“It takes a Greek to have a great Italian restaurant,” was the well-known saying of Cristos “Chris” Stavros, founder, along with his wife Jeannette, of Primavera Ristorante, celebrating 30 years in Coronado next month. Before it was an Italian restaurant, it was The Secret Harbor Bar, which they bought in 1975. The Secret Harbor was known as a Navy hangout with a pool table, Pac-Man game, drinks, and snacks heated up in a toaster oven, complete with a rustic nautical theme.
One day, Chris came home and told Jeannette that there was a need for fine dining in Coronado and he wanted to completely change up the bar. She was skeptical and asked him who would cook and run things. He said that he had a chef in mind named Luigi. To humor him, she asked him to invite Luigi to cook Mother’s Day dinner in their home for the entire family. They discovered that not only was Luigi a phenomenal chef, but he had an electric personality, so the plan for Primavera was put in motion with both Chris and Jeanette hands-on helping with developing the menu and selecting the decor. They had to be creative with only a 25-foot-wide space, and they were able to achieve a polished intimate dining experience. They also have the upstairs Tuscany Room, which seats 14 to 20 people at a large main table, with a small outdoor patio. It is a great venue to host birthdays, anniversaries or small corporate events.
In June 1989, the transformation was complete and Primavera opened and has been going strong ever since. Chris’ original vision is still evident in the restaurant today with a home-like ambiance where diners enjoy upscale cuisine. He and the other employees specialized in remembering generations of patrons’ names and helping them celebrate birthday and anniversaries. “My dad always wanted customers to leave saying ‘Wow! I had a great experience.’ We are known to spoil our customers with accommodating a variety of special requests, like you would do in a family,” comments daughter Denise Stavros.
Working and dining at Primavera is like being part of the Stavros family, as evidenced by the many long-time loyal customers and waiters. Everyone who comes through the door is treated like family, whether it be Oprah, who made a surprise visit, or a local resident. Guests often asked to be seated in their favorite waiter’s section. Long-time employees include Juan, Paul, Omar, Jaime, Mario, and Nacho. Chefs are given the autonomy of creating the daily specials. “We tell them this is your time to shine; if your recipe gets rave reviews then it will be put on the menu.” Some of the original recipes are still on the menu, but many variations and new dishes have been added through the years. “Dad always took time to joke with customers and wanted to hear their stories. He never met a person he couldn’t talk to. Primavera is our family’s pride and joy and I am pleased to be able to carry on the tradition my mom and dad started,” comments Denise. The 24 employees are all considered part of the family.
Chris and Jeanette were not trained chefs, but had a love of good food, with Italian cuisine one of their favorites. When asked if they cook Italian food at home, Jeannette laughed and said they make traditional Greek dishes because of their heritage. She said they didn’t open a Greek restaurant because 30 years ago Italian fare was considered more fine dining than Greek.
After serving in the army during World War II in the South Pacific, Chris always had his fingers in many businesses. He owned and ran The Corner Malt in Ocean Beach and then purchased Chris’ Liquors. He created the first full deli in a liquor store in the area, modeled after ones he had seen in San Francisco. He bought the best equipment and sliced all his home cooked deli meats fresh on the spot. Jeannette got called into action making all the salads from scratch. She remembers buying 100-pound sacks of potatoes. “It seemed like I was always peeling potatoes for potato salad,” she remembers. She also made macaroni salad, coleslaw and variety of other items. After they sold Chris’ Liquors, Chris moved into learning the other side of the business and became a liquor salesman. Jeanette said, “Chris was good at listening to people and went with his gut in all his business ventures. He didn’t do a lot of research and always felt it would work out.”
They previously owned The Bottle Shop, which is now High Tide Bottle Shop and Kitchen, until they sold it in 1975 when they bought The Secret Harbor. They also purchased Anderson Bakery and ran it as Primavera Pastry Cafe for 11 years, which they sold and is now Villa Nueva Bakery Cafe. Denise remembers that she and her three brothers worked in various jobs in the businesses from the time they were young teenagers and learned a strong work ethic from their parents.
The Stavros family is ingrained in the history of Coronado. It seems they know everyone, even though they have never lived here. Jeanette still lives in their original family home in Pt. Loma which they purchased in 1963. Chris and Jeanette were married for 60 years and Jeanette says, “Our secret was always making time for each other and never forgetting to say, ‘I love you.’” Chris passed away five years ago at the age of 90, of course celebrating his last birthday at Primavera. At that point, Jeanette talked to Denise to see if she would be willing to take over Primavera.
Three years ago, they gave the restaurant a face lift with new paint, lights and upholstery, and it feels cozy and welcoming as you enter and are seated at one of the cozy booths or tables. The waiters no longer wear formal tuxedos but exude class in bistro aprons and ties.
Primavera has garnered many accolades through the years including “Best Italian Restaurant” in San Diego county by Channel 8’s Unknown Eater, multiple years of TripAdvisor Certificates of Excellence, “Best Italian Fare” by Coronado Lifestyle Magazine, and a 4.5 out of five stars for food on Zagat.com. Their diners’ favorite menu highlights are the veal piccata entree and grilled artichoke appetizer. Signature dishes include osso bucco and fresh fish specials. They pride themselves on their homemade Tiramisu. For nine years they were open for lunch, but now offer dinner seven nights a week, from 5pm to 9pm Sunday through Thursday, and from 5pm to 10pm on Friday and Saturday, with Happy Hour from 5pm to 7pm Monday through Friday. Don’t forget to check out Date Night Thursday specials.
My husband Flavio and I recently enjoyed a Friday evening dinner at Primavera and are looking forward to going back to try some of the other amazing sounding dishes. Our waiter Paul was very attentive and we started off with the Insalata Caprese, which is one of our “go to” dishes in Italian dining. We were not disappointed with the freshness of the tomatoes and creamy mozzarella. Flavio had high praise for the authentic marinara sauce in his Pollo Parmigiana con Melanzane and the kitchen graciously substituted alfredo sauce on my Tortellini Verdi which was divine with enough to take home for later.
Primavera will be celebrating National Cheese Day where guests can feast on the signature ‘tavola per salumeria’ cheese board, which includes assorted imported cheeses, and Italian cured meats, dried fruits, nuts, homemade jam and toasted crostini, paired with two glasses of either house white or red wine for $38. The regular menu will also be available.
Cin Cin! 30th Anniversary Celebration, June 25, 2019
A 30th anniversary five-course dinner will be offered on Tuesday, June 25, which will benefit 22KILL, a nonprofit organization that raises awareness and combats suicide by empowering veterans, first responders and their families through traditional and non-traditional therapies. The celebratory evening will start with a glass of Prosecco, followed by the choice between Crostini Bagna Cauda or Calamari Luciana. The second course includes a choice from two salads: Insalata alla Gorgonzola or Insalata Caprese. Risotto ala punta di Asparagi and Tagliatelle Adriatico are offered as options for the third course.
Entrée options include the choice between Scampi Primavera, Pollo Campagnola, Vitello Scaloppini al Marsala, or Filetto al Pepe Verde. Dinner will conclude with the option of homemade tiramisu, lemon berry ricotta cake, or cannoli.
The anniversary menu is $85 per person. A portion of the evening’s proceeds will be donated to 22KILL. The organization first garnered national attention with its social media campaign, the 22 Pushup Challenge, which encouraged participants film themselves doing 22 pushups to highlight the statistic that on average 22 veterans commit suicide every day. The campaign hits close to home for the Stavros family; in addition to being long-time members of the military community, Denise lost her son Gregory to suicide in 2018.
Seating is limited and reservations are available by calling 619-435-0454. More information about the anniversary dinner and the complete menu are available at www.primavera1st.com.