Valenti's Profits from New Look
Renovating a food business during a recession demands confidence, faith and chutzpah.
Viva Valenti’s in Vass for challenging conventional wisdom.
In June, the family-owned restaurant completed a $60,000 upgrade, accomplished with sweat equity and financing from bankers who eat there, as do most of the town’s 650 residents.
Chef-proprietor Adam Valenti, his wife and helpers designed the space, built the handsome hardwood booths, laid the floor tiles, drove to Maine to pick up a $7,500 Blodgett pizza oven and selected the paintings on the wall.
He hired additional staff. Valenti expanded the menu without raising prices, then photographed the dishes so they actually resemble what is served. A spaghetti-and-meatballs dinner with salad and rolls in this caliber setting for $8.20 is as rare as man-sized hot lunches for $5-$6.
The result: “Business is up by 20 percent,” Valenti says. “We’re doing about 1,500 meals a week.”
Even during better times, banks finance restaurants cautiously because so many fail, says Portia Cummings, financial center manager at BB&T in Vass.
“I didn’t have any trouble,” Valenti continues. “I just went in (to Cummings) and told them what I needed.”
Cummings says, “Adam has a proven track record. He’s frugal. He had a plan and a very positive attitude. He hoped the renovation might double his business. Looks like it has tripled.”
Cummings bases her opinion, in part, on Valenti’s grilled burgers, a Thursday lunch special she and colleagues enjoy regularly.
Burgers aren’t exactly the bread-and-butter of a pizzeria. Neither is tiramisu. But this is Vass — and by now Valenti knows his clientele.
The tiny town with a main street resembling a movie set came as a culture shock to 11-year-old Adam when his family relocated from teeming Holbrook, Long Island, in 1987 to purchase Miller’s Family Restaurant and, later, a coin laundry. On Long Island, the Valentis were associated with Grucci, the nation’s premier fireworks manufacturer, a provider to Las Vegas hotels and wherever spectacular effects are required.
The boy adjusted. At 15, he started washing dishes at Sue & Steve’s, which his parents operated before building Valenti’s, a basic florescent-lit cafe-style pizzeria, in 1996. Cooking experience followed at the restaurant and on the Moore County country club circuit.
Along the way, Valenti earned a degree in electronics and instrumentation at Central Carolina Community College in Sanford. His mechanical aptitude enabled him to install that Blodgett oven — the first thing customers see when entering the restaurant.
“I like an open kitchen so people can see what we’re doing,” Valenti says.
Adam Valenti took over the business from his father, Stephen, in 2002. He envisioned more than a pizzeria.
“I wanted to open a place where families could get quality Italian food,” he says. “There wasn’t a place like that in the (immediate) area.”
Valenti’s draws from Woodlake, Whispering Pines, Southern Pines, Cameron and Carthage.
After building up the business, Valenti renovated the exterior and added a bar and banquet room for community gatherings like the Quarterback Club in 2005. Restaurant and banquet room now accommodate 180, nearly one-third the population of Vass.
Attendees liked what they saw and returned for Valenti’s piccata and fried ravioli. Families come for the bambino pizza: Children place favorite toppings on a round of dough, which is baked and returned to the table on a wooden paddle.
“People tell me I should patent that idea,” Valenti says.
Meatballs conform to a recipe used by Valenti’s Italian-born nonna. Forty-pound wheels of imported Romano are trucked down from New York. Pasta is also Italian-made. The bar stocks Peroni & Moretti beer and, of course, Chianti.
Valenti knows the value of personal contact. He walks among the tables, greeting new customers and making sure food is prepared satisfactorily.
“I love the people here,” he says. “I love doing this kind of work. We’ve always had good food. Now we have a nice place for people to eat it.”
Longtime customer Johnny Perhealth is impressed.
“It looks good, don’t it?” he says of the renovation. Baked spaghetti is his favorite — but so are the private booths for a quiet meal with business people, a girlfriend or somebody else’s girlfriend, Perhealth adds.
So far, Valenti has beaten the odds. Now, instead of tightening his belt, the energetic young restaurateur is poised to add a notch. He’s watching Sanford, population 29,000.
“Maybe in about three years,” he says.
Cummings is banking on it.
“We’ve been pleased with Adam’s success,” she says. “This was a great business move for him.”
Contact Deborah Salomon at email@example.com.
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