The restaurant space at 1329 Gilman St. has been dark for two years, ever since 35-year-old Cal-Med institution Lalime’s closed for good. That will change this fall, however, when an East Bay resident and his partner (with an assist from a wildly popular L.A. chef) will open a new spot in the place, a pizza restaurant he promises will have “an ambiance like you’ve never seen before.”
Brandon Wilson lives in Temescal, right on its border with Berkeley, but has been a longtime observer of the Westbrae scene. “It’s a great neighborhood, a great community,” he said, “and it’s eight minutes from my house.” He’s worked in dining and hospitality all over the country, from Chicago to New York to Denver. Most recently, he was at Restoration Hardware, on the opening team for the furniture brand’s glittery rooftop bar and restaurant at the Corte Madera mall.
That’s where Wilson met Josh Sizemore, a veteran of the retail and beverage game. The RH restaurant is the “only Marin spot that’s worth a shit,” Sizemore said, in a growl not dissimilar to the one Bradley Cooper donned in A Star is Born. Sizemore had been pondering a Bay Area restaurant project with a big-name SoCal chef (more on him in a minute) but hadn’t found the right partner yet.
“I have many different businesses and many different partners, all are the best at what they do,” Sizemore said. And when he met Wilson, “I realized Brandon is that guy when it comes to hospitality and dining.” They decided to open a pizza spot somewhere in the Bay Area and give it a confident, memorable name: “three.one four…a swanky pizza lounge.” (The first part is the mathematical constant Pi, but spelled out — and the last bit is presumably meant to let you know what you’re in for when you take a seat in the place.)
It didn’t take long before they settled on the former Lalime’s, signing a lease with building owner/local real estate investor Ito Ripsteen, who told me last summer that he was searching for a restaurant “that will honor the legacy of Lalime’s.” “We met Ito and pitched him our deck,” Wilson said, describing the partners’ meeting with their prospective landlord. “We fell in love with the space, and he fell in love with the concept.”
Ah, yes, the concept. It’s a word that’s overused by restaurant industry insiders (no, your restaurant is not a “fried chicken concept,” it’s a restaurant that serves fried chicken! And that is fine!), but in Wilson’s case, it’s genuine and intentional. “I want to have the friendliest staff in the Bay Area,” he said. “I am going to make sure that people feel at home immediately, like they’re in their living room.”
“This will be … family owned and operated,” Wilson told me in a later text exchange. He’ll act as the general manager, and Sizemore’s wife, Brooke, will be the restaurant’s assistant GM. “My wife Brigid will be bartending a few nights a week,” as well, Wilson said, “and our children Zaria and Giannis will grow up there.”
That said, the renderings that I viewed show a design plan for three.one four…a swanky pizza lounge that rivals many living rooms in the region — think rich greens and golds, an epic chandelier and a moodily-lit bar that will serve bottled beer, wine, and “whiskey from a list that we only present when people ask for it,” Wilson said. Every detail is intended to make the spot a “date night destination, really really sexy,” he said, “but with a captivating, subtle, unassuming feel.”
If that sounds vague and hard to visualize to you, join the club. But Wilson just laughed when I expressed confusion. “That’s because we’re bringing a totally new idea to the Bay Area, one you can’t get anywhere else,” he said. “Once you come in and try it, and you experience the warm, generous hospitality, you’ll get it.”
Let’s take Wilson’s promise on faith for now (he’s a very compelling speaker), and move on to the pizza. Sizemore assured me that three.one four…a swanky pizza lounge will serve “hands down, the best pizza in the Bay, and probably the top five in the U.S.” Big news, if true! The man behind that pizza is Mario Vollera, a name familiar to Southern California pie fans as the Roman chef behind South End, a Venice Beach pizza and wine spot that’s a regular on L.A.-area “best pizza” lists.
Vollera fell ill and couldn’t speak with me before publication, but based on South End’s website, his specialty is “rustic pies, crisp-tender sourdough-style pizzas with a lot of Italian cheeses, local ingredients and seasonal products.” According to Wilson, three.one four…a swanky pizza lounge’s pies will be made in a double-decker gas oven, and are unlike the offerings at any other Bay Area pizzeria. Sizemore had to look to New York for a comparison, saying Vallera’s signature pies have “a crust that’s a mix of Lucali,” a legendary Brooklyn restaurant known for its thin and chewy crust, “and John’s of Bleeker,” a nearly 100-year-old brick oven pizza joint in Manhattan that’s known for its crispy pies.
If all goes well, Wilson says, the dinner-only restaurant will open in September with a wide-open front area that blurs the boundary between restaurant and sidewalk. When you walk past and “see people having most amazing time, people spilling onto the street,” Wilson said, “you’ll have to come in, too.”
And if that doesn’t convince the most stalwart of Lalime’s fans, still smarting after the restaurant’s closure in March 2020, Wilson has one last treat in store. When they were mulling the space, “we spoke with Cindy,” by which he means Cindy Lalime Krikorian, whose eponymous restaurant three.one four…a swanky pizza lounge will soon move into.
“We had a really good conversation … we wanted to get her blessing,” Wilson said. “At the end, I asked, ‘would you be OK if we made a Mediterranean pizza and named it the Lalime’s?’ And she said ‘yes.’ So I like that, that we can honor the past while bringing in something different, something new.”