Marin native Glenn Cybulski knows pizza.
The single father of four learned his craft — making a great pie — from the prestigious Scuola Italiano Pizzaioli in Italy. He won best pizza at the Taste of Petaluma in 2007 and has amassed numerous other accolades for pizzas with nontraditional toppings such as chicken chipotle and Dungeness crab.
So when Cybulski learned that the city's quote for standard sewer fees for Season's Sports Bar and Grill, the restaurant he planned to open, had gone up from $10,000 to $126,000, he didn't know what to say or do.
"For the first time in my life I was speechless," Cybulski said. "We had $125,000 invested in this project, and my options were literally bankruptcy. Well, being a single dad with four little kids that's not an option."
"I never quit on anything in my whole life," he said.
Rohnert Park, like all cities, charges sewer capacity charges for new developments to "ensure that such development pays for its fair share of improvements and expansion of the sewer treatment and disposal system," according to the city's municipal code.
But Cybulski couldn't pay the six-figure fee. The city looked at the amount of tables in Season's, and took into account the developer who built the building had already paid the initial sewer fees. In the end, Cybulski was charged $109,000 to be paid over three years, with 5 percent interest.
"I was already over budget and underfunded," Cybulski said. "The sewer fees alone would have closed this project."
Cybulski's dream to open Season's in Rohnert Park — a city he said is perfect for a restaurant serving seasonal fare with a sustainable ethos — wasn't realized until he ran into Mayor Gina Belforte at the Harvest Festival in Santa Rosa this September.
"I saw him with a sign that said 'Seasons: coming soon to Rohnert Park,' and I ran over to congratulate him. That's when he told me what had happened with the sewer fees and that he might not be able to pull it off," Belforte said. "He had incredibly good points. I just listened to him with two ears open. That's what the city council is here for — to listen."
Less than two weeks later, Cybulski was up in front of the city council, telling his story. The sewer fees were too high. He was wanting to fill a void in Rohnert Park's restaurant scene.
Just two weeks after Cybulski spoke to the council, the city amended the sewer capacity charge section of the Rohnert Park Municipal Code.
"We changed the code and were able to give a deferred payment plan for high water users, which are mostly restaurants, so that they can pay over a period time rather than everything up front," said John Dunn, interim assistant city manager.
"Our goal is to be more responsive to business applicants and we're actively trying to adopt an attitude where we work as quickly and friendly as possible," Dunn said.
Success in Rohnert Park?
Rohnert Park has always been known as a fast food city, Cybulski said. "This was literally the only spot in Sonoma County where something like this would work. There's nothing here like what I'm putting together."
Cybulski's concept for Season's, which will open in January, is local food made from scratch. No freezers, except for maybe a small one in the back for gelato. Prime rib Thursdays. Fresh Dungeness crab raviolis with the pasta made from scratch right there in the back. Wood-fired pizza pies. Even a traditional pasta feed on Sundays for a special price.
"The people here are dying for food that's fresh and local and sustainable. There's definitely a market for it," Cybulski said. "You can get a quick meal, but you can also stay, and you don't have to be rich to eat here."
"This is economic development … bringing in new business to Rohnert Park," said Councilmember Joe Callinan. "And how do you do that? You go out and you tell them, we can help you…how can we make it easier for you to come in and get a permit."
The entire city council agreed.
"It's exciting to see the city start to partner with businesses so that they choose to come to Rohnert Park over the neighboring cities," said former Councilmember Amie Breeze, who was on the board when the city passed the amendment. "We're going to help them in tangible ways to do that."
Rohnert Park recently adopted a new economic development action plan aiming to be more business friendly. City leaders said requiring businesses to pay a huge chunk of money for sewer fees up front was a barrier that needed to be eliminated.
"We were able to help Glenn through a problem that needed to be dealt with. And we created a solution for people in the future who have this problem," Dunn said.
"It gives me chills," Cybulski said. "The city stepped up in a big way. Without the help it would have been nearly impossible."
Pizza: a Way of Life
Cybulski's passion for surfing is what ignited his career as a restauranteur.
"Every November I would go to Hawaii and surf, because that's when the waves were the best," he said. "And one day I walked up to the bar, and met three Italians and I bought them a shot of tequila."
"I was 29, and that shot of tequila changed my life," he said. "We just clicked."
Cybulski went on to become lifelong friends with the Italians at the bar, and they taught him how to perfect his craft: making pizza, seafood, handmade pasta, hand-rolled gnocchi, the list goes on.
"It's not going to be hard to get people to walk into this place. The challenge is keep them coming back," Cybulski said. "That's a challenge I already know I can do because I've already done it."
Following the economic downturn, he closed his chain of five North Bay restaurants and one in Gulfport, Miss., called Fregene's — after the tiny town outside Rome he first visited 30 years ago with his friends from Italy.
"There's two things I know I'm good at — making a great pizza, and being a great dad," he said.