Little Italy in the Streets of Brentwood
Domenico Testa unintentionally immigrated from Italy to the United States in 1985. Originally arriving with the intention to return home in a few months, Domenico discovered all that California had to offer and never went back. Fortunately, he brought all of his family recipes with him. With a strong passion for delicious, homemade food and pleasing people’s palates, Domenico inevitably entered the restaurant world. After multiple successful restaurants in various cities, he landed at The Streets of Brentwood, opening Caffe Paradiso on Black Friday 2020. “The inspiration was more about the location,” said Domenico. “When I saw that the corner spot next to AMC Theater was for sale, I came to see the shopping center. It reminded me so much of the Piazza Navona in Rome with the oval shape and the fountain at the end. That’s what clicked in me right away. It’s beautiful.”
At the time, California had just reopened, only to shut down three days after Caffe Paradiso opened its doors. Domenico, however, was not discouraged. “During the pandemic there were still some people who would come, wearing their masks, and walk around,” said Domenico. “Unlike larger cities that became ghost towns, it never felt depressing here. It also gave us a chance to get to know other people working in The Streets of Brentwood who didn’t really have anywhere else to get a hot cooked meal. We were received beautifully here.” Coming from a larger restaurant background, opening a small café has been a different journey for Domenico. With only two employees in addition to himself and his partner, he keeps things simple with the goal of emulating a corner café somewhere in Europe. “It has been a mind-blowing revelation coming to Brentwood,” said Domenico. “People from outside of the area view it as simply a farm town, but this is just as cosmopolitan as San Francisco. Everybody is here; I’ve gotten to meet people from Eastern Europe, South America, Africa, the Middle East, the Philippine Islands, you name it.” Domenico hopes to evoke memories from childhood or special trips across the globe where you can pop into your favorite café to grab a quick bite.
Caffe Paradiso offers chocolate and almond croissants, danishes, cookies, macarons, biscotti, cakes, gelato, and fresh cannoli. “I fill them on the spot so they’re soft inside and crunchy outside. There’s nothing worse than a mushy cannoli.” If you’re looking for something less sweet, Domenico also offers focaccia bread and pastas like lasagna, penne, pasta salad, spaghetti, pesto, and more, with rotating specials. “We make classic items in my own way,” said Domenico. “We do mostly Italian and keep it on the pasta side. I have some customers who come in every day and ask what’s on the menu. If I don’t have what they’re looking for, I’ll try to make them something to their liking. We don’t have a huge cooking facility, so I do everything to scale of the café.”
Domenico focuses on cooking with real ingredients, and even if it’s an item that he doesn’t make himself, he still ensures that the ingredients are top notch. “When you’re a small operator, you get to look people in the eyes when you bring them the food,” said Domenico. “It’s not being brought out to you by someone different who doesn’t know what the ingredients are. We cook like we’re cooking for family or a friend.” For example, the incredibly popular gelato has no high fructose corn syrup or unnecessary chemicals. “I love to see children’s eyes light up when they taste the gelato for the first time. And for the adults, we love to trigger memories of their childhood. It’s a beautiful thing.”
Now that things have started to pick back up and the movie theater is open, Caffe Paradiso has become busier as well. “This corner is the liveliest. It’s full of energy with people coming and going, kids being dropped off by their parents, families and friends having conversations and mingling. It’s just like a piazza in Italy. It’s like a little village. The feeling of connection is incredible.” Caffe Paradiso is open Tuesday through Sunday, but Domenico is in working every day, even when they’re closed, either prepping for the coming week or shopping for needed ingredients.
As for the future of Caffe Paradiso, Domenico doesn’t have any lofty goals. “I don’t project anything. People say I should expand, but I’m at the end of my career. I still want to be in the game because it runs in my blood; it never goes away. Plus, I love to be around people, but I don’t have any special big plans for the future.” Domenico didn’t open Caffe Paradiso with the plan to grow into a multi-location establishment. “The point is being able to see the smile on people’s faces, to make them happy. If I succeed at that, that’s the biggest reward I can get.”
Address: 2523 Sand Creek Road, Brentwood, CA 94513
Tel: (925) 626 8757
Photos by: Ron Essex Photography