Meet me at Surla’s is about to become the new “Meet me at Ridgway’s.”
Central Valley chef John Surla is fast emerging as one of the Central Valley’s most prolific independent restaurateurs. Since moving from the Bay Area to the Valley 16 years ago, Surla has opened two restaurants and his third is on the way in Ripon.
Ground broke last month on his Fina fine dining restaurant, situated about a half-mile east of the Mistlin Sports Park. The new restaurant is Surla’s first from-the-ground-up construction. His other properties are Surla’s in Modesto which opened in 2009 and Lola Bistro & Event Center in Hilmar which opened in 2015. Surla hopes to have Fina up and running at the corner of Ripon and River roads by this November.
Unlike Surla’s, which specializes in Asian fusion cuisine, and Lola, which has a more casual bistro menu, Fina will feature more upscale Italian fare. The Ripon restaurant is named after Surla’s wife, Josephine Surla — or “Fina” for short. It follows the chef’s tradition of using personal touches to name his restaurants. His Hilmar place Lola is the Filipino word for “grandmother.”
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The design of the new Ripon restaurant has its own, unintentional ties to valley history. First sketched out on a bar napkin two years ago by the late Conrad Sanchez, of the Modesto-based design firm Conrad Asturi Studio’s Inc., the building has a striking circular design from above that any “Star Wars” fan might find familiar.
“It looked like the Millennium Falcon,” he said. “I was like, ‘What? Restaurants, and all their equipment, are square’.”
The new venture is also another partnership with JKB Living, a local development company that has built subdivisions and apartment complexes in the region. Surla first partnered with the developer on Lola in Hilmar. The Ripon venture already has the first phase of the adjacent apartment complex, Ripon Luxe, completed with another about 100 units still being constructed.
Fina will be part of the larger Ripon Terrazza, also being developed by JKB. The upscale shopping center is being built next to the restaurant and is expected to house about five different retailers. It is slated to be finished in spring 2019.
Fina will seat about 140 and have an open kitchen and a bar at its center, in addition to having two private banquet rooms and two outdoor patios. The restaurant will serve an Italian menu for lunch and dinner seven days a week. Expect dishes like pasta, risotto, arancini and pizza from its planned wood-burning pizza oven. A staff of about 40 will be hired to run the restaurant.
Surla said he expect to draw from diners in Ripon, Escalon, north Modesto, Riverbank and Oakdale for the new site. But don’t expect him to rest on his laurels once his new restaurant is done.
“My dream has always been to open four to five restaurants and have a company that creates jobs for the community,” Surla said.
He is looking into the Manteca and Tracy regions for his next project, though hasn’t finalized any plans yet. But instead of just becoming his own chain, with a string of restaurants by the same name, Surla wants different concepts at each running up and down the Highway 99 corridor. That way he can distinguish himself and avoid any “Meet me at Ridgway’s”-like confusion. The popular Modesto diner famously used the line for its commercials in the 2000s to help distinguish between its Modesto and Oakdale locations.
“If you say ‘Meet me at Surla’s,’ I don’t want people to say, ‘Which one?’ ” he said. “So we gave them all different names and concepts. But we want them to all have the same attention to detail that makes a Surla restaurant.”