Owners of Westside’s Drago Open Restaurant at Posto Site By JEFF WEISS Contributing Reporter The Drago brothers, Tanino, Calogero, and Giacomino, owners of several restaurants including Santa Monica’s Drago, have opened Panzanella, a Sherman Oaks Italian restaurant in the space that was formerly Posto. Rather than mimic the upscale and expensive style of the former tenant, the Drago brothers plan to appeal to a broader audience with a lower priced menu in a more casual setting. “Panzanella is a little less formal then Posto. We want people to be very comfortable. We’d rather it be more like a family atmosphere. We want to make them feel like they are in their own house. Our prices are very fair, with pastas and salads ranging from $9 to $15 and entrees from $18 to $28,” co-owner Tanino Drago maintained. Posto operated in its Ventura Boulevard location for 12 years, but struggled for much of the period before Piero Selvaggio sold his restaurant and turned over the lease to the Drago brothers. “If I had to do it again, I would’ve made it a more casual, paper tablecloth, value oriented place,” said Selvaggio, who initially opened Posto as a Valley version of his highly successful Valentino, a top-rated restaurant in Santa Monica known for its extensive and expensive wine list. “The bottom line is that when there is a celebration and a time to entertain, most people go over the hill.” With entrees ranging anywhere from $25 to $34 and pastas from $12 to $18, prices were one factor in the demise of Posto. Selvaggio had adjusted the pricing and the wine list, both initially modeled after Valentino, in the years since Posto opened, but the elegant restaurant, with white table linens, nevertheless proved to be a difficult sell, he said. “Opening Posto in the Valley was definitely a very positive experience,” said Selvaggio. “We got to meet some wonderful people and a great deal of residents appreciated what we did But certainly Posto’s position as a high-end restaurant in a market that doesn’t regularly frequent such places was one reason for our closure. If you look at the most popular restaurants in the Valley, they are Cheesecake Factory and Caf & #233; Bizou and I think Caf & #233; Bizou hit it bigger than most. You have to cater to your target audience.” Leon Gottlieb, USA international restaurant hotel and franchise consultant, disagrees with Selvaggio’s logic that it is difficult for upscale restaurants to succeed in the Valley. “I think people in the Valley are sophisticated consumers. There is no lack of people in the industry looking to capitalize on the Valley’s population. It’s a thing of the past to stereotype the Valley’s residents as not patronizing fine dining establishments.” Still, the Drago brothers are directing their newest venture along the lines of their more casual restaurants. Tanino Drago thinks there is certainly a market for a more moderately priced establishment in that same commercial space where Posto operated. “We own seven restaurants now of varying styles and prices. Panzanella compares more to (our other restaurants) Il Pastaio in Beverly Hills and Tanino in Westwood (co-owned by Franco Semplicio). The concept we believe in is great food. It’s all about the food. The service has to be great but it doesn’t have to be formal .It’s a nice opportunity to open up our restaurant. We believe we can do it,” Drago said. Gottlieb agrees that casual dining presents the best chance to succeed in today’s restaurant climate. “A casual branch suggests a move into the mainstream. Certainly such places are a cut above quick service restaurants and a cut below fine dining. Casual service restaurants are probably in the greatest growth place, conforming more to a local face in the Valley,” Gottlieb said.