New lease on life for downtown

Artistic renderings of what the new Bella Viva restaurant and café will look like when it opens in downtown Gilroy. 

It’s been almost a year since rookie restaurateur Kellen McBain showed up in Gilroy with ambitions of opening a wine café in a downtown marred by roughly 20 vacant storefronts.
With a soft opening slated for early July and the homestretch finally on the horizon, the 27-year-old’s revivalist outlook brings forward-thinking energy to a hoped-for regeneration that is slowly germinating in the Garlic Capital’s urban core.
“Gilroy is going to be the next Los Gatos,” said McBain, standing behind a slick cocktail bar of jade-hued granite inside the rapidly transforming venue at 7423 Monterey St.
When McBain was getting started back in June 2011, he told the Dispatch, “Gilroy is in a lull where it’s just about to spike up. It needs a couple of sparks as an initiative for growth.”
He’s banking on being one of those sparks.
Initially coined as Aviva Wine Café, McBain scrapped his first title and opted to go with something that doesn’t limit the public’s perception of what his eatery will offer. The menu’s repertoire transcends light tapas and casual wine tasting.
The new name “Bella Viva” (a Spanish/Italian amalgamation meaning “beautiful life”) evolved alongside McBain’s business model, which has expanded to include a heavier emphasis on cuisine after he decided to install a full kitchen.
Wanting to maximize on “such a big space” and already having a choice chef in mind for the job, McBain is teaming up with close friend, Ardjan Braho – an Albanian who studied cooking in Italy – to flesh out Bella Viva’s pickings. The restaurant and wine café will tout a well-rounded lunch/dinner menu with Italian specialties such as Paninis and pastas, and will be open to early birds hankering for espresso and croissants.
With a wine list that’s already 93 pages long, McBain is clearly having a ball cherry-picking his favorites and bringing everything together under one roof. Patrons will no doubt find Bella Viva’s covered foyer with outdoor seating an enticing locale to sit, swirl, sniff and sip a crisp Sauvignon blanc on a balmy summer evening.
McBain also plans on giving free corkage to diners who bring their own Santa Clara County wine. The perk is designed to pair nicely with out-of-towners who develop an appetite while wine tasting along Gilroy’s winery-laden Hecker Pass Highway and Watsonville backroads – the exact type of outing that inspired McBain to take root in Gilroy in the first place.
After a wine tasting trip in January to Gilroy with his then fiancé, the young entrepreneur was impressed by the region’s viticulture backbone. He began dreaming up a use for the empty 28,000-square-foot building flanked by the Oakwood Lounge, which his father owns and is renting to McBain for free.
According to the City of Gilroy’s Historic Resources Inventory, the building was originally constructed in 1910 and was once the United Cigar Store and Bellard Parlor.
The restaurant’s aesthetics are shaping up to be a mixture of contemporary accents fused with a rustic wine cellar feel, what with gothic arched doorways and brick texturing that will cover the walls between blocks of wood shelving.
McBain doles heavy accolades to his business partner Frank Vasquez, the same contractor whose “amazing” handiwork can be admired in the recently revived historic Milias Restaurant on the corner of Monterey and Sixth streets.
McBain himself is quite the meticulous visionary, agonizing over what shades of sandstone to use for the flooring of the outdoor front patio (which has a fireplace) to the precise alignment of arched entryways that lead from one section of the restaurant to the next.
“Everything has to look good from a certain angle,” he says, positioning himself at the front door and peering toward the west end of his restaurant.
Having completed an internship with the Stanford University Department of Orthopedic Surgery, McBain hopes to open a hospital one day and is getting his feet wet in the business industry.
It’s a constant learning process for the newbie restaurateur, although he’s got a no-nonsense grasp on the critical essentials.
“In order to be successful, you need great ambiance/aesthetics, great service and good products,” said McBain, stepping over wood beams and various construction sundries.
“If one of those is lacking, then it’s going to be hard to stay in business. If one of them fails, the whole restaurant fails.”
The soft opening of Bella Viva is slated for early July, followed by invite-only for two weeks. McBain said he wants a chance to ease into the flow of things, smoothing out as many kinks as possible before opening the floodgates. Right now, Bella Viva has its liquor license and is making its way through city code and safety inspections.
McBain currently lives in Palo Alto with his wife. The two would eventually like to relocate to Gilroy.

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