Twenty-three years ago, back when Yerba Buena Gardens was a small neighborhood still trying to figure out its identity, an Italian restaurant opened up amidst industrial warehouses and corporate buildings.

It was a peculiar setting for a restaurant, made even more so by its unusual name. “Pazzia,” an Italian slang word that means “craziness” or “insanity.” And perhaps it was crazy to open a restaurant in an area that didn’t have a lot of foot traffic.

But Massimo Ballerini had a vision. He wanted to open a Florentine eatery inspired by his youth spent in San Frediano, and it was on the corner of Third and Folsom Streets that he found the perfect place to build his dream.

He took a drab office space and brought it to life, filling it with Italian art and cooking truly authentic fare – house made pasta, fresh burrata, grilled salmon, gnocchi al pesto and more.

It quickly became a place for people in the know. Patrons adored Pazzia’s flat bread pizzas, which were cracker-thin and crackling crisp. Almost as much as they adored Massimo, with his charismatic personality and European-style hospitality.  

Years passed and the neighborhood began to slowly grow around Pazzia. The Moscone Center was built, 111 Minna Gallery opened their doors, and the Contemporary Jewish Museum moved to Jessie Square. The SFMOMA underwent a massive renovation project, and Berggruen Gallery relocated to Hawthorne Street.

Lounges and boutiques opened on every corner, and it wasn’t long before Pazzia found itself in the center of San Francisco’s cultural district, surrounded by interesting and vivacious neighbors.

Once a solitary restaurant in an industrial section of the city, Pazzia unwittingly became an integral part of Yerba Buena Gardens. A destination neighborhood for people who actively seek out art and culture and international cuisine. Something that even a dreamer like Massimo could have never imagined.

Now that’s crazy.