The Swiss hotel was named Sonoma County Small Business of the Year by Senator Bill Dodd on Wednesday, just months before the iconic Sonoma business turned 100 years old.
“I have enjoyed working with the public over the years,” owner Hank Marioni said in a press release. “
Switzerland, as it is known to locals, was founded in 1923 by Swiss immigrant Moses Mastelotto. Mastelotto took over the site of West Spain Street, built in 1846 by General Vallejo’s brother. The hotel porch reads “California Historic Landmark No. 496.”
Senator Dodd said in a press release: “It’s the epitome of a family business whose owners have made great contributions to the community. We are delighted to recognize their achievements and wish them all the best in the future.”
The Swiss passed through four generations of the Mastelotto family before it passed into the hands of today’s owner, Hank Marioni.
As a child, he remembers eating in the Swiss Hotel kitchen where his grandmother worked. Cook Freddie Wing used to give the Marioni brothers quartet “whatever was on the stove.”
The Swiss menu hasn’t changed dramatically since Marioni took over in 1991. He believes this is because the restaurant has survived while other Sonoma Plaza outlets have closed, sold, reopened, and closed.
An article about a night at the Swiss Hotel was documented by Press Democratic reporter Jeff Cox in 2014 and illustrates the restaurant’s timeless and ephemeral charm. He described it simply as “sweet life, Sonoma style”.
“Sit back and relax, enjoy the crisp weather and watch the fascinating parade of people, mostly tourists at this time of year, strolling the sidewalks,” Cox wrote in 2014. We make a fuss to get your order to the red and white checked tablecloth as quickly as possible.
As iconic as the Swiss tablecloth is the waitperson, Jean Powell. She recently found that, after 25 years, she’s been working at Swissotel for exactly half of her life.
In fact, as part of the city’s “Celebrate Sonoma” program, Powell was given her own day on August 5th in recognition of her place in the community. And over the years, she said, the Swiss have become a second family to her.
“To sustain a business that has been so strong and successful for so long over generations is such a big deal, isn’t it?” Powell said in a dinner rush tone. “We are a family. We are not a corporation.”
Powell said it’s notable that the restaurant will be passed down to four, and soon to be, five generations.
Marioni will retire in October after running the company for 30 years and will hand over the management to his cousin’s daughter, Christine Dunlap-Schanz, who was a manager in Switzerland for 18 years.
When Marioni took over the restaurant in 1991, he felt pressure to “not screw it up.” He wanted to create a ‘red and white ball’ where patrons could serve the community and order affordable glasses from the Maker’s Mark.
“We had reservations all night long, and there’s a lot of family groups that I grew up with, and everyone wore red and white dresses,” Marioni said. It was a really great time in Sonoma that night.”
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