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Quiet Change at Renato

New ownership foresees brings more seafood to menu.

With little fanfare and only minor visible changes, Renato restaurant in Potomac Village changed ownership in September.

In the nearly three months since then little more than the menu has changed, and that was only slightly. There are more changes afoot as the New Year approaches, but according to the new ownership those will be relatively minor as well.

"Most people didn’t know at first," said Ian Rickerby, the new owner of Renato and the owner of River Falls Seafood and River Falls Market that are next door to Renato. "It’s been two or three months and a lot of people still don’t know. We really haven’t changed too much."

THE STAFF REMAINS entirely the same, including manager Enzo Iachetti, who has been with the restaurant since 1991 and head chef Beatrice Zelaya, who has been on board since 1994. The biggest change has been the addition of more seafood to the menu and more specials, many of which are seafood entrees, Rickerby said.

Renato was opened by Enzo De'Chiarra in 1989 offering only carryout to it's customers for the first year it operated, according to Iachetti. In 1990 it began to offer seating to its customers, though carryout continues to be an option today. Over time Renato has served such local celebrities as Ted Koppel, Wolf Blitzer, John Glenn, and various members of the Kennedy and Shriver families, according to Iachetti. De'Chiarra, who also owns a restaurant In McLean, Va. called Capri, sold Renato to Rickerby as he scales back his business operations, said Iachetti.

Word has slowly gotten in the last few weeks but the customers have remained loyal, said Iachetti.

"We get a lot of regulars, people who come here two to three times a week," said Iachetti. "They come in and we know what drinks to bring them and what they’re going to order. They don’t want change."

Rickerby estimated a ten to fifteen percent increase in patronage in the two months since he began operating. "We’ve gotten a lot of compliments from customers," said Rickerby.

"When they first heard some people didn’t want to come," said longtime customer Irene Wallert. "But I kept telling people that nothing has changed, it’s still the same place with the same people."

Those skeptics returned, according to Wallert, and she agrees with Rickerby that the restaurant has continued largely unchanged.

SOME CHANGES are in store for Renato, but Rickerby views them as improvements. First, the name will change to Renato at River Falls and new signage will adorn the front of the restaurant and the two markets next door. The idea, according to Rickerby, is to create a common identity among the three commonly owned ventures. Inside the restaurant new lighting will replace the current track lighting that Rickerby estimates has been the same since the 1980s. New booths and new carpeting will simultaneously freshen the atmosphere and compliment a menu that beginning in the new year will blend the current Italian fare with more Mediterranean tastes, including in particular a larger emphasis on seafood, according to Rickerby.

The new menu will also offer a larger wine selection, and by spring Rickerby hopes to have a small porch area with outside seating for patrons.

"We aren’t getting rid of anything that’s on the menu now. We aren’t making any drastic changes. This is a great place; it’s got a lot of charm. We just want to make it a little better."