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April 18, 2008 4:30 PM

Move it or lose it: Restaurateurs strike a sweet deal.

Posted by Nancy Leson

When Doug Armatage bought the Fremont Classic over a year ago, he did it with real estate in mind. As the owner of Maple Leaf's A New York Pizza Place and its wholesale spin-off East Coast Pizza Dough Co., Armatage was covering his bases, concerned that one day/someday, the old building that houses the dough-that-makes-him-dough may face the wrecking ball. "I call it the lean-to," he says. "Don't lean too hard, it'll fall over." The former software salesman, who got into the pizza business four years ago, wasn't immune to the fact that all over the area, business-folks like him were losing restaurant leases to redevelopment. "That's a very distressing thing," he says. "You think, if that happens to me, I'm in trouble."

Figuring it's better to be safe than sorry, he started looking around for restaurant property, and in late 2006 bought the Fremont Classic from longtime owner Paul Kohlenberg. Initially, Armatage hoped to relocate A New York Pizza Place to Fremont, but the restaurant kitchen wasn't industrial enough for his dough-manufacturing needs. Instead, he decided to run the Fremont Classic -- which had a 20-year history as an Italian pizza and pasta joint -- as is. But that proved to be something other than a cakewalk. "I had two very different operations, with different menus. It was too much to think about, too much to pay attention to. I was tired and worn out," Armatage says.

And then, driving past Rudy La Valle's Rialto Pasta Bar & Grill on his way from Maple Leaf to Fremont several months ago, he saw a big proposed land-use action sign on the building. He pulled over and parked the car. "I knocked on Rudy's door and said, `What are you going to do'?" In situations like this, says Armatage, "You don't have a business to sell, and you don't have an income. Your assets have just turned to zero-dollars."

In short order, La Valle laid plans to relocate his 10-year-old Riato, set to open in Fremont May 1st. "The glove was a perfect fit for the hand," he says. "Rudy needed a solution, and I needed some sleep. I'm keeping the property, and he's taking over the restaurant." Meanwhile, though Fremont Classic closed in March, Armatage says customers can still order some of the Classic's classics as well as his NY-style pizzas via delivery through Restaurants To Go.

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