What was San Angelo, Texas’ loss has quickly become the Tri-Cities’ gain.
A European couple opened an Italian restaurant in north Richland that is already getting rave reviews.
Tony Morina and his wife, Valle, opened Napoli’s Italian Restaurant in late June at 3280 George Washington Way. The building is across from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and was once home to the former Venezia Ristorante that closed in 2020 due to the pandemic.
Morina said he’s finding that those who try his food have become big fans – judging by recent Facebook comments:
“Best Italian restaurant in Tri,” said one.
“My wife and I had excellent food and service… It’s way out on G Way but no traffic!” said another.
None of this surprises Morina.
“I’m not arrogant. I’m confident,” he said.
“Mama’s recipes,” he said. “I’m Sicilian. I was born in Sicily. My mother is from Sicily. My dad is from Yugoslavia.”
The recipes have been passed down from mother to mother in Morina’s family.
“Back then, everybody ate at home. Now, it’s restaurants that people go to,” he said.
When Morina finished middle school, he used to watch his mother in the family kitchen, keeping a close eye on what she was doing.
At the age of 21, he came to America for the first time. And while he has been back and forth between the U.S. and Sicily, Morina, now 52, loves working in restaurants.
“I’ve been working in the restaurant business for 15 years, and I’ve owned my own restaurant since 2019,” he said. “Over the years, I’ve also added in some recipes from other restaurants I’ve worked at.”
That first restaurant he owned was in San Angelo, Texas, where he and Valle gained a loyal following at the establishment in the middle of downtown.
“Then our lease was over,” Morina said, “and the landlord wanted to start his own restaurant, a Mexican restaurant, in the building.”
That left Morina out – and upset.
He said customers begged him to stay in San Angelo, but he wanted to go somewhere else – start over – and he began looking for opportunities around the country.
The Richland location intrigued him.
“I saw this building on the internet. It looked nice,” Morina said. “We had been looking for a new place. I googled this one and called the (real estate) agent.”
So the Morinas packed up their belongings and their three kids and made the long drive to Richland from Texas.
For awhile, they were crammed into a hotel room before finding an apartment.
But the couple might as well be living at the restaurant. They’re there at 9 a.m. to do all the prep work before opening for lunch at 11 a.m.
The restaurant business can be a grind, and there are always some glitches along the way.
For the Morina family, it was a broken oven that meant no lasagna or baked ziti.
“They fixed the oven this morning,” Morina said happily.
The couple have been waiting to get their liquor license for three months now.
And that lunch rush they had hoped to see with PNNL across the street? It hasn’t happened yet.
“Most of the employees only get a 30-minute lunch break,” he said. “It’s Italian food. It’s not pre-made. I have to make it fresh. It’s not just ready. And I don’t serve anything from yesterday.
“My best advice to customers is please be patient. It’s fresh, so you have to be patient.”
So their busy time has been dinner.
And even though they’re north of central Richland, Morina said customers are starting to see that it’s worth the drive.
He tells the story of two customers who came in on a recent evening. One said that when he realized how far it was going north on George Washington Way, he seriously considered turning around and going home.
But instead, that customer was impressed enough with the food that he said he’s coming back.
“There have been a lot of favorite dishes,” Morina said. “The veal marsala, the Spaghetti the Works, spaghetti with meat sauce, spaghetti with mushrooms, and manicotti, have all been popular.”
But Morina said there are a few dishes that customers shouldn’t ignore.
“What’s underrated? Chicken Florentina is good. So is the shrimp ravioli and chicken ala casa,” he said. “That has spinach in it, and spinach in the mix of anything is amazing.”
Right now, the couple has a few employees. But for the most part, “It’s just me, my wife, and God.”
Tony met Valle, who is from Serbia, through mutual connections in 2012.
They’ve been a team ever since.
“I love doing this, if it makes my kids happy, if I have some money and can finish the job,” he said. “And as long as I pay the bills, I’ll keep fighting to do this.”
It’s not hard, he said, if it’s something you love.
“If you’re interested in doing something, it’s easy,” he said. “Whether it’s going to the moon, working with computers, or anything else. For me, it’s running a restaurant.”
The restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m., seven days a week.
Napoli’s Italian Restaurant: 3280 George Washington Way; 509-396-5472.
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