Appetizers
December 22, 2011
Albert Villanueva works unlikely side of restaurant business

albert.jpgAlbert Villanueva is a foodie. He and his wife love going out to eat in their off hours.

When he's working? He's visiting restaurants, too. He insures them.

When I became aware of Villanueva and his specialized line of work, I contacted him for an interview. I didn't know there was an insurance company that focuses solely on restaurants, bars and nightclubs. Since he's also an avid restaurant-goer, I also wanted to get his impressions on the local food scene.

Villanueva, 33, lives with his wife and two kids in East Sacramento. He works for InsuRestaurants as a producer/marketing director, a job that has him visit 15 to 20 restaurants a week. He estimates his company insures 90 percent of the bars and nightclubs in the area, along with countless restaurants.

When you read in the newspaper about a mishap at a nightclub - a fight, a shooting, a death -- Villanueva is probably reading about a client.

"Anybody who has high alcohol sales tends to get more hostile patrons. Assault and battery coverage is extremely important. It covers any kind of fighting - incidents between patrons or between employees and patrons. It's one of the things that our company boasts we can do extremely well," he said.

Villanueva says a busy nightclub will likely be paying $12,000 to $18,000 a year for general liability, liquor law liability and assault and battery coverage.

Of course, our restaurant scene doesn't see a lot of fighting. Villanueva says restaurants often deal with mishaps like slips and falls, food-borne illnesses and injuries like a chipped tooth.

Like a lot of people who make sales calls, Villanueva relies on word-of-mouth referrals. He is selling a product these businesses are legally required to have, so he has to win them over with personal service, attention to detail and all the little things that prevent a chore from becoming a hassle.

"I love my job and I love helping people protect their livelihood.," he said.

Villanueva typically plans his work two weeks out, relying on his iPad and iPhone to stay organized.

"Google calendar runs my life. It's something I'm constantly organizing," he said.

Regarding the food scene in the Sacramento area, he has visited nearly every kind of restaurant imaginable since he began specializing in this realm in 2005.

"I've seen it mature drastically in the last three or four years, especially outside downtown in the greater Sacramento area," he said. "There are some great places in Roseville and Folsom. The dining scene is maturing and really getting there. I really think over the next three or four years there is going to be even more

"There are a lot of young, talented chefs and they're starting their own eateries. They're coming with a plethora of skills."

Then I asked Villanueva a few food-related questions just for fun.

Memorable meal: "The most recent one that comes to mind is the Ella tasting menu in September. I had my birthday meal there. It was really great."

Favorite dive: "I'd have to say JR's Texas BBQ. I like JR, I love the food. I take my kids there."

Guilty pleasure: "Probably an In-N-Out burger. I don't eat much fast food, but I probably go there once a quarter."

Food that cheers him up: "I'd say pizza. It's just one of those things. It's a family affair. We make our pizzas at home. It's something that would cheer me up for sure. We hand-roll our dough and go to the farmers market to buy all the ingredients."

Food he won't eat: "That's tough. I probably wouldn't eat those Hostess cupcakes."

Something he might be embarrassed to admit he eats: "A combination pizza from Roundtable."

Blair Anthony Robertson is the restaurant critic at The Bee. Follow him on Twitter, @Blarob.

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