Bringing Italy to Eugene

Cafe Med in south Eugene focuses on Italian food

Italian cuisine served authentic. Cafe Med brought a new Italian-style restaurant to south Eugene when it opened Dec. 1, 2022.

As the co-owner of a newly opened restaurant, Rossella Ruggeri-Harris says she and her business partner, Stefano Sala, strive to create a family-oriented, comfortable and friendly atmosphere.

Here, customers can expect a particular pizza made with a different type of flour that is crunchy and light, and the main dishes consist of pasta. Sala says, “We have quite a huge menu” with something special every day. The menu will shift as the seasons change, depending on what products are in season.

“When people ask me ‘What was your favorite dish?’ it’s hard to say because they’re all great flavors,” Ruggeri-Harris says. But she points to the tiramisu, calling it a “kickass dessert.” The menu is always changing, but it’ll maintain some staples, like the tiramisu.


(left to right) Toby Harris, Rossella Ruggeri-Harris and Stefano Sala

Ruggeri-Harris and Sala have known each other for more than 40 years. They grew up in the same neighborhood and community in Milan, Italy. At the age of 10, Ruggeri-Harris moved to Los Angeles and has since lived in different places. She and her husband moved to Eugene about 15 years ago to be closer to her children. Sala also made his way to this town after living in New York, Miami and other cities to be close to his daughter.

“He’s got some great culinary experience. We’ve got a history together,” Ruggeri-Harris says. “It is a good partnership.”

As a third-generation restaurateur, Ruggeri-Harris has taken knowledge from her grandmother’s experience as a Tuscan farmer and from her experience with restaurants to create a predominantly Italian menu.“But Italian food is food that comes from all over,” she says. “The idea is just bringing good quality food as best as we can.”


Tagliatelle alla Bolognese

Before Cafe Med, the location was home to Bruno’s Chef’s Kitchen, which had been there for nearly 30 years. Tom “Bruno” Bollag and his wife Bessie Bollag’s longtime eatery survived the COVID-19 pandemic, but they decided to put the building up for sale. And it was the right place for Sala, who had been on a search to find a location for a small Italian restaurant, something he says Eugene was missing. 

Sala spoke with Ruggeri-Harris about the idea. She was interested because she and her family wanted to open a smaller Italian restaurant after renovating and reopening the Oregon Electric Station restaurant with its landlord. After about four years in 2018, Ruggeri-Harris says she decided to part ways with it because the amount of work put into it versus the profit wasn’t worth it. The partnership between Sala and Ruggeri-Harris, she notes, was perfect to “divide and conquer in the business,” she says.

They took over ownership of the south Eugene location in June 2022 and “did a bit of work to the old space” to clean it up, Ruggeri-Harris says, and it opened in December. 

“It seems like we’re getting that flow of all the customers that used to go to [Bruno’s] Chef’s Kitchen,” Ruggeri-Harris says. “We’ve been really blessed, too, because it is a great community.”

In Los Angeles, Ruggeri-Harris had opened a Cafe Med, and the cuisine at the Eugene location is similar with a few reductions because the demand is distinct in each city, says Sala. Ruggeri-Harris had opened Cafe Med’s in places other than L.A., including Miami and Pasadena and sold the restaurants once they moved, but “this is our standing” in Eugene, she says.

Cafe Med also serves cocktails and has a full bar selection. Some Italian drinks are offered, including a limoncello martini, Old Giuseppe (a whiskey rye mixed with cynar and orange bitters), mango bellini (prosecco and mango puree) and more. The restaurant has more of a chef’s counter instead of the typical bar seating, Ruggeri-Harris says. The wines come mostly from Italy, as well as some from California and Oregon.


Mousse di Cioccolato

“A family business 一 not just a business — is that atmosphere that we want to create with our customers,” Sala says. It’s more than them coming to drink or eat dinner, it’s about the relationships.

With about 10 people on staff, the family-oriented restaurant provides an intimate space for the workers to become family. Even the owners have family members working there: Ruggeri-Harris’s husband, son and niece; and Sala’s son and son-in-law. 

“The idea is” Ruggeri-Harris says, “creating a space where everybody can thrive in all different ways.” To be happy and comfortable in a welcoming space is what she hopes for. ν

Cafe Med is at 3443 Hilyard Street and is open from 4 pm to 9 pm Tuesday through Sunday. The restaurant hopes to be open for lunchtime hours or open seven days a week in May.