Maria Autera-Shepard

by Ondine Brooks Kuraoka

—[ live your dream ]—

Finding a Way To Give Back

Maria Autera-Sheperd, a second-generation Italian from Milan, has found a way to share her Italian roots with San Diego, her beloved home, as marketing sales manager for Solare Ristorante in Point Loma and Caffé Bella Italia in Pacific Beach.

Maria saw an opportunity to support the historical preservation of the Naval Training Center at Liberty Station in Point Loma and the nonprofit organizations that make their home there. She talked to her cousin, Roberta Ceresoli and Roberta’s husband, Chef Stefano Ceresoli, first-generation Italians (also from Milan) and owners of Caffé Bella Italia, about opening a new restaurant at Liberty Station.

Liberty Station symbolizes the ability of U.S. citizens of diverse backgrounds to work together. “A portion of the property on the longtime Naval Training Center has been declared a historical renovation,” Maria says. “The buildings will never be torn down. The goal is to turn it into a place where the public can come and reminisce, especially because this base trained so many thousands of men and women. My Uncle Vito trained there for World War II.” For Maria and her family, opening Solare meant more than just opening another restaurant. “We have a successful restaurant, Caffé Bella Italia, but we asked ourselves, ‘How are we giving back?’ San Diego has become home for us and our children. My son and Roberta and Stefano’s son attend High Tech Middle School in Liberty Station.”

The Naval Training Center Foundation’s goal was to bring nonprofits to the property and incorporate theater, art and dance, creating a cultural area with museums, and an open park for concerts. The nonprofits can’t afford the high rent and need to be underwritten.

As the only for-profit within the cluster of nonprofit organizations, Solare contributes directly by underwriting the necessary funds to aid the burgeoning nonprofit community.

“The nonprofits around us work with children who are terminally ill or have disabilities, and with families who’ve lost children,” Maria says. “They’re trying to bring positive energy back to their lives. We wanted to extend that into the restaurant so we picked the name Solare to signify energy and sun. The swirl in the background of our design is the yin-yang, energy coming together, blending into one.”

The interior was designed by Stefano — aside from being a chef, he has an interior design degree. Maria’s great aunts sewed and designed all the curtains and friends from Venice did the Venetian plaster and mosaics. “It’s been a family affair putting it all together,” Maria says. “It’s a place where people feel comfortable. People can bring their dogs and sit outside and have a glass of wine. We want it to feel like an extension of home, a place for people to exchange ideas, dreams, passions.”

“If you live in a community and you’re raising your children there, it’s your responsibility to give back to it,” Maria says. “We’re very proud to be Americans, and that our Italian heritage can bring something so wonderful.”

There are another 26 buildings to fill at the Naval Training Center. Maria says, “The more people, the more energy that’s put in, the more it will generate outward. We’re given an opportunity to try and take care of things that are important for the rest of the generations. This is our small way of doing it.”