Little has changed since Vescio’s Italian Restaurant opened in Dinkytown more than 50 years ago.
“When I make a recipe, I look at the sheet my grandpa wrote out,” manager Tony Vescio said.
Grandpa Vescio must have done something right, because the Dinkytown landmark is now expanding into Downtown.
In a couple of weeks, the new location, Vescio’s Trattoria, will make its debut in the skyway of the Six Quebec building, where it will compete for the fast-paced professional crowd alongside “on-the-go” places like Taco John’s and My Burger.
“It seems like more and more opportunities are available doing that type of a design,” Vescio said. “We just thought we’d go down there and give it a try.”
The menu will differ slightly, offering cheaper lunch portions that people eat there or take back to their offices. Cold salads and sandwiches will be prepared ahead of time, and the restaurant’s staple pastas and hot sandwiches will stick around.
“We’re going to go in there and find out for ourselves what sells best,” Vescio said.
Eventually, Vescio’s Trattoria will offer catering to the office buildings nearby, manager Fred Vescio — Tony Vescio’s uncle — said.
“Everything will still be homemade, handmade, just like at our other restaurants,” Fred Vescio said.
The addition of Vescio’s will make the Six Quebec’s skyway-level food court even more competitive, Larry Abdo, the building’s owner, said.
“Nobody has a stronger total food mix than this building,” he said.
If things go well downtown, the family might try their luck in other locations, such as strip-malls, Tony Vescio said.
“It’s a family endeavor,” Fred Vescio said, “and we’ll hopefully be using this as a prototype for future expansion.”
From growing to serving
Long before entering the restaurant business, the Vescio family had a stake in a different trade — groceries.
Frank Vescio, Tony Vescio’s dad and owner of the Dinkytown location, remembers his family’s old grocery store in Northeast Minneapolis. His dad, Charles Vescio, owned the grocery store, which sold traditional Italian foods such as sauce, pasta and pizza.
The family started out renting the Dinkytown space when it became available in 1956. The dishes they offered were born from the recipes Frank Vescio’s grandparents brought over from Italy — the same recipes used today.
“People come back 20, 30 years later, and they say ‘geez the food hasn’t changed a bit,’ ” Frank Vescio said.
Having been a farmer for years and a cook in the Army and Navy, Charles Vescio was driven by a steadfast passion for food.
“My dad’s been in the food business from the growing of the product to the selling of it to the serving of it,” Frank Vescio said.
Over the years, the family has expanded the restaurant’s dining area, purchased the building and opened a new location in St. Louis Park. They also run a booth at the State Fair every summer.
“The whole family’s worked in the restaurant over the years,” Frank Vescio said. “My dad, mother, grandma, aunts, uncles, cousins — the whole Vescio family.”
A reputation for tradition
With University of Minnesota memorabilia covering the walls, it is clear that the Vescio family enjoys being a part of the college neighborhood, Skott Johnson, president of the Dinkytown Business Association, said.
“It’s got the touch of an Italian Tuscany village,” he said. “Yet, it still has Minnesota Gophers pictures on the wall.”
The restaurant has become a tradition for alumni, and people come back to eat at Vescio’s long after they graduate, Johnson said.
Vescio’s has a strong reputation, said Abdo, who has known Frank Vescio for 40 years. Vescio’s Trattoria will occupy the space that formerly held Café di Napoli. Before Café di Napoli closed, it was the oldest Italian restaurant in the state, Abdo said.
“So now I guess they’re the oldest,” he said.
Over the years, Vescio’s has had staff members who stuck around for decades. There have been waitresses who worked there for 20 to 30 years and a cook for more than 40, Frank Vescio said. The close, personal relationships between the staff and customers made for a “family-like” business, he said.
Even now, after some of the longtime waitresses have retired, people still come in and ask about them, Frank Vescio said.
“We were all pretty close,” he said.
Throughout the decades, a lot of places have come and gone in Dinkytown, but Vescio’s has stuck around for more than 50 years, Tony Vescio said.
“I don’t know about 50 more, he said. “It doesn’t get any easier.”