Chef Francisco Miguel Castillo stirs croutons in the kitchen of Vinny's Italian Kitchen in the Larson Creek Center on North Phoenix Road. 7/20/07 Denise Baratta

An Italian family's tradition

Editor's note: This is one in a weekly series of profiles on locally owned and operated businesses in Southern Oregon.

What do you do and how long have you been doing it?

Owning and operating three Vinny's restaurants for the past eight years in Southern Oregon. Vincenzo DiCostanzo owns the Eagle Point Vinny's Italian Kitchen outright. I also operated Sophia's Soup Factory in the Medford Center, which I sold a year ago to Michael and Sheri Westerman. (Correction: See below.)

How long have you lived in the Rogue Valley?

I moved here from Westchester County, N.Y., 15 years ago.

What inspired you to go into this line of work?

I was born and raised in it and I absolutely have an intense love for the restaurant business. My father owned restaurants in New York and he had a small hotel in Italy.

What decision or action would you change if you could do it again?

I would have made the restaurant kitchens a little bigger and my prep areas a little bigger because of our high volume. I knew we were going to be busy, but I didn't expect that kind of business from the start. And, I would never hire family or a brother-in-law again.

What's the toughest business decision you've made?

You always think about location. You always hope that you are in a location that is the best possible and suited for what you're doing. There are so many decisions for small business owners: You're thinking about your staff, will they dress right, come to work ready to roll; the atmosphere, the candles lit, the light dimmed to the right setting; will the food taste right? Is the music going to be at the right setting? We have checklists, but we're all human beings and we miss things and make mistakes that have to be corrected.

Who are your competitors?

There are a lot of them. I have a lot of respect for other people in town such as Porters, Bella Union, Rosario's and Antonio's, from what I hear those people do a good job. Anyone going into the business, if they don't think about their family, they're through, because their families will have to sacrifice a lot.

What are your goals?

My plan is to simplify my life and spend more time with my family. That's why we've franchised Vinny's in Eagle Point and Grants Pass; I run Vinny's in Medford myself. We plan to open a fourth Vinny's franchise in Maui. We're still negotiating for property.

What training or education did you need?

I watched how it was done at my family's restaurant and my uncle's restaurant. I never had a day of training and my dad didn't want me to go into this business. He wouldn't teach it to me, I had to learn from his cook. I was one of those stubborn kids; you tell me I can't and I will.

What's your advice for budding entrepreneurs?

Don't be afraid to get dirty, you have to earn the respect of your help. You can't demand it, you have to earn it. No matter what business you open, you need to know it inside and out and need to set the example. You can't be afraid to get your hands dirty, if the toilet needs to be cleaned, you clean it. Don't think for a minute you can rely on someone else, I don't care who it is, nobody will do it if you don't.

To suggest an idea for this column, contact reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail

(Correction: Incorrect information about the ownership of the Eagle Point Vinny's and Sophia's Soup Kitchen was provided to the Mail Tribune and appeared in the print version of this story. This version has been corrected.)

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