Just a few months after arriving in the United States from Peru at the tender age of 18 Gino Rivera’s father told him to get a job.
It would change his life and take him to Maple Valley twice.
The second time led him to pursue opening a restaurant in Four Corners in the location previously occupied for some three decades by Shakey’s Pizza.
Rivera started his culinary journey making salads at Filibertos Cucina Italia in Burien.
He didn’t speak English yet, but, as he learned the restaurant business he learned the language as well. It also led to his career path in life.
“I started moving up,” Rivera said. “And I decided this is what I wanted to do.”
Later he got a job working at Giancarlo’s in Federal Way. At the time, he was living in Maple Valley, which was a much smaller town 17 years ago. His experience here, however, left an indelible mark.
He helped the owner of Giancarlo’s open a second location called Verrazano’s in Federal Way. That’s where he met his wife, Kelly, who has also worked in restaurants her entire adult life and then some.
Rivera ran Verrazano’s for several years in the late 1990s before moving on to an opportunity in Milton with another restaurant owner where “maybe I could take it to another level.”
It ended up not working out, Rivera said, so he went back to Giancarlo’s which was struggling under a different owner.
“They were on the way out,” he said. “So, I had to opportunity to buy it at a fraction of the price. I was fortunate enough that my father in law gave me a loan to start with. We opened up in 2002.”
Nearly a decade of success there, which he renamed Gino’s Bistro, led him to open another location in Port Orchard in 2007.
Things went well there until the economy tanked and Rivera was forced to walk away.
Still, the idea of running a second restaurant remained, and Maple Valley was still in the back of his mind.
“When I used to live in Maple Valley I used to think it would be a great place (for a restaurant),” Rivera said. “Everything has been moving east. Now it looks like Maple Valley would be where the growth is.”
His landlord at the small neighborhood restaurant off Southwest 320th Street in Federal Way also owns the building in Four Corners where the new Gino’s Bistro, slated to open in March, will be located.
One day last summer he was chatting with his landlord and told her if anything ever opened up in Maple Valley, to let him know, to which she replied, “Funny you should ask about Maple Valley.”
Shortly before that conversation, the Shakey’s Pizza spot opened up, she said.
It seemed ideal for Rivera. He got financing for the improvements the space needed, then went back and got more, and has been preparing the place for a grand opening in the coming weeks.
Rivera has put in a fair amount of work, he noted, because all that was in the restaurant was a pizza oven. He wanted to do the same Italian menu he does in Federal Way, as well as the other items he offers ranging from steaks to Mediterranean flavors to Spanish influenced dishes such as paella, which is his personal favorite.
With the help of his father, as well as the work of contractors, the restaurant has been completely renovated. Walls have been moved, plumbing fixed, a bar has been added to complement the dining room and 20-seat banquet space.
“It’s been more of an investment over here,” Rivera said.
In a city with a dearth of sit-down restaurants with busy families, Rivera said, he hopes to provide something they can’t get right now.
“The core of our business is that we’re a neighborhood restaurant,” he said. “We’re family owned. We have a cozy, inviting, elegant atmosphere. Everything is homemade. Everything is made to order.”
Rivera noted that he makes all his food from scratch, nothing is pre-packaged and re-heated in the microwave, something patrons may see at other restaurants.
In addition to service in the restaurant, he said, Gino’s Bistro in Maple Valley will also offer event catering and a family-style take out menu ideal for the go-go lifestyle of the family-oriented community.
As a father of four kids — Keanu, who is 17, Max, 16, Kiara, who is 12, and Nyah, 11 — he understands what it’s like to try and help his wife feed the family in between homework and soccer practice.
His wife, Kelly, will oversee operations at the Federal Way location as things get going in Maple Valley.
Rivera has brought in a chef to help him with Maple Valley.
“I have somebody that has worked for me over the years,” he said. “I’ve brought him over to get that place going. Hopefully this will be an opportunity for him.”