Vinny Altadonna is about the most colorful person I have interviewed since starting this column and certainly the most expressive.
Altadonna recently opened Chefs of New York in downtown Modesto. The restaurant is an offshoot of Chefs of New York on Oakdale Road, which Altadonna bought in 2006, almost on a whim. At the time, Altadonna said, he didn’t know anything about the restaurant business. “I only knew I liked good food.”
And he’d had an opportunity to taste a lot of it, with a mother whom he described as a “Michelin chef” and a career in the airlines that gave him access to restaurants worldwide.
Altadonna regaled photographer Andy Alfaro and me with tales of his childhood in New York, his family’s history in Italy and his disdain for Italian restaurants that mix canola oil in with the olive to save money. “I’ll go broke before I go cheap,” he said.
After living in the Bay Area for a time to make the commute easier – his wife, a retired psychiatric nurse, also worked in San Francisco – Altadonna returned to Modesto, where he had family. That included a sister, who mentioned that Vinny’s favorite pizza place was for sale.
Altadonna said he took his 401(k) and invested it in Chefs of New York. The purchase came with a steep learning curve.
“I learned how to make dough and sauces,” he said. “I learned to be an entrepreneur in the front of the house and the back of the house.”
Once he learned the ropes, he started making changes. He credits his daughter, Kimberly, with helping translate his mother’s and grandmother’s recipes into dishes for the restaurant.
“I would not do this without her,” he said. “She’s brilliant.”
When the site on J Street – formerly Charlie Brown’s and, prior to that, Tasty Taco – came open, Altadonna jumped at the opportunity.
“I’ve always wanted to be downtown,” he said. Business since the opening July 1 has been brisk. Options range from pizza by the slice to pasta with broccoli-cauliflower sauce. The restaurant honors its name and its owner with New York posters and theme throughout.
And he’s not done. “I’m looking at opportunities in other places,” he said. “Turlock, Tracy, Pleasanton.”
For now, you can find the new Chefs of New York at 1325 J St. Call 209-857-5102.
ELSEWHERE AROUND THE BUSINESS BEAT: Know a Modesto business or nonprofit organization that does a great job recycling? Nominations are being sought for the 2016 City of Modesto Business Recycling Awards.
Winners will be chosen in each of three categories: small business (under 20 employees), medium business (21 to 100 employees) and large business (more than 100 employees).
Honorees will be recognized at a City Council meeting and reception in their honor. Last year’s winners (awarded for work in 2014) were:
Small business – A&S Metals, Community Business College, Habitat for Humanity ReStore, Once Upon a Child and the State Theatre.
Medium business – Community Hospice Hope Chest Thrift Stores, Gallo Center for the Arts, Modesto Junk Co., Operation 9-2-99, Thomas Downey High School Environmental Club and United Cerebral Palsy of Stanislaus County.
Large business – Boyett Petroleum, Center for Human Services, Crystal Creamery, DoubleTree by Hilton Modesto, E.&J. Gallo Winery, Enochs High School, Modesto City Schools and Vintage Faire Mall.
▪ It seems as if community dinners outside are becoming a thing. These fundraisers, which typically highlight local products at events that raise money for good causes, have been cropping up regularly in our area. My colleague John Holland covered Modesto’s second One Table event earlier this year. Turlock’s downtown hosted Dinner at Dusk last month.
Now, Ceres is joining in. The Ceres Chamber of Commerce is planning Supper at Sunset on Sept. 9 at Whitmore Park. Tickets to the dinner are $25 per person. Proceeds will benefit the chamber’s scholarship foundation and other community projects. For more information or tickets, go to the chamber’s website or call 209-537-2601.