One of Modesto’s premiere fine dining destinations is changing hands for the first time in its 20-year history.
Dewz, which was opened in downtown Modesto in 1997 by the Aspesi family, has sold to a new owner with similarly deep Modesto roots. Local entrepreneur John Jacinto took over ownership in late March and plans to continue the restaurant’s upscale and innovative approach to food.
Jacinto is a Davis High and California State University, Stanislaus, graduate who in 2003 founded the successful national automotive components maker Vistech Manufacturing Solutions, and serves as its president and chief executive officer.
Jacinto and his wife, Edith, had long been Dewz diners and knew well its mother-and-son owners Judy and Scott Aspesi. Last October, while eating there, the couple was talking with Scott when he mentioned the family was thinking about selling the restaurant. And then he casually asked if Jacinto and his wife would be interested in buying it.
“Some (restaurant) owners have approached me before and I’ve resoundingly said, ‘No,’ always,” Jacinto said. “But no one asked me to buy Dewz before. So it’s a little different.”
By November, the two families had hashed out a deal with the Jacintos to take over from the Aspesis. Scott will stay on as manager and Judy will enjoy her retirement.
The new Dewz executive chef, New Zealand native Connor Carlin, is staying on as well along with the rest of the staff. Carlin took the position last year and with Jacinto and longtime Dewz sous chef Juan Figueroa, they are excited to bring some new creations to the menu. But, don’t worry too much, Dewz die-hards. The restaurant is keeping many of its popular staples like the table-side Caesar salad, calamari fritto and Angus New York steak with blue cheese butter crust.
The menu, which changes seasonally, also includes some new dishes to Dewz. The restaurant has started serving a fresh, house-made pasta entree, which will be different each day and range from fettuccine and ravioli to tortellini and more. New appetizers include salmon tartar and crispy octopus.
And one of the not-to-be-missed new desserts is the strawberry and green tea parfait. The dish comes out looking like an edible plant terrarium. The bowl is filled with layers of green tea mousse, macerated strawberries and finished with a black sesame brittle on top simulating dirt. Micro-mint and other edible tendrils poke out of the “soil.” It’s almost too pretty to dig into – almost.
Inside the main restaurant, Jacinto isn’t planning too many changes. But the attached Dewz Wine Shop is another matter. The wine and cheese bar opened in 2012, after the RC David furniture shop in the next door space closed. The lounge features booths and a casual seating for about 40. Its main attraction always has been the special self-serve wine dispensers. Jacinto wants to expand its menu and start serving tapas and flatbreads to make it more of a distinct, casual destination for people to stop for drinks and small plates. Expect to see those changes roll out this summer.
Back in the Dewz main dining hall, the large swimmer paintings that had been a signature are gone. The Aspesis chose to keep them in the sale. But this week Jacinto will hang two 9 feet by 9 feet oil paintings from a local artist in their place. One picture that remains enshrined on the Dewz walls is of the late Dewayne Aspesi, Judy’s son and Scott’s brother who passed away from leukemia in 1996 and is the inspiration for the restaurant’s name.
The new ownership isn’t the first major change for the restaurant since it opened its doors. In 2007, 10 years after it was founded, the eatery moved from its original corner location at I and 11th streets to its current spot at 1505 J St. At the time many worried the shift from the prime space across from the courthouse to the eastern end of J Street would sink them. But a decade later, Dewz is still going strong.
Now the Jacinto family (John named the company which now owns Dewz, CDL Enterprises, after his three children: Cassi, Daniel and Lee) hopes to keep the restaurant going strong well into the future.
“This is going from family to family. We’re going from the Aspesi family to the Jacinto family,” John Jacinto said. “They created a brand similar to Levi’s jeans. They created a brand in Modesto that’s over two decades long and we’re trying to continue that legacy.”
Dewz, at 1505 J St., is open for lunch 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Friday and dinner 4:30 to 9:30 p.m. Monday to Thursday and 4:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday. For more information call 209-549-1101 or visit www.dineatdewz.com.