celebrates its 20th anniversary in business the same year, month, and weekend as , the first casino in New England, but among Ledyard residents, Valentino’s would be the fixture to which people flock.
Richie Vetrano, co-owner and manager of Valentino’s, began working in the pizza business when he was 13 years old.
“I used to serve slices and Italian ice out a window,” he said of his first job at La Sorrentina in Brooklyn. He worked in three more pizza restaurants before opening Valentino’s when he was 19 years old.
Patch sat down with Vetrano to find out more about the Ledyard landmark.
So, who’s Valentino and what brought you to Ledyard?
Vetrano was working at John’s Pizza (now Rino’s Trattoria and Pizzaria) in Hampton Bays, which was run by Valentino Scotto. Scotto’s brother-in-law Paul Illiano was running Romans in the Crystal Mall and the two agreed that Ledyard was a good place to open a pizza restaurant.
Vetrano had worked for Scotto for a couple years already and was offered the job “for $10 more an hour and paid vacations,” he said.
Vetrano said the restaurant is named after Valentino Scotto who picked him up at the ferry in New London and drove him up to Ledyard while the restaurant was under construction.
“We brought a different product to this town,” he said.
What’s your favorite item on the menu?
“I eat a slice of cheese every day,” said Vetrano. “The gradma’s is definitely the best tasting pizza we make.”
Vetrano said when he’s in the mood for pasta he’ll have the Rigatoni alla Vodka and that a lot of people come to Valentino’s for the chicken marsala or veal cutlet.
Who’s your favorite celebrity chef?
Vetrano said Mario Batali and Lidia Bastianich are his favorite celebrity chefs.
Who’s your inspiration?
“Everything. Life inspires me. My family, my children, my mother,” he said.
Vetrano was one of 36 grandchildren and said his grandparents were a huge inspiration to him while growing up on Long Island. “They were the core of the family, they were the heart.”
Vetrano said his grandparents were born in Naples, Italy and brought the old- fashioned values and family recipes to the new world.
“She made the best meatballs you ever had,” he said of his grandmother. “She made sure everyone was happy before she sat down to eat, the poor woman never had a hot meal in her life.”
It’s apparent that community and family mean a lot to you, why is that?
“It’s my life, the community and family are everything to me.” Vetrano said that being a young business owner in Ledyard and far from home, he decided it was important to embed himself in the Ledyard community.
“I thought it was important. I wanted to pay taxes just like the guy across the street,” he said.
Up until this year, Ledyard schools could count of Vetrano’s generosity in donated pizzas for fundraising. Vetrano said school regulations now prohibit outside food to be sold as lunch but he still helps out where he can.
“Whatever class comes in, he does something for them,” said long-time employee Val DeCristofaro. “They come in and ask for help and he does it.”
DeCristofaro said Vetrano has donated uncountable numbers of pizzas and meals to the community over the years.
“Richie donates a lot of food,” she said. “He doesn’t ask for anything back. He has that type of heart because that’s the type of man he is.”
20 years is a good long time, what has been the secret to your success?
“Get the best product you can possibly get,” he said of the food but the customer service is what he’s most proud of. “We try really hard every single day, I couldn't be where I am without my employees,” he said.
What are your future business plans?
Vetrano and he and his partners also own and operate Vetrano’s and Vittoria’s, which are both on Route 1 in Westerly. Vetrano said that he may expand into Wakefield or near the University of Rhode Island.