Ryan Morris has been in the food service industry since he was a teen. So when the opportunity arose in July to take over a restaurant in his hometown, he couldn’t turn it down – despite a global pandemic and other career aspirations.
“It’s a little like ‘The Godfather,’” Morris said. “I got out and they reeled me back in.”
Morris signed on to purchase Aldo Los Altos, a family-friendly Italian restaurant on Main Street, knowing full well the instability that would come due to COVID-19 restrictions. But he had worked at the restaurant for nearly six years and had been discussing the transaction with the previous owners – who were retiring after 15 years – for quite some time.
“It’s unusual timing, but sometimes in unusual times, opportunities arise,” Morris said. “For me, it felt like taking the torch of Aldo’s and carrying it into the future – which is wonderful because I love the place.”
Morris grew up in Los Altos, then moved to Southern California, where he worked as general manager of a Coffee Bean Tea & Leaf shop before starting a coffee house art gallery in Santa Monica called Flying Saucers Cafe.
But he also had an interest in animation. He majored in fine art in college and after time in Los Angeles, moved back home to study animation at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco. To supplement graduate school, he worked at Aldo’s. Given his extensive experience in the service industry, the owners had consistently broached the idea of passing the restaurant on to Morris after their retirement. This summer, Morris – along with his partner, Mila Zelkha – signed the paperwork.
“Initially, you sort of take a deep breath and then you jump,” said Zelkha, who also works for a local nonprofit organization. “Even though there’s so much changing all around us every week – with the seasons and the smoke and the natural learning curve of getting the hang of what Aldo’s is going to be like with Ryan’s leadership – it really has just felt positive and calm and good.”
Realizing a dream
Three months in, Morris said running Aldo’s so far has been “all about survival,” taking advantage of outdoor dining offered through the city’s Open Streets program, takeout orders and the generosity of the community to support local businesses.
“I have to admit I do like a challenge,” Morris said. “I like having something to save and move forward in a positive way. (The pandemic) was not enough to scare me off.”
Morris’ favorite part about the restaurant is the community, family feel – the warm, welcoming staff, the not-too-pretentious vibes. He loved going to the little Italian bistros around Europe and San Francisco. It was the type of place he dreamed of having, going back to when he owned the coffee shop in Santa Monica. In the middle of grad school, Morris discovered that he and Zelkha would be having twins, a pleasant surprise and a sign that the family might settle down in Los Altos.
Morris’ day-to-day involves a little bit of everything, from descaling a branzino in the kitchen to talking to reps from area wineries. He is confident that after the pandemic is over, the restaurant will thrive for another 15 years, with help from a local community that has welcomed him with open arms.
“That’s something that has been a great surprise to see,” Morris said. “I just didn’t realize how welcoming it was going to be, and the city of Los Altos has been absolutely welcoming. Having grown up here, as a lifetime Los Altan, I’m just very proud to own a business here now.”
Aldo Los Altos is located at 388 Main St. For more information, call 949-2300 or visit aldolosaltos.com.