“We ARE in fact one of the few left. There aren't many of us left in Newport."
“Owen Emmanuel chats with me at Vittorio's exceptionally large bar, one of many features of the charming family restaurant that hasn't changed since it opened 34 years ago.
Of course, there have been some improvements to Vittorio over the years. There's the award-winning pizza oven installed by Owen and his wife Rebecca during the coronavirus pandemic, and some ornate branding. Some of their signature dishes have been modernized a bit, but Vittorio's has retained much of the traditional charm that has drawn customers through its doors for decades.
“We've done a lot for that, but only in the last three years,” says Owen, 39. “We took advantage of the fact that we had to close [during the pandemic] and we took advantage of it. The bar is as it was. That's how I remember it, but a little different, new chairs and tables. without losing what a truly traditional Italian restaurant is. You wouldn't find another restaurant with a bar as big as this one - you'd have 10 tables, you wouldn't have a chandelier like ours! I love it, I wouldn't change it."
Vittorio's was opened in 1989 by Vittorio Rizza, who ran the restaurant for many years with his daughter Anna Redman and became a household face. Vittorio had several restaurants in Newport at the time, including another restaurant on the Pill and a Fish and Chips Corporation. Road. he had moved from his hometown of Cassino in southern Italy and met his wife Laura, who is Italian but lived in Newport.
At the time, the restaurant was one of a long line of family restaurants in Newport. Today it is one of the endangered breeds in an industry swamped by currents. Now in the third generation of family involvement, patrons are still greeted by many of the same faces they have come to love over the years. Guido, 83, another relative, still works behind the bar on weekends. Vittorio's wife Laura, also now in her 80s, sometimes plays the accordion for guests. On the day of the visit, a few hours before the night shift began, we saw numerous accordions hanging on the walls and shelves, including one that was a gift from a wartime client. There are other frequent references to Vittorio's legacy: photos of Vittorio himself in ornate frames that adorn the walls, as well as photos of painters.
Casino. There are also numerous football pictures hanging on the wall, a great love from the former owner.
Three decades later, the restaurant is still a family business: current owner Owen's wife, Rebecca, is the daughter of Leandra Rizza, Vittorio's other daughter. They met in 2005 and went to Vittorio on dates. Owen is a passionate cook who worked in the kitchen from his teens to his early 20s before deciding to pursue music as the drummer for the folk rock band Rusty Shackle, which he later did due to the time he needed there, he had to quit. to Vittorio. .
“I started cooking in 2015, 2016 and then I worked full time in the kitchen around 2016 or 2017,” he explained, adding that he worked in Vittorio's kitchen for years before the opportunity to take over the business arose, when Anna retired in 2019. The restaurant is close to Owen's heart in many ways and taking over Rebecca was a perfect way to keep the restaurant in the family.
Vittorio died in his hometown of Cassino in 2011 at the age of 75, and a memorial mass was held on Stow Hill in Newport, a testament to how popular he was.
"He was a great character," Owen recalled. "Everybody knew who he was. At the end of his life he spent more time in Italy than here, where he still had friends and family.
"I worked behind the bar with Vittorio [after he left]. He would always come over and occasionally help us out when we were short staffed.
Rebecca used to work here, most of the family still does. Everyone knows Guido when they walk through the door. Her wife, María, also works on weekends, everyone knows her. Anna still works here, even though she's retired."
"I was obsessed with soccer," Owen recalled of Vittorio. "One of the first things he said to me was: 'To talk to an Italian you have to talk about football, politics and food.' If you can talk about those three things, that's fine. When Italy became world champions for a year, he was home in Italy and said he would shave his head if he won. We have a picture of him holding a football with a bald head."
"Despite the rainy afternoon, the comfort of Vittorio's interior almost makes you feel like you're in Italy when you sit down to a good strong coffee. Other modern touches include the wood-fired pizza oven and a few small changes to the dishes. Doing Good - Beloved Feeling, Vittorio's Tradition To commemorate its 30th anniversary in 2019, Vittorio's hosted an invite-only evening where guests enjoyed a special menu of dishes at 1989 prices.
“We had handwritten notes from Vittorio about the menu and prices. We had customers from week one [in 1989],” Owen said. "Pate on toast $1.90, pizza $3.50, lasagna $4.90. Roast beef $7.90. It was Anna's idea and we had this event shortly before she took over. It was a great evening with all our guests regulars and our original menu."
“Like many companies, the pandemic has hit Owen and the company hard. They hadn't lasted long when the UK lockdown three years ago, on the afternoon we spoke, forced businesses out of business. This started a long period of uncertainty. Owen used it positively to make some much-needed adjustments to the restaurant.
“We had our first Christmas, we saved up for the pizza oven we have now. We really wanted it because we knew it would be a great selling point. We did things like the credit balance and we renamed the restaurant, logos, we redesigned the front.
"By reopening later, I was worried that people had stayed home or gotten used to takeout. But luckily they didn't and kept coming back, which is great."
“Some changes have been maintained since the pandemic. The restaurant stopped serving lunch and is now only open in the evenings, which Owen, who has two young children, says has helped. “We used to do split shifts, but after the lockdown we brought the hours. We used to go there for lunch but the parking here is terrible so we were only busy at night.
“We close on Sundays. The big ones are open - Christmas, Boxing Day, Mother's Day - we don't open, even on holidays. We try to keep it as balanced as possible.
"Dinning out hasn't changed. We're very busy: Friday and Saturday are obviously the busiest. In fact, it's gotten busier since Covid."
After the challenges of the pandemic, the hospitality industry is facing further blows with rising ingredient costs and energy bills.
"Prices got out of hand," Owen said. “We look at the prices and we think maybe we should raise them. We managed to align raising the national minimum wage with everything else. We are very resistant [to price increases], but at some point I will have to.
“No restaurateur wants to raise their prices. You don't want to risk people not coming back, and you'll see by our prices that we always try to keep them fair, so it's a place that instead of going once every six months, goes a little further.
“So building them is not what you want to do. Our gas and electric rate is now approximately 2,500 hp per month. It's delicious, more than twice as much as before. The food goes up. I try not to complain too much because it can't be controlled. But it's a struggle right now."
Owen said he feels the warm family welcome and the quality of the food keep people coming back year after year. “We don't buy anything, here we make everything, from the bread to the sauces. I think this is what is cooked and the service is excellent.
"With Maria, Guido, Anna, Rebecca and I, it's a quarter of the workforce, they have the feeling that it's a family restaurant. The atmosphere on Friday and Saturday nights is still great."
A self-described "obsessed" with food, Owen often travels to Italy for inspiration and is at the restaurant almost every day of the week. He hopes that the Vittorio family tradition will continue for many years to come. "Rebecca and I will keep going as long as we can and then hopefully I can convince my son or daughter to do the same!
"In some ways, it's easier for me to tell Vittorio's story because you're telling someone else's. I knew I could market the business with his name and the fact that we were still a family business.
“In Newport there were Chez Giovanni, Villa Dino, Fratelli; now they have all been marginalized. We need more independents in Newport. The more we are, the better”.
Eating out hasn't changed. We are so busy that Friday and Saturday are obviously the busiest. It has actually gotten busier since Covid.
Owen and Rebecca Emmanuel, owners of Vittorio's in Newport, which has been in business for 34 years.
Restaurant founder Vittorio Rizza with his daughter Anna Redman in early 1989
Scoglio de Vittorio - mussels, calamari, prawns and linguini
The pizza oven - one of Vittorio's modern twists
Vittorio's has been a mainstay of the Newport dining scene for three decades.
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