Standing 6 feet, 9 inches tall, waiter Rick Jones cuts quite a figure at the old warhorse of oceanfront Orange County fine-dining establishments, the Villa Nova in Newport Beach.
“When they remodeled the Villa Nova in ’94, they raised the roof a little bit, so that’s helped me,” he jokes.
If you have the good fortune to be served by Jones, it won’t be his height you’ll most remember. It will be the excellent service he provides. And you’ll be shocked to discover the 50-year-old has worked at the place for only a year and a half.
Jones seems to know the pricey Italian restaurant like one of its veteran workers—and keep in mind the head chef, maitre d’ and general manager have worked there a combined 125 years.
“The waiters who have been there for years say the Villa Nova is where old waiters go to die,” Jones says with a laugh.
But when he got there, his co-workers accepted him right away.
“I’ve been around restaurants for a while, so it was easy to adapt,” he says. Veteran servers likely recognize “the restaurant business is in my blood.”
Growing up in Monterey Park, Jones bussed tables at his father’s Los Angeles restaurant, the Dutch Oven. “That was my first taste of the stress of restaurants,” he says.
He attended what was then Chapman College in Orange, later dabbling in manufacturing, construction (including hanging drywall) and appraising buildings. But he always returned to food service.
Among the places he waited were Nick’s Fishmarket in Waikiki, Hawaii (“That was quite an experience”); the former John Dominis restaurant a couple of doors down from the Villa Nova; and, for its five years of existence, Turner New Zealand in the South Coast Metro area.
When the latter closed in early 2008, Jones was out of work and, for a waiter, long of tooth. Fortunately, unemployment did not last long.
“I took a week off, and the first place I applied to was the Villa Nova,” he says.
Two days later, he got a callback and was immediately hired. “I didn’t have to look anywhere else,” says Jones, the shock still evident in his voice. “For 50-ish waiters, there are not too many opportunities.”
He relishes it. “The people who come in are great,” he says. “It’s been so consistent for so many years—you know what you’re going to get when you go there. That’s a good thing. The Villa Nova is an institution. We joke around that we should be institutionalized while working there, but it’s a great place.”
And the greatest thing about it is location, location, location. “Everyone loves to look out over the water,” Jones says. “It brings me back to a sailing class I took at the Orange Coast Windward Sailing Club. We sailed over to Catalina.”
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A lifelong waterman, he has loved the beach since he began visiting his godmother’s Huntington Beach home at age 6. Now, he lives in Surf City with his wife. His town’s greatest attraction, The Ocean, is also his No. 1 OC icon.
“I just love being out on the water,” he says. “When it gets warm, everyone heads to the beach to get that coolness of the ocean. That’s what drew me to Orange County, getting out on the water. That makes this different than anywhere else. In Monterey Park, maybe you can see the ocean, on a good day, 40 miles away. Here, it’s right in your back yard.”
Villa Nova Restaurant, 3131 W. Coast Hwy., Newport Beach, (949) 642-7880; www.villanovarestaurant.com.