A second-generation Italian-American, he learned the restaurant business from his family (his parents have run several eateries in the Washington, D.C., area since 1948). Continuing the tradition, Vasaio serves Italian food from all regions of the fabled “ba-da bing” peninsula. With marinara sauce in his blood, he admits he’s a hands-on owner and that his work is an inalienable extension of himself. “It’s my life; it’s not work for me. I don’t separate my work from my home life.” This may be a necessary attitude when you work an average of 15 hours per day.
His secret for success is to personalize his establishments — to do something authentic that people will remember. “Restaurants should be an extension of your personality,” he says. “It should reflect the personality of the owner and not just be an industry standard.” Priding himself on fresh seafood and meats, he keeps nothing frozen. He doesn’t cut corners. He admits that with the demands of his job, he seldom ventures out, taking his three meals a day chiefly at Mamma ’Zu. Yet when he wants a change of pace he eats Chinese at Full Kee, which he claims to be the best restaurant in Richmond.
When asked why people should eat at one of his places, Vasaio is tight-lipped: “I’ll let them answer that.” Yet he courts a healthy cross section of customers. Of course, you have to like Italian food. And, frankly, who doesn’t? There is also the chance that the family tradition won’t end with him. Vasaio has three young sons whom you may see passing out rolls or filling water glasses once in a while. Does he have any ambitions for them to go into the family business? “I don’t want to force them into anything,” he says. “I want to see what they are interested in and gently encourage it.” — John WhiteMore cover stories