WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Vinnie Mari has wanted to open a restaurant in Winston-Salem for years, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.
But he ended up opening restaurants in Salisbury, Mount Airy, Pilot Mountain — and even Raleigh — first.
“I live in Winston-Salem, and I love Winston-Salem, but it just took till now for it to work out,” Mari said.
Mari, 39 and his brother Tony, 42, opened Vinnie’s Pizzeria & Italian Restaurant on March 17 at 5076 Peters Creek Parkway, in the Shoppes at Oliver’s Crossing in the southern end of Forsyth County.
Part of what took him so long is finding a spot that would not compete with other Italian restaurants. “We pretty much all know each other, so we try to spread out,” he said.
The Maris come from the same small town of Monte di Procida as Tony Di Lisio, co-owner of De Lisio’s Italian Restaurant. The town is outside Naples on the coast of Southern Italy.
“Most all of the Italian (restaurateurs) I know in North Carolina come from the same town,” Vinnie Mari said with a laugh. “I think it’s coincidence, but I guess cooking is all we know how to do.”
Vinnie Mari came to the United States at age 15, also like Di Lisio, but he first lived in Maryland and New Jersey before settling in North Carolina.
He worked for Elizabeth’s Pizza for a short while in Winston-Salem before starting restaurants elsewhere. Though he sold his restaurant in Raleigh, he is currently a partner in Rigatoni’s in Pilot Mountain, Coppola’s in Mount Airy and Sorrento in Statesville.
He fills in behind the stove as needed, but much of his time is spent managing the restaurants. “Tony is the real chef; he’s in charge here at night,” Mari said.
Vinnie’s offers a wide variety of Italian dishes.
“A lot of people think we’re a pizza joint,” he said. “We’re not.”
Though one side of the menu has New York-style pizzas, subs and salads, the other side is all entrees.
“We’re a full-service Italian restaurant,” Mari said.
Vinnie’s menu includes a lot of favorites that people expect, including lasagna, chicken Parmigiana, and spaghetti with meatballs.
But the pasta section, in particular, offers a full range of dishes, including a few that diners may not commonly see in this area.
Pasta sauces include boscaiola (ham, peas and mushrooms in cream sauce), ortolana (cherry tomatoes, asparagus, zucchini and broccoli in cream sauce) and carmela (portobello mushrooms, caramelized onions and chicken in a Marsala cream sauce).
Other pasta sauces include puttanesca (caper and olive sauce) and arrabbiata (spicy marinara with prosciutto and mushrooms).
Mari said that the scallops and shrimp primavera is popular, as is the Genovese (shrimp, clams and spinach with pesto and pasta) and pollo Capriccioso (chicken with mushrooms, artichokes and spicy cherry peppers).
Vinnie’s also sells a lot of chicken cannelloni, which is homemade manicotti with chicken, spinach and three types of cheese, topped with zucchini, portobello mushrooms and sun-dried tomatoes in a pesto cream sauce.
Mari said that lunch has been a bit slow because there are not a lot of businesses in the area, but dinner business has been good.
Once Vinnie’s gets established, he and his brother would like to open another, more upscale Italian restaurant in Winston-Salem.
“I’ve always liked to cook. I started cooking in restaurants part-time when I was 14,” he said.
“I guess it’s in our blood.”