Creative Regional California Cuisine

Our Team

Cy Yontz

Executive Chef

Born in Los Angeles and raised in Denver, Yontz began working in kitchens as a teenager, but attributes his first real love of food to his apprenticeship under his mentor, celebrity chef, author and self-proclaimed “Dean of Southwestern Cuisine,” Jimmy Schmidt (Chianti on Main, Chianti Tucson Grill, Rattlesnake Club).

In Denver, Yontz worked with restaurateur Kevin Taylor at Palletes Restaurant and Café Z in the Denver Art Museum before expanding both his geographic and culinary horizons at Pranzo Italian Grill, a well-known celebrity hangout in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Moving from Italian to Southwestern cuisine, Yontz then worked with Chef Mark Miller at Santa Fe’s Coyote Café.

In 2001, Yontz ventured briefly to Houston where he served as corporate R&D chef for Pappas Restaurants, implementing award-winning themes and recipes in more than 70 locations before returning to Santa Fe as executive chef at Someone’s in the Kitchen, an upscale catering company.

Yontz has achieved great success in the various markets in which he has served, garnering praise from regional associations and media, and culminating in an invitation to the prestigious James Beard House in 2002. Yontz recently returned to his native California to raise his family and serve as executive chef at Rio Grill where he hopes to crystallize his creative culinary vision.

Becky Ellis

General Manager

Becky Ellis was born and raised in Colorado. After moving to California, she embarked on a career in the restaurant industry that has taken her from an entry level position in the pantry of Casanova to her current position as General Manager of Rio Grill.

In 1991, Becky took her first position at Rio Grill as a server and in 1993, transitioned to another Downtown Dining property, Tarpy's Roadhouse where she was promoted to restaurant Manager and placed in charge of the liquor program and staff scheduling.

Following her tenure at Tarpy's, Becky moved to Montrio Bistro, also a Downtown Dining property, where she served as part of the Management Team until 1996 when she left to start a family.

After working part time at Hullaballoo until 2005, Becky returned in 2009 to her true family, Downtown Dining at Tarpy's in the Events and Catering Department.  She took advantage of a Restaurant Manager opening at Rio in 2010 and became General Manager in 2015.

Sarah Villa

Sarah Villa Banquet ManagerBanquet Manager

When she was only 9 years old, Sarah Villa planned a surprise celebration for her parent's wedding anniversary.

That was the first inkling that she was somehow going to make event planning a lifelong career.

Sarah now has nine years of experience under her belt in event planning. Her expertise is wide-ranging and includes event coordination, event rentals, venue management and even floral artistry.

She is exceptionally gifted at navigating the complexities of any event while making it appear seamless. Her passion for food, wine and customers makes her the perfect addition to the Rio Grill team as the new banquet manager.

Sarah is excited to bring her gifts and abilities to the Rio Grill and looks forward to planning your next event — a surprise wedding anniversary party perhaps?

Cory Calder

coryBar Manager

A native of South Lake Tahoe, Cory Calder moved to the Monterey Peninsula in 2007 and was immediately drawn to the hospitality industry.

While playing collegiate soccer and majoring in Kinesiology, Health and Wellness at California State University Monterey Bay, Cory honed his food and beverage service skills working in both front- and back-of-the-house positions in Santa Cruz.

In 2012, Cory moved to the peninsula and worked at two of Carmel's most popular and respected restaurants, Little Napoli and Vesuvio. While there, he advanced his knowledge of and interest in wine and spirits.

As Rio’s new Bar Manager, Cory contributes to the upbeat and exciting atmosphere that patrons have come to know and love. He's always willing to lend a helping hand and makes sure that each guest is exceptionally well cared for.

In his spare time, Cory enjoys volunteering for a local organic farm, learning about sustainable farming practices, seasonal recipes and specialty produce, which he hopes to showcase on Rio Grill's signature cocktail menu!

Tony Tollner

Managing Partner

Tony was born in Cleveland, Ohio in 1953. In 1964, Tony and his family moved to Greensboro, North Carolina where his mom lives today. In Greensboro, Tony embarked on his career in the restaurant industry taking a position at Yogi Bear Honey-Fried Chicken, at age 15.

Following a career in the Navy and time to "explore his options", Tony moved to Mountain View, California and attended Foothill College. During that time, he supported himself waiting tables at MacArthur Park in Palo Alto. It was there that the idea of restaurant management first surfaced. On a trip to the Monterey Peninsula he went to what was then Billy Quon’s where their ex-boss was working. Following a job offer, Tony moved to Carmel Valley in 1983.

In November of 1983, Tony helped to open Rio Grill and in 1985 he became a partner in Real Restaurants, which was then comprised of Rio Grill, Mustard’s Grill in Napa and Fog City Diner in San Francisco. In 1989, Real Restaurants reorganized and Rio Grill became a free-standing entity.

Tony managed Rio Grill from 1984 until 1991 when he and his partner, Bill Cox found the building that now houses Tarpy’s Roadhouse. In 1994, a chef/friend approached Tony and asked if he would consider another venture. From that conversation, sprung the award winning Montrio Bistro. Montrio Bistro, along with Tarpy's Roadhouse and Rio Grill comprise the Downtown Dining group of restaurants.

With outstanding cuisine, exemplary service and an attention to detail, The Downtown Dining restaurants continue to bring a unique and flavorful dining experience to locals and visitors alike.

101 Crossroads Boulevard | Carmel | California | 93923 | (831) 625-5436