Meet San Francisco's Godfather, Francis Ford Coppola

The acclaimed filmmaker on Café Zoetrope, San Francisco and the wine business

One of the most influential directors of the 20th century, Francis Ford Coppola wrote the screenplay for “The Godfather” in San Francisco’s North Beach. The neighborhood is home to his famed bistro, Café Zoetrope, located in the historic Sentinel Building, and Coppola now lives in nearby Napa, where he owns two prominent wineries.

Why did you start your first film company American Zoetrope in San Francisco?

That happened a long time ago in the late ’60s—myself, George Lucas and our friends wanted to be independent and make films. And so we decided that moving to a city that was a distance away from Hollywood would be the answer to our dreams.


How long have you lived in the Bay Area?

I still live in San Francisco part of the time. All in all I've been here and the Napa area since 1969.

Cafe Zoetrope
(©Cafe Zoetrope)

How would you describe Café Zoetrope?

Like the European bistros I came to love, it’s an intimate neighborhood place where artists and musicians can freely associate and enjoy the bar, the wines and the simple but very good menu.


How did the restaurant come about?

We had our film company upstairs, as well as a magazine with all its writers and editors, and we wanted to make a bistro for them.


Tell us about the building.

It's called the Sentinel Building and was built in 1906. It's probably the most beautiful structure in San Francisco.

Sentinel Building
Sentinel Building (©Cafe Zoetrope)

What’s your favorite neighborhood in San Francisco?

North Beach. Although I see the whole city, which is very small, as a neighborhood.


What are some of your favorite San Francisco haunts?

Aside from our cafe, I like the Caffe Greco, Yank Sing, Hunan Home and Tomasso's.


Describe your perfect day in San Francisco.

I’d walk around North Beach and go into the City Lights bookstore. Then I’d go to a Giants game at AT&T Park, walking there if possible. At night I’d see a show at Beach Blanket Babylon.

Beach Blanket Babylon
Beach Blanket Babylon (©Rick Markovich)

What are some of your favorite films shot in the city?

“Vertigo” and “Bullitt.”


What brought you to Napa?

Beauty, nature and wine.


Where do you go out to eat in wine country?

Cindy's, Ciccio, Mustards, any restaurant by Thomas Keller.


What inspired you to get into the winemaking business?

I just sort of fell into it.

Francis Ford Coppola Winery
Francis Ford Coppola Winery (©Charles Keig)

How would you describe your wineries to visitors?

The one in Napa, Inglenook, is one of the most historically significant and beautiful wineries, not only in the region, but in the world. The one in Geyserville, Francis Ford Coppola Winery, is a wonderful, fun place to bring the family—sort of a one-of-a-kind experience.