SAN RAFAEL JOE’S
Cynthia Farina can understand why so many family businesses
fizzle after one generation. For one thing, it’s just harder to run
some types of business nowadays than it was in 1947, when her
parents, Guido and Theresa Farina, her Uncle Hector Rubini
and her Aunt Nancy Rubini opened San Rafael Joe’s.
“My father has said, ‘If I had to open the doors today and
run it the way you kids have to, I couldn’t do it,’ ” Cynthia says.
Instead of dealing with health inspections and workers’ comp,
in those days, “you got a license to open the business, you got a
liquor license if you could — and you opened the doors.”
Cynthia, brother Carlo Farina and cousin Chez Bornia
joined Guido and Theresa when the Rubinis retired in 1981.
The team faced its biggest test in 2000, when the dire need
for a makeover forced them to a decision point.
“We had to decide, are we going to do this major remodel, or
should we call it a day and sell the business? All of us were on the
fence,” Cynthia recalls. They worried that customers — many who
have been coming to the restaurant for generations themselves
— would be turned off by the construction or by the new look.
Cynthia agrees with consultant Rivers: making decisions with family members can be tense. But in the end their
shared experiences — like memories of busing tables while
your seventh-grade classmates are eating in the dining room
— guided them to consensus.
“The fact that we all cared about each other so much and
knew we weren’t ready to say good-bye to the place, that’s
why we pushed forward on that,” Cynthia says. Customers
embraced the makeover, and today the restaurant that started
with just 70 seats can serve more than 200 guests at a time
and has a banquet room for 100.
One family business that has benefited from good collab-
orative decision-making over the years is Harbor Point, the
health club and apartment complex celebrating its 50th
year on Mill Valley’s picturesque Strawberry Point. In fact,
opening a health club to begin with was a pivot for brothers
Ray and Marty Kaliski, who had been helping their father,
Louis Kaliski, run his movie theater empire (which included
Oakland’s Grand Lake) in 1963 when they discovered a fore-
closure property with a hole in the ground and a view. Today
that hole is an 80-degree saline pool and the view is enjoyed
by members of a state-of-the-art fitness center and residents
of a 220-unit apartment complex.
The idea of a place devoted to healthy living must have
resonated for Ray, who earned the nickname “Frisky” when
he set Oakland High School track records, and who proved
he still deserved it when he lived to be a centenarian. Over
the years, more record-setting athletes have enjoyed the
club, including Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf; tennis legend
Vic Seixas is a resident.
Ray’s son, Ray W. Kaliski, now runs the apartment complex
with his spouse, Linda Nelson; his grandson Patrick Kaliski runs
the health club. In 2005, the Kaliski’s added the Harbor Point
Charitable Foundation, run by Patrick’s uncle, Robert Kaliski.
Earlier this year, the family closed its restaurant and leased that
part of the property to the owners of the Lighthouse Cafe in
Sausalito and Corte Madera; it’s now the Lighthouse Bar & Grill.
All these changes were approved at quarterly board meetings that include the company’s accountant and attorney,
Patrick says. “There were decisions made in the far — and
recent — past that have benefited the business, like getting
out of the movie theater business before the rise of television
completely devastated it, purchasing a few pieces of prime
property at a great price before a boom, and updating certain
properties to keep them modern and desirable.”
Opposite (left to right):
Frank Sabella, “Nege
Fo” LaRocca, Angelo
Sabella, Carlo Rafello
and Antone Sabella
at work in 1929. This
page from top: The
experienced San Rafael
Joe’s waitress team (as
seen in 2007) loves the
continuity of working
for one family; Harbor
Point in the late ’60s
with an undeveloped
Strawberry Shores in