Sacramento is mourning the passing last Friday evening of legendary restaurateur Randy Paragary, a brilliant businessman who always seemed to know what Sacramento diners wanted before they knew it themselves.
Paragary was a native Sacramentan who attended McClatchy High School, Sacramento State and McGeorge Law School before turning his talents to the world of hospitality. He was a master of sizing up and seizing the zeitgeist. In 1969, at the age of 23, he opened his first establishment, The ParaPow Palace, a subterranean saloon for musicians and young people. A few years later, he opened Lord Beaverbrook’s, Sacramento’s first fern bar. A string of restaurants followed, including Paragary’s Oven & Bar (home to Sacramento’s first wood-burning pizza oven), Esquire Grill (a clubby, steak-and-cigars kind of place that catered to Capitol lobbyists and legislators), Centro Cocina Mexicana (a restaurant that treated traditional Mexican cuisine with the respect it deserved) and Café Bernardo, a casual bistro that started on Capitol Avenue and grew to include outposts in downtown Sacramento, Davis and Arden. There were a few misses mixed in with the hits. But with his longtime business partner, chef Kurt Spataro, Paragary always quickly recalibrated and moved on to the next thing.
Paragary and Spataro were instrumental in bringing the farm-to-fork ethos to Sacramento. The pair nurtured relationships with local farmers, giving them a dependable outlet for their products, no matter how unusual they might be. Later, Paragary helped design the dining concepts for Golden 1 Center, which vowed to source 90 percent of its ingredients from within 150 miles.
He also practically singlehandedly birthed a generation of Sacramento chefs, bartenders and restaurateurs. The list of Paragary alumni is long and illustrious; it includes Patrick Mulvaney, Rick Mahan, Adam Pechal, Ian Kavookjian, N’Gina Guyton, Chris Nestor, the three guys—Jason Boggs, Alex Origoni and Garrett Van Vleck—behind Shady Lady Saloon, Matt Nurge, Rob Lind and many more too numerous to mention. Over the weekend, they filled their social media channels with odes to their former employer. “His impact on our city will be felt for many years to come,” wrote Henry de Vere White, co-owner with his brother Simon of de Vere’s Irish Pub. Taka Watanabe, a well-known sushi chef, wrote: “Everyone in the local restaurant community dreamed of being like him.”
In recent years, Paragary’s greatest business partner was his wife, Stacy. Together, they ran the Paragary Restaurant Group, with Stacy managing day-to-day operations and overseeing the restaurants’ striking interior and architectural design. They recently expanded into a new arena with the opening earlier this year of a $28 million boutique hotel, Fort Sutter Hotel, on the site of the original Café Bernardo. On the eve of the hotel’s opening, I interviewed Paragary. At the age of 74, after more than a half-century in the hospitality business, he was as excited as a kid about his latest venture. “Opening a hotel is a dream come true for a guy in the restaurant business,” he said, telling me that he still finds his job fun. There was no sense of a man in the twilight of his career, looking for the exit and the easy life of retirement. Randy Paragary was still innovating, still creating interesting, exciting places for Sacramentans to gather, right to the very end. He will be missed.