Meals with Wheels

As the region continues its active transportation push, Sacramento restaurants are coming along for the ride

Back Web Only May 7, 2015 By John Blomster

Sacramento chef Rick Mahan approaches two of his biggest personal passions — bicycles and pizza — with the same philosophy: Take time to kick back and cruise.

Six years ago, he combined the two and opened OneSpeed Pizza on Folsom Boulevard, a bike-themed family eatery that is decorated like a traditional Italian restaurant adorned with cycling paraphernalia.

The chef and owner of both OneSpeed and The Waterboy Restaurant says that locals have embraced both the idea and aesthetic of this his most recent venture — not surprising in a city that is getting more bike-crazy by the day.

As Sacramento evolves as an active urban center with projects like on-street parklets, an intracity streetcar and expanded bike lanes, more Sacramento restaurants are finding ways to incorporate cycling into their business model and encourage active transportation.

“One-speed bikes have always been for me almost like a metaphor for life: They’re very simple, they’re easy to understand. When I opened (the restaurant) I used that metaphor and thought, you know, life is getting so busy and crazy, and it’s not likely these days that people will actually sit down and get together for a meal,” Mahan says. “I thought it might be nice to open a place that was conducive to that for today’s families: Take a little time, relax.

“When you’re on a one speed, a cruiser, you’re just out cruisin’… That was the idea for OneSpeed, and it’s worked out really well.”

Mahan’s philosophy comes from his own personal love of bicycles. He says for almost his whole life it has been a relaxing hobby. One may often find him in his garage tuning up a bike when he’s between duties at both of his successful restaurants.

Mahan opened The Waterboy Restaurant in 1997; it has since become one of midtown’s most successful and popular destination dining spots. But when he decided to open an eatery with a focus on pizza, a childhood favorite, he said he wanted to incorporate cycling into the design because “bicycles speak to people on so many different levels,” he says.

Inside OneSpeed, the design is traditional with touches of bike culture: The pot rack over the kitchen line is a frame of a Schwinn; gears and bike chains make up the patio fence; a tire tube holds up the curtain near the entrance by the hostess stand.

Sacramento has become a true bike town: Try driving downtown without dodging scores of cyclists whizzing by on fixed-gears, or try to find a restaurant without some form of stylish bike parking — it’s nearly impossible. There are even rolling pub-crawls where riders sign up to ride a glorified tandem bike to and from bars. Simply put, successful businesses downtown have to cater to this form of transportation in some way.

But when it comes to bike-friendly businesses in Sacramento, Hot Italian paces the rest of the pack.

The 16th Street pizzeria takes cycling enthusiasm to another level, with 32 public bike parking spaces on site, showers and bike parking for employees, and cycling team sponsorships. The restaurant also established a partnership with Sacramento Republic FC to create co-branded bike apparel and hosts various bike-related events throughout the year, including a recent May 1 launch party for bike month in which San Francisco’s Faraday Bicycles unveiled a fleet of electronically-assisted bicycles, or “e-bikes.”

“Hot Italian we always described as modern Italy meets urban California, and biking is part of both of those lifestyles… so for us it was a no-brainer to incorporate biking into our brand and style and design and how we operate,” says Hot Italian co-owner Andrea Lepore. “Every month is bike month here.”

When Hot Italian first opened, the city mandated that the restaurant have one available parking space or at least access to one for every four customers. The city has since changed the law, allowing for businesses like Lepore’s to really cater to the non-driving crowd.

In 2011, the League of American Bicyclists designated Hot Italian as a Bike-Friendly Business as part of Bicycle Friendly America (BFA).

The multi-faceted program is meant to be a tool for businesses and states to make bicycling a more mainstream form of functional transportation for all individuals, and Hot Italian is the only restaurant in Sacramento and one of only a handful in the entire state that has earned the designation.

“Obviously with our great weather and our flat streets, it makes it a lot easier to bike here than, say, San Francisco.And California’s lifestyle is very active,” Lepore says. “There are a lot of people that either live in midtown or Land Park or other places that can walk here or take light rail here, and biking was just one more of those forms of transportation that people do here pretty much year-round. So from a business perspective, if we made it easy for people to do that, then they were going to do it.”

Lepore’s approach to biking in Sacramento is undoubtedly more active than most other businesses. Mahan, on the other hand, says he’s not trying to cater to any particular crowd or push any cause; he just wants to make food he loves with a theme of something of which he is passionate.

“Bikes bring so much to us on so many levels,” Mahan says. “I think anybody on a bike, it’s a beautiful thing.”

Both approaches are working, however, as both restaurants are neighborhood institutions and destination dining. And as Sacramento continues to move towards a more integrated system of active transportation, more businesses are gearing up for the ride.

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