As part of a busy Carmel restaurant family, Gian Antonio Pepe is no stranger to greeting guests, bussing tables or working in kitchens.
“I basically grew up at Carmel Bakery and Little Napoli. From a pretty early age, when my parents didn't know what to do with me, they had me helping customers in the bakery,” he says.
Today, as CEO of Pepe International, Pepe is still involved with those establishments – plus Vesuvio, Pèppoli, and several wine and spirits projects under the company founded by his parents, Rich and Sandra. His brother, Christian, also works in the family businesses.
As a young adult, Pepe didn’t intend to stay in restaurants. After graduating from the University of California, Berkeley, he worked for a few tech companies and later co-founded a marketing agency. Then, the pandemic shifted the landscape, and his parents started talking retirement. He returned to Pepe International in 2020.
While he's added some seasonal items to menus and recently installed a new pizza oven at Vesuvio, the second-generation restaurateur isn't making major changes. Pepe believes that building upon his parents’ legacy starts with honoring what works.
“My father looks up to the Antinori family, in Italy. They’ve had a wine business for 26 generations,” he says. “My dad would love for Carmel Bakery to be in our family until the end of time. We think a lot about preserving this for the long term.”
Like Pepe, Mona Calis started helping out in her parents’ restaurant as a child.
“As soon as I was old enough, I would stand on a milk crate and help run the dishes through the dishwasher,” she says. “My brother and I spent a lot of our time there after school, and we made a lot of friends through the industry, too.”
Calis moved into front-of-house roles in other restaurants during and after college, and she continued working in hospitality after moving from Canada to California with her husband, Ken Donkersloot. Though she took a break from culinary work while her son was young, she later re-engaged with part-time catering roles and then ventured into ownership. Since 2020, Calis and Donkersloot have founded Coastal Roots Hospitality, which includes Tarpy’s, Montrio, Rio Grill, and Coastal Roots Events & Catering.
Calis values the flexibility and countless career opportunities available in the hospitality industry. Even more important are the relationships with supportive regular restaurant customers and with team members.
“I call them all my children, because it's like family. We hope that our staff treats the guests like family, and we try to treat our staff like family, as well,” Calis says.
The Monterey County Hospitality Association (MCHA) fosters industry relationships through educational programs, advocacy and employee recognition programs. Thanks to a new alliance with the California Restaurant Association, MCHA member restaurants enjoy expanded access to networking events, news updates, training tools and other industry resources. Learn more about the partnership, and about hospitality career pathways, at www.mcha.net