Want a glimpse of Old World Italy, but can't afford the ticket? Find it in Reno on Lakeside Drive at a little place called ZOZO'S Ristorante. Owners Sid and Judy Ashton invite you to come on down for an authentic taste of Old World ambiance!
The Ashtons moved to Reno form the Bay area, with two high school-age kids in tow, in 1986. "We were pure Silicon Valley," Judy Ashton said. "We wanted a complete change of pace. My sister lives in the area, and we enjoyed the skiing at Tahoe. Reno felt like the perfect fit.
The Ashtons had worked together for a number of years and knew the personal and professional partnership would support entrepreneurship. "We wanted our own business, although we didn't have a clue what kind," she said, "we toyed with the idea of an office supply store. I'd worked in an office and knew paper clips inside out." But we kept coming back to food. The whole family loved to eat," she said.
Not wanting to start from scratch, the Ashtons bought Sugarless Shack, a sugar-free bakery and ice cream store a few doors down from their current location. After a couple of years, a customer and rabid fan insisted on buying the place," Judy Ashton said, "He made us an offer we couldn't refuse." The deal financed the Ashtons' next venture, a Plumb Lane deli called Rockin' Roll Sandwich Factory, where they remained for a decade.
Meanwhile, their older son became a paramedic and took a job with REMSA. Younger son, Kevin, went off to the Western Culinary Academy. After graduation, he returned to Reno and worked in a number of kitchens, including a stint as head chef at Carson City golf course. "Early on we had it in mind he would come to work for us," Judy Ashton explained. "But we felt his training put him solidly beyond making sandwiches. For a while, with Kevin in the kitchen, we did weekly five-course French bistro-style meals. They were a wildly popular and a great showcase for Kevin's talent."
His expertise drew the attention of Jim and Judy Smith. "They owned Pane Vivo, which was our favorite restaurant," Judy Ashton said. "One night Jim followed us out to our car. He said they were thinking about retiring, but wanted the right people to take over. He knew Kevin was en excellent chef and that we loved the place, so he asked if were interested. How could we say no?" The Ashtons' sold Rockin' Roll to longtime employees and moved back to Lakeside Drive.
Kevin tweaked the menu gently his way. Sid did the same for the wine list. Judy took charge of the front of the house. Together they put up the finishing touches on the red brick interior. Vines and tiny, twinkling lights weave throughout trellises, hanging from from the ceiling. Grape clusters and Chianti bottles cling to the lattice. Oil still-lives and framed posters brighten the dark walls, along with garlic garlands, copper pots and other eye-catching paraphernalia. Roomy booths ring tables, which are set close for family-style dining. Red and white tablecloths define all.
"People often comment that the food is consistently good," Judy Ashton said. "The reason is we have two cooks; Kevin and Carlos, who has been in that kitchen for 12 years." The two create daily specials at lunch and dinner. Both menus carry a good selection of "heart smart" dishes. So bring your appetites and prepare to go back to Old World Italy for great food, great drink and great fun!