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.
Joe Valencia has been involved in restaurants since he was a kid. He grew up around the industry and while attending the University of Washington, was hired as part of the opening staff of the award winning Metropolitan Grill. After college, Valencia moved back to Monterey and began his first stint at Rio Grill in Carmel. He then moved back to Seattle where he tended bar at the nationally recognized El Gaucho Steakhouse.
In 2005, Valencia decided it was time to put his experience to the test and he opened an upscale Latin bistro, El Portal, in Seattle. Recently, he worked at Toulouse Petit in Seattle, a new restaurant that was recently voted one of the top ten new restaurants in the Nation by MSN.com.
Valencia decided to return to his roots and in October of 2010 was hired as General Manager of his favorite restaurant, Rio Grill. He brings a wealth of experience, passion and knowledge to his new roll and is excited to oversee the exciting changes occurring at the home of his first professional position.
Manager in Charge of the bar
Rob comes to the Rio Grill from Patria in Salinas, where he was the bar manager. A navy man, Rob moved to Las Vegas after a four-year tour serving on the USS Carl Vinson. He was the Las Vegas Flair Bartender Champion of the year in 2004 and spent four years at the Risque Paris Hotel bartending. He moved to Monterey in 2005 and went to work at Planet Gemini on Cannery Row and later for several years at a Lallapalooza.
We are thrilled to have Rob running our bar program, he is cocktail savvy and brings a dedication and passion to his craft. We feel Rob will help the Rio Grill continue its goal of becoming one of the preeminent cocktail destinations on the Central Coast.
Sous Chef and Chef Cy’s right-hand man
Started at the Rio Grill as a dishwasher in 2000 and after 2 years he moved into the prep area; doing all the behind the scenes work that goes into making the wonderful Rio Grill food. After one year of Prep, Chef Cy promoted Eduardo to the Pantry where he made appetizers and salads. After three years working on the line, doing everything from grilling ribs to sautéing vegetables, Chef Cy pegged Eduardo for promotion once again, making him his Sous Chef. As Sous Chef Eduardo is in charge ensuring the Rio Grill operates smoothly and helps create menu items.
"DiCaprio is my right hand man," Chef Cy says. "If I am not around I can guarantee he will do things the way I want them done." After four years DiCaprio has been the man Cy depends on. And his favorite dish to make: Chicken Tinga Enchiladas, a spicy saute chicken dish with Oaxacan Mole.
Sous Chef Francisco Adolfo, who attended the California Culinary Academy, comes to us from the Post Ranch‘s Sierra Mar where he oversaw lunch service and created daily menu additions. His impressive resume includes stops as Sous Chef at Casanova Restaurant, Executive Sous Chef at Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion in San Francisco and a stint at Michael Mina.
Francisco brings passion and a fire to our kitchen. His use of fresh ingredients, bold flavors and his creative plating already has our staff salivating. Chef Cy Yontz says he envisions Francisco helping the Rio Grill push the envelope. When he’s not out sourcing enticing ingredients and developing sumptuous dishes he will most likely be in a wet suit and pushing the limits on his surf board.
Events and Catering
Heather Rammel is responsible for outside sales for events and catering for Rio Grill. She has a great passion for the restaurant industry and truly enjoys helping people achieve their ultimate event. Prior to working for Downtown Dining, Rammel was Sales, Event and Marketing Manager for Georis Properties, Georis Winery and Corkscrew Café in Carmel Valley.
She is a graduate of California State University, Chico, with a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration She is married and has two children.
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 the Management Team of Rio Grill. In 1991, Becky took her first position at Rio Grill. In 1993, Becky transitioned to another Downtown Dining property, Tarpy's Roadhouse. After being promoted to the Tarpy's Management Team 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. 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 to her true calling, Downtown Dining. In 2009, rejoined Tarpy's in the Events and Catering Department and currently serves as the Wine Manager for Rio Grill.
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.