Q&A with Iain Rizzo, Builder

Makers, Meet

Q&A with Iain Rizzo

California’s wine country combines an unforgettable abundance of locally grown produce with world-renowned wines. We partnered with Chef Ari Rosen and the team of local artisans and farmers behind his Healdsburg restaurants, Scopa and Campo Fina, as they celebrate both with a family-style meal that brings our Open Kitchen collection to life. Read our interviews with the team and try Ari’s recipes here.

 

A builder in Healdsburg, Iain Rizzo is the craftsman behind the bars at Scopa and Campo Fina, in addition to other features that make the restaurants feel cozy and inviting. Here, we ask him all about how he started building, what’s special about the Scopa crew, and why he returned to wine country after 12 years of traveling — and he’s never felt more at home.

 

Tell us about your background. How did you start designing and building? 

My mom is from Scotland, so I would go back every couple of years when I was young. My grandfather was a master carver and craftsman, and together we would build scale model boats and planes. When I came back, I was carving soap, carrots, whatever.

 

Out of high school I was working for a welder, and then I went to work for a concrete contractor. I ended up going to a general contractor who did high-end building and remodels.

 

What inspires you most about design and building?

Traveling. The stuff I do is pretty simple and straightforward, and that’s what stands the test of time. The old architecture is what inspires me — I use slab wood and welding and stuff.

 

Describe the work you do. 

I make tables and kitchen islands and a lot of other stuff. I use a lot of repurposed castors — that’s usually how it starts. I get one piece, like wheels, then start building around those.

 

I think my work is straightforward. I don’t want to say “rustic,” but I like the thick wood and metal bases because it gives the furniture a solid feeling.

 

You built pieces for Scopa and Campo Fina. How did you connect with Ari and the team? 

Well, first I build a walk-in closet for Ari. We didn’t really know each other, and he had slaughtered a lamb the day I was there. He got the kidneys and heart and made pasta, and he was like, hey, do you want some pasta? I knew he was a good chef, so I said sure. He was like, it’s kidneys and heart, and I was like, OK. Ever since thing he liked me, because he knew I’d eat whatever he was cooking.

 

Q&A with Iain Rizzo

What work did you do for him? 

Scopa was first; I built the bar. At Campo Fina, I did the bar, the tables and the inside, and then outside I did the community table — a big redwood.

 

What was the style you wanted to create? 

At Campo Fina, it kind of mirrors the food there: simple and good quality. It starts with the materials I use. The tables on the inside all came from one gigantic black walnut tree. The bar came from a grainery they were disassembling in Petaluma. It’s masculine with a feminine touch, bold with soft edges.

 

And you also used to be a bartender at Scopa. 

I used to. I started when they opened, and I was only going to work six months, but it ended up being three years, from 2008 to 2012.

 

Why Scopa and Campo Fina? What’s special about the food, the spaces, the people? 

They’re all kind of the same thing, simple and straightforward. Ari and Dawnelise are super honest; they tell you how they feel, which is so refreshing in restaurants. When they opened up Dawnelise was working the front and Ari was working the back, so it was super special and intense. The food was perfect and the quality of the front was perfect, too.

 

What’s your favorite thing to eat at Scopa? 

I go in after work, because they are open the latest of anyone in Healdsburg. I get the pasta special of the day, which is usually a tagliatelle with wild boar bolognese. It is so good. And usually I start off with a salad, the grilled romaine, or calamari.

 

What about to drink? 

At Campo I start with a Negroni. At Scopa, it’s just beer and wine. The Acorn Sangiovese is one of my favorite wines they have there, or I’ll have the Unti Rose to start with. Sebastian, the winemaker for Unti, is in the restaurant all the time. He actually did the mural in Scopa.

 

Q&A with Iain Rizzo

What’s the best part about your job?  

Besides doing what I love and getting to do it at my own hours, the way I want to… After I build something, if people like it they’ll call me a day or two later and thank me. It’s the thankfulness of people.

 

You were born and raised in Healdsburg. What made you want to stay/come back? 

I left for 12 years. I lived in Lake Tahoe, San Diego, San Francisco and Boise, Idaho.

 

What made me want to come back was the river. I was just going to take over someone’s lease for the end of the summer and figure out where to live next. But there was a whole new group of people, like Ari, that was a lot of fun. When you move away, you look for a community that makes you feel like you’re a part of it. I moved around for 12 years and moved back fora  few months, and I found it where I left it, but with a whole new group of people.

 

What do you love about living and working in wine country? 

My favorite thing is the people — there’s a huge amount of creativity around.

 

I live on a 20-acre flower farm and my shop is on a 100-acre ranch where they grow grapes and vegetables and have goats; we’ve also raised pigs. It’s pretty nice to live on a farm and work on a farm — the sunsets and just walking around, being outside. I walk one way and see the mountains and sunset and walk the other way, back to my shop, and get the dusk and the purple sky and the moon coming up on the other side. I catch myself stopping both ways.

 

Also, there’s the food. There are a lot of gardens; there’s a garden on the flower farm, too. We do beets and carrots and garlic in the wintertime, and tomatoes and basil and all the other stuff in the summertime.

 

Tell us about raising pigs. How did you start doing that? 

I always wanted to raise a pig. I couldn’t tell you why; there’s just so much space around here. I was throwing it out there to a guy who lives at the ranch, and he was all for it, so we went for it. It was a great experience. He wanted to do more, but I just wanted to do it for myself. We would get 90% of the food we fed the pigs at Downtown Bakery and Scopa and Campo Fina. After I quit working at the restaurant, I would go in to pick up the pig food and connect with the people in the kitchen and the prep cooks.

 

I look forward to doing it again on a small scale. The payoff was the meat you get — it’s incomparable, like nothing you’d ever buy at the store.

 

Do you cook at home? What are some of your favorite things to make? 

I do. I’ve been trying to perfect my fried chicken. It’s more like an Italian-style fried chicken, not the buttermilk type. I do it with garlic-lemon green beans and mashed potatoes.

 

What’s for dinner tonight? 

I have no idea. I’m going back out to my shop to work, so it may be trail mix! I cooked pork loin last night, with chimichurri, and cucumbers and tomatoes from the garden with feta and balsamic. That was really good. And my girlfriend made an orzo salad.

 

What else do you do for fun? 

I kayak. We used to have a camp on the river, so I would do a lot of kayaking and fishing. I also build things for fun. I just built my friend a tall bike. Last weekend I went camping, using a travel trailer that I rebuilt. It’s crazy — you could just camp out here and it would be just as good as going 10 hours away.

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