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Tim Talk: Bringing great burgers to downtown Pleasanton

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Skip Hinsley and Todd Utikal, the minds behind the new SideTrack Bar + Grill. (Contributed photo)

When Todd Utikal and his wife celebrated life milestones at Skip Hinsley's Girasole restaurant, he never imagined that years later they would be business partners in downtown Pleasanton's newest restaurant.

They are scheduled to open SideTrack Bar + Grill later this month and will be participating in the Pleasanton Downtown Association's Brew Crawl next Saturday (Oct. 27). It's a total rebuild of the former Joy restaurant at 30 West Angela St.

Skip operated Girasole for many years in the strip shopping center at Santa Rita Road and West Las Positas Boulevard. He also owned a catering business.

Todd and his wife went to Girasole on their first date and also went there the night they learned the gender of their first daughter. Todd said he knew of Skip through Rotary and other community activities, but they had never met.

When he planned to open a restaurant, he promised his wife he would find an experienced restaurateur as a partner. Todd reached out to Skip with a Facebook message as Skip was headed to his new home in Tucson. They talked, and, after a few half-day meetings, Todd convinced Skip, 72, to get back into the business.

They started by nailing down the lease with landlord Larry McColm, who was trying to win city approval for a three-story building with two floors of apartments over the restaurant. McColm eventually abandoned those plans and moved ahead with the "remodel." While that was going on, Todd raised money from local investors and obtained a small business loan. By the time they open this month, they estimate about $1.5 million will have been invested in the building.

Both were educated in different fields -- Skip is a licensed lawyer and also holds an MBA from Dartmouth. Todd graduated with an accounting major. Instead of practicing accounting, he got into the cruise industry (he still has a small business booking tours for longtime clients) and became the youngest assistant cruise director for a major line. Skip joined "Frankie, Johnnie & Luigi" for a short-term project and 11 years later he was running four restaurants.

What they share is they love making people happy, and that's their bottom line at SideTrack. The name and theme are based on the former Trans-Continental Railroad line located next to the restaurant.

Their goal is a family-friendly establishment with great hamburgers where dad can get a craft brew or a cocktail and mom has a wide choice of wines. Working with Skip's longtime chef Bert Ortiz, they spent a couple of weeks taste-testing burger blends on a gas grill set up in Todd's backyard. The menu includes seven beef burgers plus a black bean veggie burger and a portobella mushroom burger.

In addition to the burgers, there will be a variety of small plates and entrees, including a few favorites from Girasole. That includes Scoozi, the garlic-laden cheese-stuffed buns as well as Absolut Prawns and Spinach for Veronica. It will reflect cultural diversity with dishes such as the Sonoran Street Taco Trio, Thai Chili Chicken Wings and Oaxaca Nachos.

When they open, the menu will be the same for lunch and dinner. In addition to the burgers and entree salads, they will offer deli-style sandwiches including two corned beef sandwiches with beef procured from a small San Francisco firm. Located next to the Saturday Farmers' Market, they will expand into a weekend brunch and then broaden the dinner menu with prime rib and other hearty entrees.

The restaurant seats about 140 with 55 seats on the two patios, one facing West Angela and the other facing the parking lot. The patios are equipped with gas heaters, so they should be usable year-round. There will be a few big screens for the ball games, but they emphasize that this is not a sports bar. This month, they've been busy hiring staff -- some are familiar to Skip from his prior ventures.

Handling the chef duties will be Victor Escamilla, an Amador Valley High grad. He's started cooking in downtown Pleasanton and has worked at Piatti's in Danville, the Blackhawk Grille and the Pleasanton Hotel.

When the first customer is seated, it will mark the end of three years of work and 13 months of construction and the start of making people happy. Fittingly, an empty eyesore will be reborn as another downtown restaurant.

Editor's note: Journalist Tim Hunt has written columns on the Tri-Valley community for more than 40 years. He grew up in the valley and lives in Pleasanton. His "Tim Talk" blog appears twice a week at PleasantonWeekly.com.

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18 people like this
Posted by Bill
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 18, 2018 at 4:17 pm

Congratulations Todd and Skip on this new and exciting adventure! And bringing back the Scoozi!
We needed one more watering hole downtown with cocktails and a friendly place you can bring the family. Best of Luck!

1 person likes this
Posted by nadiabreiz@gmail.com
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 18, 2018 at 4:27 pm

Congratulations, Skip! You've always been a hard worker and dedicated to your industry. I have no doubt this will be a success and can't wait to give it a try!

Like this comment
Posted by Dick
a resident of Golden Eagle
on Oct 18, 2018 at 7:14 pm

Congratulations Todd and Skip looking forward to some great meals, this is very exciting, may the Force be with you.

3 people like this
Posted by Steve Conner
a resident of another community
on Oct 18, 2018 at 9:31 pm

Congratulations Todd!! Sachi and I wish you the best. We know you will be a smashing success.

3 people like this
Posted by Larry Annis
a resident of Vintage Hills
on Oct 19, 2018 at 9:29 am

Best of success to 2 guys who have always done things the right way!

1 person likes this
Posted by Gary Dinman
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 19, 2018 at 10:18 am

Hey Skip,

Good to have you back. Glad to see your Scozzi is coming back. If you also bring back your Chicken Gorgi all will be right with the world (<:

1 person likes this
Posted by Joe Crosslin
a resident of Pleasanton Valley
on Oct 19, 2018 at 10:57 am

Good luck on your restaurant, I'm looking forward to enjoying a corned beef sandwich.

Like this comment
Posted by Alice Jones
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 19, 2018 at 11:31 am

Looking forward to the new restaurant!welcome back to Pleasanton, Skip!

2 people like this
Posted by Dave
a resident of Stoneridge
on Oct 19, 2018 at 11:35 am

Must have some Scozzi !

Like this comment
Posted by Sean
a resident of Dublin
on Oct 19, 2018 at 4:42 pm

I remember first meeting Skip at the Dublin Frankie Johnnie & Luigi's grand opening, when he pulled up in his yellow Rolls Royce Corniche convertible, which was quite a grand entrance for the little town at the time:) Wishing for much success for the new endeavor!

Like this comment
Posted by Rob
a resident of Downtown
on Oct 19, 2018 at 9:28 pm

YES! Scuzzi and Chicken Gorgi. We miss Girasole.

3 people like this
Posted by Jason Escamilla
a resident of San Ramon
on Oct 20, 2018 at 12:39 pm

Can’t wait!! My mouth is already watering!!

Like this comment
Posted by Tobias Brink
a resident of Livermore
on Oct 20, 2018 at 3:29 pm

Skip. Congrats. Guess you will need someone to harvest the Scoozi:)

3 people like this
Posted by Love SideTrack
a resident of Birdland
on Oct 21, 2018 at 12:47 pm

Congratulations Todd and Skip! I am a mom, sure hope it's ok that I enjoy a beer there as well as the dads, hahaha.

Like this comment
Posted by Tracie
a resident of Parkside
on Oct 21, 2018 at 1:06 pm

Amazing job Utikals!! Can’t wait for opening! Congrats!

Like this comment
Posted by Robert Adam
a resident of Another Pleasanton neighborhood
on Oct 22, 2018 at 11:24 am


Like this comment
Posted by Steve
a resident of Vineyard Avenue
on Oct 24, 2018 at 11:16 am

Uptown on Main Street also just opened, with very good burgers and craft brews.

1 person likes this
Posted by Michael Austin
a resident of Pleasanton Meadows
on Oct 24, 2018 at 7:33 pm

I wish a German eatery would open in Pleasanton!
I have not had a tasty Krautburger in thirty years!

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