Ann Ainardi Sobrato was born in 1915 in Black Diamond, a small coal-mining town of European immigrants near Puget Sound, Washington. When Ann was only three her mother died of tuberculosis, and Ann’s father brought the family back to Torino, Italy.
John Massimo Sobrato of Suza, Italy enlisted in his teens in the American army during World War I. Wounded in action, John was decorated with a Purple Heart, and became a cook for the general staff. The officers recognized his talents and encouraged him to immigrate to America after the war. He settled in San Francisco and worked his way up in the restaurant business, eventually opening his own establishment during the Prohibition Era in North Beach. Though he moved locations several times, loyal patrons always sought out John’s Rendezvous.
Famed for its fine food the restaurant grew, and John purchased a building at 50 Osgood Place—eventually expanding John’s Rendezvous to half a city block. It drew thousands of patrons for more than 20 years and was considered the largest and finest restaurant in San Francisco during the 1940s. (See images in Historical Timeline.) Once successful in San Francisco, 39-year-old John traveled back to his hometown to find a wife. He met and married 21-year-old Ann Sobrato, returned to the City, and purchased a home in San Francisco’s Marina district. Arriving without a sentence of English or any formal education, Ann studied at Healds College.
Ann and John welcomed their son John Albert in 1939. During World War II, food shortages prompted them to buy a 5-acre estate in Atherton, where they could raise poultry and produce to supply the restaurant. When John passed in 1952, Ann sold the restaurant for $75,000. She reinvested some of the proceeds in property on the Peninsula, parlayed those profits into other holdings, and became the first female real estate developer in the region. Ann worked incessantly—developing keen negotiation and deal making skills, cultivating relationships, taking calculated risks, and guiding her son into what was now the family business. She gained renown as the “Mother of Silicon Valley”—one of the most successful developers in what has become the leading technology region in the world.
When Ann’s son John took over the business in the early 1960s, Ann devoted herself to voluntarism, dedicating thousands of hours as a “pink lady” at Stanford and at the Menlo Park Veterans hospitals. She also served weekly at St Anthony’s soup kitchen in the low income Fair Oaks neighborhood in Redwood City. In 1998, Ann endowed more than half a million dollars to the Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford for their children’s play area and a Families in Need fund—assisting loved ones of uninsured patients to pay for lodging and transportation expenses while their children receive care. And she provided tremendous support to another favorite charity: the Boys’ and Girls’ Towns of Italy, which provide safe, home-like environments, education and vocational training to orphaned children in Italy. Ann’s wealth continues to make a difference after her death—the Sobrato Family Foundation endowment includes Ann’s entire estate, enabling millions of dollars of grant making to nonprofits throughout the region she loved so dearly.