Tom Canale was a real estate agent by trade.
Being that his family had no experience owning and operating restaurants, it may come as a surprise to find out that he jumped on the opportunity to take over a local Peoria establishment. Vinny’s Italian Sports Grill’s owner gave Canale that chance a year and a half ago.
Now, the journey to becoming a restaurateur has been solidified. On June 6, Canale and his wife Kari held a ribbon-cutting ceremony with the Peoria Chamber of Commerce.
“I was a regular here, and I’d always half-jokingly told the owner, Vinny, that he should sell it to me. One day he surprised me and actually asked if I was serious. Now here I am,” Tom Canale said.
Formerly branded Cousin Vinny’s Pizza and Pasta, the restaurant had a “tired” atmosphere, according to Canale, who was impressed with the food and regular community.
The pizza was already “excellent,” so he said there was very little to change. But he did add gourmet chicken wings — something he said a pizza and sports grill could not exist without — a brunch menu, and several televisions around the rooms so every customer can easily see the big game.
Around six months ago, Canale even started hiring friends to play live music weekly. He has seen major growth in the clientele, both regulars and first-time customers, since opening, and has received many compliments on the new set-up.
“With all the changes, everything was just happening so fast. Every month would be something different. We’re still really busy, and I thank my wife for all the hard work she’s done. But now, we could finally take a breath and get together with the chamber and have this event. It feels really good,” Canale said.
Vinny’s sells plenty of alcoholic drinks to go along with the Italian food, but Canale wants to differentiate the business from other sports bars. While many competitors will have big events, like reserving the facility for a big UFC or boxing match, he wants to always feature sports, while making it a more family-friendly atmosphere.
That idea starts with the name.
“We put a lot of thought into the name. We didn’t want to put bar because we want to make everybody in the community feel welcome, especially with family and kids,” Canale said. “When we get a new sign, I think we’re even going to take the ‘Italian Sports Grill’ part off of it, so we’re just Vinny’s from now on. I think that’s more catchy.”
Vinny’s Italian Sports Grill is located at 8267 W. Lake Pleasant Parkway, Peoria.