Check out our chef, Curtis Wilson, preparing our Penne Della Casa on KC Live!
Check out our chef, Curtis Wilson, preparing our Penne Della Casa on KC Live!
Check out these hilariously retro TV commercials and daytime TV segments from years past, all just recently recovered and converted from VHS. Enjoy…
We are proud that Momma V has been honored as one of the “Faces of Kansas City” by KCTV5!
We are extremely honored by this distinction from one of the nation’s largest moving companies.
Here’s what they had to say about us:
“V’s Italiano Ristorante is a traditional Italian restaurant that offers fine dining and a relaxing atmosphere. There are numerous menus available in this establishment, including ones for both lunch and dinner, a children’s menu, and a dessert menu. If visiting for lunch, try the Chicken Salad Croissant or Penne Della Casa. For dinner, you may want to try the Angel Hair di Angelo pasta or Super Deluxe Pizza. The dessert menu includes over half a dozen dishes, including everything from a Triple Chocolate Suicide Cake to Spumoni Ice Cream. Extensive wine, martini, and cocktail menus can also be had. Red and white wine options are available, as are sparkling wine varietals.”
Vita Totta’s restaurant, V’s Restaurant, was her life’s dream
By Brandon Dumsky
It was just an ordinary day for Vita Totta a couple summers ago when a surprising encounter happened.
Totta was outside busily tending the restaurant that she opened over a half century ago, when a “big, gorgeous bike” stopped in the parking lot.
She recalls the motorcyclist was a man in his 30s who stepped off his ride, walked up to her and simply said, “I think of you often.”
“There were too many men in my life,” jokes Totta. “I can’t remember all of them.”
She was perplexed about who this man was. He had to explain that he now lives in Texas with his family and owns a barbershop, and he said if it wasn’t for his time working at V’s Italiano Ristorante, he wouldn’t be where he is today.
That’s just one of the stories former and current employees tell about V’s Restaurant; particularly Vita, who is known to many as “Momma V.” The matriarch, along with her husband, Jay, opened a small cafe near the then new Interstate 70 in 1963. That small cafe, which could only house 35 people, eventually grew into the destination restaurant it is today. It has been located the past 42 years at 10809 E. U.S. 40 in Independence.
“Pick a job you love and you will succeed,” says Vita on how her restaurant has stayed in business all this time. She also says her love of people and her passion for feeding them contributed to the restaurant’s longevity as well.
And despite being retired for nearly 20 years, Vita comes by V’s “only every day,” as current owner Greg Hunsucker puts it, whether to trim the bushes outside, prune the vines on the arbor near the front entrance or paint the window shutters. Her tremendous work ethic was carried on by her family and instilled in the employees who had the chance to work there — and that is what she would like to be remembered most for: Giving young people the opportunity to become responsible individuals.
Ask any one of V’s patrons, some who have been dining there for more than 40 years, to describe the establishment, and they’ll always mention the atmosphere, the friendliness of the staff, and their signature spaghetti and meatballs. It’s perhaps the closest thing the greater Kansas City area has to the old and popular TV show, “Cheers.” Both places are known for their camaraderie and hospitality and everybody knows your name.
Recently the Missouri Restaurant Association’s board of directors unanimously selected V’s Restaurant to be inducted into its Hall of Fame. According to MRA Executive Director Bob Bonney, V’s is “darn near perfect” when it came to meeting criteria in order to be inducted. He says a Missouri restaurant has to be in the business a minimum of 25 years and improve the community in which they operate by providing good jobs, have the highest standards of business ethics and exhibit betterment for the industry as a whole.
In early January, 500 restaurateurs from all over the state gathered at The Westin Kansas City at Crown Center for the induction ceremony, including all of Vita’s 24 children and grandchildren.
“It was a black tie event. Very fancy,” she says about the recognition. “You wouldn’t believe how honored I was.” During her acceptance speech, she said how proud she was to be in an industry that gives young people the opportunity to become dependable and honest and grow; just like that motorcyclist who stopped by V’s one summer day to give thanks.
The story of V’s Restaurant begins with a trip Vita and her family made in the early 1960s to visit a relative.
“We all took a trip to California to visit Jay’s cousin who owned a pizza shop out there,” Vita recalls. She told her husband that once they returned home to Missouri, she was going to open a pizza shop herself.
“I don’t care, honey,” she remembers how Jay replied. She and Jay had known each other since they were children. Her sister happened to marry one of his brothers, she says.
“I chased him until he caught me,” Vita fondly recalls. She continued that she came from a very traditional Italian family; her parents only allowed her to attend a school dance if they chaperoned.
“They were old school alright.” She also said it had to be true love if Jay could put up with that.
After returning from California and with all of her four children now in school, Vita scoured through the classified section of a newspaper in hopes of finding a waitress position so she could learn about the restaurant business. “I answered a waitress ad with a 10-2 shift.”
While undergoing her formative training as a waitress, she discovered a small cafe for sale on the “other side of Sterling Road” where the current restaurant is located. It was a turn-key purchase, meaning that it was already furnished with chairs, tables and other restaurant equipment. For $3,000, Vita and Jay Totta purchased the cafe that consisted of just seven stools, four booths and a couple tables in 1963.
“Nobody knew what pizza was back then,” says Vita when she opened her first restaurant. Far from the staple it is nowadays, the word ‘pizza’ was foreign to Missourians 50 years ago. She even added that it had a very slow reception when it was first introduced.
At the time, Vita thought pizza and beer would go great together. So one night, she and her husband visited a restaurant down the road on U.S. 40 called The Bamboo Hut to get an idea of how much a beer cost.
“We didn’t know how much we should charge for beer so we wanted to find out by going to a place that served it.” Once the Tottas arrived, one of their restaurant’s regular customers paid for their beer. They eventually decided to charge 35 cents for the drink.
Interstate 70 was in the midst of expanding from Van Brunt Road in Kansas City to Eastern Jackson County. Vita says road workers regularly came for breakfast and lunch and later brought their families with them for dinner. They served regular cafe food such as hot beef sandwiches, along with the pizza. Eventually Vita introduced more Italian cuisine that came from her mother’s or family’s recipes, notably lasagna.
“Customers would pronounce it ‘la-zanga,” smiled Vita. As time progressed, word got around about this cafe that featured Italian cuisine. Vita at one point overheard, “I heard the Italian is really good over there.” People from all over the metropolitan area came to try. Business boomed.
Over the years the small cafe outgrew its limited capacity. In 1966, they relocated to their second location a couple blocks farther west. Although it was a little bigger, the restaurant soon outgrew it, too.
Luckily, or by destiny, Vita’s husband was an architect, and he designed V’s current location. Jay was employed with the architectural firm, Kivett and Myers, known for designing the Truman Sports Complex. In 1971, the Tottas purchased property just off of U.S. 40 and Sterling Road to begin construction. A year later, it opened, with an expanded kitchen and 150 seating capacity. Over the next decades it has been added to and modified to accommodate the demand and additional catering services.
All in the family
“I mowed lawns, shoveled snow in the winter and even made beer can lights,” says Greg Hunsucker. “Then, I see my brother loving his job at V’s.”
Greg’s older brother began working at the restaurant in April 1972. Greg tried to get a job at the popular restaurant himself, but was “way too young.” Finally at the end of the year, a bus boy did not show up for his shift and Momma V gave young Greg the position.
For the next seven months, Greg cleaned tables and collected plates. But one particular shift he got “chewed out by a fat lady” and was about to walk out. That is, until Vita reassigned him to a cooking position.
“She believed that if you didn’t work in one area, that you should try another department,” Hunsucker said. “But not under any circumstance you should give up and quit.”
Given that opportunity, Greg knew by age 16 he wanted a culinary vocation. And so for the following eight years, he worked his way up to become general manager of V’s Restaurant in 1981. At that same time, another pivotal moment occurred in Hunsucker’s life: He met his wife, Mary, who happened to be Vita’s daughter.
“I was the kitchen manager at the time and she was the bar manager,” he recalled. “Some of my old girlfriends worked as cocktail waitresses there and even her old boyfriends worked in the restaurant, too. They would notice how we acted around each other and say, ‘the writing is on the wall.”
The two V’s managers eventually got married and recently celebrated their 30th wedding anniversary.
Today and beyond
Greg continued to work at V’s Restaurant and became owner of the place after he was given the opportunity by Vita to invest.
He credits the simple ingredients of “providing outstanding food and service in a clean environment” that made V’s a recipe for success. Plus the strong Totta bond rubs off on each patron who walks into V’s.
“You’re like family here,” he adds. “My job is like hosting a dinner party every day for my family and friends.”
As for the future, Greg says the Totta tradition continues, with the family still involved in the restaurant’s operations. The new generation is beginning to take helm; Greg’s son recently became manager and others are in the office doing paperwork as well. V’s has even kept up with the times by incorporating the latest dietary trends in their menu, including gluten-free pasta or whole wheat pizza.
However, things haven’t completely changed. Their famous brunch is still served every Sunday (although Jay once remarked “that’s the only day where I don’t have to worry about if everyone shows up” about being open seven days a week) and other staples, like the osso buco – braised veal shanks. A particular customer once said to them that he traveled to every continent, even the Old Country (Italy), and sampled the dish. He told Vita that V’s still has the best osso buco in the world.
“It’s great when people who haven’t been here for over 20 years come back and say, ‘It’s just the way I remembered it,'” said Greg.
“I don’t know if I could have done this without my family,” says Vita about her restaurant’s legacy.
What’s in store is to simply carry on the tradition of being incredibly hospitable and give young people the chance to learn the value of hard work. “Even the ones that have purple hair or nose rings today,” Vita laughs.
If you ever get the chance to dine at V’s Restaurant in Independence, you’ll be greeted by a smiling face, immediately be taken in by the aromas of the fresh food and if you’re old enough to remember, the saxophone solo from Billy Joel’s “Scenes From An Italian Restaurant” may come to mind.
But just remember, when you visit V’s, you’re experiencing Vita Totta’s life.
Posted: Sep 27, 2013 1:09 PM CDT
By Brad Stephens, Anchor
INDEPENDENCE, MO (KCTV) –In 1963 John F. Kennedy was in the White House, Lassie was a hit series on TV and the Beatles had just released the single, I Want to Hold Your Hand. That was also the same year a bold young woman had a dream about pizza.
Allison Leopold has been coming to V’s Italiano Ristorante, located at 10819 E. Hwy. 40 in Independence, MO, since she was a child.
“We came here for prom dinner and then my wedding was catered by them as well,” she said.
Doug McCormick has been a regular for years.
“They treat you like family and the food is terrific and the atmosphere speaks for itself,” he said.
It’s like a second home for Gerald Pence and his wife.
“We’ve been coming here since the ’60s,” Pence said.
Some customers have been bringing their appetites to the restaurant for the last five decades.
“I would say at least 46 years,” said Betty Pinkerman as she stood with her husband.
And they all said that simple and tasty is what keeps them coming back all these years.
“Because the food is good, the service is good, the coffee is good, it’s a combination,” said Vita Totta, or Momma V.
V’s Italiano Ristorante has been an institution in Independence since 1963.
“I went to the Blue Ridge Bank and I said I wanted to borrow money to open up a pizza parlor and he said, ‘Pizza, what’s that?’ They didn’t even know what the word meant,” Totta said.
She borrowed $1,000 to open up V’s and she’s been running it successfully ever since.
“I have wonderful employees that have been here for many years,” Totta said.
Many of them aren’t just employees, they’re family.
“I brainwash them young that it’s fun to work hard. (It seems to be working). Yes,” Totta said with a laugh.
Currently, nine of Momma V’s family members work at the restaurant, which explains why customers say they love it so much and the staff is like family to them.
After 50 years in business, most would think Totta’s earned the right to retire, but not Momma V. She’s at the restaurant every day.
“You have a reason to get up in the morning and you feel needed. Not that they can’t run this place without me because they do, but I enjoy being here because it’s very fulfilling to have your family around you,” she said.
To give you an idea of how things have changed since Momma V opened for business back in 1963, they have the original menu hanging near the entrance.
She charged 35 cents for a cold beer and a spaghetti and meatball dinner would’ve set you back $1.50.
Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.) All rights reserved.
The mood was festive and the energy high Saturday at the Missouri Restaurant Association and Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association 2014 Inaugural Ball.
MRA and GKCRA recognized many members at the banquet at the Westin Kansas City at Crown Center, but much attention was focused on one in particular: Ron Barkley, a longtime industry presence who died Sept. 14, 2013, at age 73.
The Missouri Restaurant Association and Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association held their 2014 Inaugural Ball at the Westin Kansas City at Crown Center in Kansas City.
The Missouri Restaurant Association and Greater Kansas City Restaurant Association held… more
KATIE BEAN | KCBJ
Barkley had worked for Gilbert/Robinson restaurant company, PB&J Restaurants and Anderson Restaurant Group during his career. He was GKCRA president in 1996 and MRA president in 2004, and he was named to the MRA Hall of Fame in 2001.
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The associations sought to memorialize Barkley by creating a Ron Barkley Scholarship Fund, for which they sought donations in a live-auction style at the event. Companies and some individuals pledged funds from $500 to $5,000, raising $34,000 in about half an hour.
Some other highlights from the evening:
Tom Deer accepted the 2013 Company of the Year award for A.J. Goss Distributors Inc., a distributor of Hiland Dairy Foods Co.
Alan Gaylin of Bread & Butter Concepts was named 2013 Restaurateur of the Year. His restaurants include Gram & Dun, BRGR Kitchen + Bar, Urban Table and Taco Republic.
Bob Hines of Osage Marketing Inc. accepted the 2013 Distinguished Service Award via pretaped video because he was on vacation in Hawaii.
2013 MRA Hall of Fame inductees were Greg Hunsucker and his mother-in-law, “Mama V” Vita Totta, of V’s Italiano Ristorante. Hunsucker said though Totta retired 20 years ago, she still comes to the restaurant every day.
Zach Doerfler of Treat America Food Services, outgoing 2013 GKCRA president, praised members of the restaurant community for supporting the staff of JJ’s Restaurant after a gas leak in February caused an explosion that destroyed the building, killing one woman and injuring 14.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James made a proclamation declaring Jan. 11, a day to recognize Bart Hickey for his contributions to the community and especially with regard to providing support for JJ’s. Hickey, of The Capital Grille, is 2014 GKCRA president. Hickey thanked James and jokingly attributed the winning seasons of the Kansas City Chiefs and Royals teams to the mayor’s leadership.
Eleven years ago, a Zagat Survey of Kansas City restaurants was quite generous: It listed mini-reviews of 419 local dining establishments. The 2000 version was much fussier, listing only 115 venues described as “our most important restaurants, from the haute to the humble.” Interestingly, V’s Italiano Ristorante in Independence made the 1997 survey but was dropped from the “most important” list three years later, even though comparable Italian restaurants such as Cascone’s made the cut — and so did tiny little Mario’s in Westport, which serves terrific meatball grinders but isn’t a traditional Italian restaurant in my book.
Back in 2000, I wouldn’t have cared whether V’s made it into Zagat. I’d never been to the restaurant, but I tended to trust my friends who lived out east. They agreed with the more critical diners quoted in the 1997 guide: V’s wasn’t all that exciting, the food wasn’t all that interesting, the place looked dated, and so on.
In fact, no one can dispute that the place looks dated — the restaurant’s eye-grabbing exterior on 40 Highway is so amazingly retro, with its huge neon sign and lush grape vines growing over its angular, Nixon-era structure, that I was always tempted to pull into the parking lot, grab a seat at the bar and eat something appropriately ’70s, like deep-fried “toasted” ravioli.
Flash forward to last month. I was driving back from God only knows where with two hungry friends, Bob and Addison. I drove right by the place, when suddenly Addison announced, “Can we please eat at V’s?” Bob looked dumbstruck. “Are you kidding?” he asked. “It’s something out of a time warp.”
That’s all I needed to hear. I made a couple of quick turns and was in the V’s parking lot, which is packed with cars, day and night. As I’ve written before, I’m always up for a bit of culinary time travel. The real force that propelled me into the dark, cozy restaurant was nostalgia. A few days earlier, I’d had my weekly conversation with my 85-year-old aunt in upstate New York. She had waxed nostalgic about certain Italian restaurants in Buffalo where she and her late husband had taken me when I was a kid. I can recall the kitschy decor of those joints — lots of naked plaster statues and plastic grapes — better than I remember the food.
“That’s because you were a problem eater. You ate all the crackers and the bread and butter before the salads even came,” Aunt Josephine told me, “and then you just picked at your dinner.”
I wish I still had that problem. But during that first meal at V’s, I not only polished off a few crackers and two slices of soft bread — Italian and a great pumpernickel — with butter, but I shared the combo appetizer plate with my friends, too.
“Sophisticated, it isn’t,” Addison said, looking down at a platter arrayed with its fried provolone, toasted ravioli, glossy artichoke dip and a fat bulb of fragrant roasted garlic, its cloves just begging to be spread on a tiny round crostini — with the thoughtfully provided cream cheese, of course.
“You want sophistication, go to Lidia’s,” I told him, stuffing a triangle of breaded cheese into my mouth.
We were sitting in a booth that had a notebook-sized plaque right above my head; I couldn’t read the engraved names on it. “Did famous people sit here?” I asked Addison.
“No,” he answered. “It’s engraved with the names of couples who got engaged in this booth.” He didn’t recognize any of the names, but he practically fell in love himself — with our server. She was a big, bubbly girl who commuted a long way to work at V’s because she just adored the place. She wasn’t the greatest waitress in the world, but she was so personable and sweet that Addison all but encouraged her to sit down and have dinner with us.
“V’s over there, sitting behind you,” she whispered. I couldn’t quite crane my neck around the booth, but I later saw a distinguished-looking woman walking out of the dining room and guessed it was the legendary Vita Totta, who started her first tiny restaurant with her husband, Jay, in 1963. Business was so good that they expanded twice; the current building was opened in 1971.
These days, Vita’s daughter and son-in-law, Mary and Greg Hunsucker, run the operation. But the menu hasn’t changed too much since the beginning. Dinners still include a salad (I love the slightly sweet house vinaigrette); bread and a choice of baked potato, spaghetti, fries or vegetable; and complimentary rum cake! I suddenly understood why this joint is always jumping.
I ordered the cannelloni Florentine. You know, with the ground veal and spinach? What our waitress brought instead was the cannelloni con frutti di mare, a pasta crepe stuffed with shrimp, “crab meat blend” (I was afraid to ask what that meant) and white fish in a silky white-wine sauce. Pretty, but bland.
And on the subject of pretty: I’m all for a nicely garnished plate, but V’s insists on using, supposedly as a visual effect, a sadly wilted lettuce leaf that is hilariously unappetizing. Bring back the orange slices!
Bob liked his chicken lemonata well enough (it’s a none-too-fancy grilled breast smothered in a lemony wine sauce), but Addison, glowing from a chilled martini, raved about his beautifully tender lamb shank, slow-roasted in a soothing sauce with lots of vegetables. “It’s fantastic,” he announced.
I passed on the frosted slice of rum cake, but Addison and Bob took a few bold bites. “It’s very sugary,” Addison said, “and not nearly rummy enough.”
A few nights later, on a Thursday, I returned to meet Franklin and Peggy. I drove into the parking lot a few minutes before 6 p.m. and had trouble finding a spot. I later learned that Thursdays are $16.50 prime rib nights at V’s. Who could pass that up? I was tempted, but our server raved about the lasagna, which I ordered instead. It was a big ol’ 16-ounce slab of layered pasta, cheese and meat sauce baked in a little metal casserole and was pretty good. OK, not as good as Aunt Josephine’s. Franklin, meanwhile, could barely finish a bowl — a small vat, really — of rich fettuccine Alfredo topped with slices of fried chicken. So I ate some of that, too.
Peggy was disappointed that there wasn’t much in the veal category besides the osso bucco; a breaded veal cutlet with sautéed mushrooms; or the classic veal Parmigiana, blanketed in tomato sauce and melted mozzarella. “It’s nice,” she said, after ordering the parmigiana. “But I wouldn’t call this one of their classic dishes.” Maybe she should have had prime rib.
For a finale, we nibbled on the less-than-intoxicating rum cake while Franklin savored every bite of an apple cobbler served in a pretty glass goblet with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.
For all its eccentricities, V’s had earned my respect. It might not have been good enough for those Zagat snobs, but it’s good enough for a problem eater like me.
A state law signed Monday represents a victory for small business, particularly restaurateurs, and for fairness.
The new law signed by Gov. Jay Nixon specifies business owners are not responsible to pay taxes owed by tipped employees who fail to report cash tips as income.
Business groups — including the Missouri Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the Missouri Restaurant Association — sought the new law in response to a Missouri Department of Revenue requirement that business owners make up for the lost revenue when workers failed to report total income from tips.
According to the state chamber, the revenue department “was calculating the tip percentage on credit card receipts and comparing that to the cash tips employees were reporting as income. When the percentages showed a discrepancy, the department went after restaurants to make up the difference.”
Daniel P. Mehan, the chamber’s president and CEO, characterized the revenue agency’s actions as “nonsensical and as hostile to small business.” He added: “Missouri business leaders understand the importance of paying taxes and contributing to state revenue, but it’s way over the line to expect businesses to pay their employees’ personal tax bills.”
Greg Hunsucker, chairman of the restaurant association’s government relations and public policy committee and president of V’s Italiano Ristorante, was more charitable toward the state agency. He praised Revenue Director Nia Ray and her staff, “who worked with us toward an equitable resolution.”
And he characterized the new law as “sound and balanced public policy.”
The bill was sponsored by Sen. Will Kraus, R-Lee’s Summit, and state Reps. Galen Higdon, R-St. Joseph, and Ron Hicks, R-St. Charles County.
Owning and operating a small business, particularly a restaurant, can be an uphill battle.
Requiring owners to pay a calculated amount of taxation not reported by tipped employees is an onerous and unfair burden.
We’re pleased business interests and state officials were able to work together toward a reasonable solution.
The Missouri Restaurant Association is taking to the phones — smartphones, that is.
The organization, which includes more than 1,500 Missouri restaurants, this week announced its Dine Missouri app for the iPhone. The app offers a comprehensive place for users to look up member restaurants nearby.
The MRA also announced a partnership with Aireal Mobile to allow the restaurants to develop free-standing apps.
Greg Hunsucker, owner of V’s Italiano Ristorante at 10819 E. U.S. Highway 40 in Independence, said his restaurant was starting to use mobile apps to attract a younger customer base.
“We see social networking and the mobile applications as the marketing of the future,” Hunsucker said. “The way that we have traditionally marketed our restaurant has changed so dramatically in the last five years.”
Hunsucker, who has been involved with the MRA for about 20 years, said the organization includes mostly independently owned and operated restaurants. Smaller businesses might not be able to pay for their own mobile apps, he said.
“When we combine all those independents together, it makes that buying power much greater,” Hunsucker said.
Bob Bonney, CEO of the MRA, said the mobile apps open up new avenues for member restaurants to connect with customers and gain more exposure.
“Missouri has a lot of diamonds in the rough,” Bonney said.