climat, for example, all sold their first vintages at Walnut Creek Wine & Cheese. Michael still tells of talking Dan Duckhorn out of 14 cases of his first vintage of Three Palms Merlot and selling it for the princely sum of $14 per bottle!
Everything changed when the Verlanders, while taking a rare vacation in Italy in the late eighties, had an epiphany while dining at Ristorante Belvedere atop La Morra hill in Barolo. They were so taken by it all that they decided to import their Piemontese experience to Walnut Creek. Walnut Creek Wine & Cheese became successively Prima Café, Prima Trattoria e Negozio di Vini, and finally PRIMA. With the change came expansion. The shoebox doubled in size with the addition of what is now the Caminetto fireplace dining room.
When I started at PRIMA as Wine Director in the spring of 1994, what is now our wood-burning oven and Enoteca dining room was a sushi bar, and the space now occupied by PRIMA Vini, our wine shop, was another restaurant. Things grew quickly as both the restaurant and wine store’s reputation spread. Then in 1999, the Verlanders recruited Chef Peter Chastain to run the kitchen, further cementing the restaurant’s place as one of the East Bay’stop wining and dining destinations.
Chef Peter and I purchased PRIMA from the Verlanders in 2005, and have since made it our mission to not only preserve the original Italian sensibility that drove the business’ metamorphosis, but to enhance it, making subtle refinements to the menu, the appearance of the dining space, and to a wine list that now numbers over 1300 selections, with a particular focus on the Italian wine that best suit our cuisine.
These days PRIMA is hitting on all cylinders. Under the guidance of Chef Peter’s unwavering focus on only the best organic seasonal ingredients, PRIMA has elevated the dining experience to one of the best in the Bay Area; while PRIMA Vini, with its friendly, professional and experienced staff, is known not only as Walnut Creek’s most respected source for the world’s rarest and most exciting wines, but also as an internet retailer of national repute
We hope you’ll experience PRIMA’s Italian sensibility with us soon.
John Rittmaster Owner/Wine Director