RHODY LIFE

60s and Sexy: Overcoming adversity

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I met Dino Passaretta in the spring of 2018. He opened Vanda, a restaurant in the Apponaug section of Warwick. It had been several restaurants over the years. It is not a huge place with a cozy atmosphere with an Italian flare.

Vanda offers a homemade Italian menu with all the ingredients, including Italian sausage, made on site. He named the restaurant after his mom and initially used only her recipes. After adding Gina as a chef, he now describes the menu as a combination of his mom’s and Gina’s recipes. The food is delicious, and the staff is well versed on the ingredients and what beverage to pair with each meal.

When we initially met, my goal was to learn about the menu and try the food. At the time I was running an Airbnb, and my goal was to find restaurants locally that I could confidently recommend to my guests. I like to find homegrown places, not chains, that offer a menu that reflects our great state of Rhode Island and our city of Warwick. What better than homemade Italian food?

Fast forward to COVID. I shut down my Airbnb and knew that Dino was forced to close his restaurant as well. I wondered how he had faired through the epidemic. His restaurant is smaller in size and I knew that the 6-foot restrictions would greatly affect his business.

I stopped in Friday morning and was pleased to see that he was still operating. Dino explained how he had rolled with the punches of COVID. Even now at 75 percent capacity, he could only accommodate 47 guests inside. When the weather permitted, he installed outdoor seating and was able to add 20 more guests.

He was not a restaurant known for take-out, but immediately stepped up his game, offering all items on the menu to go. He even took it one step further, supplying guests with food that was prepared and ready to cook at home. You could order these items based on how many people you were feeding. In order to do that he had to invest in take-out containers that were also microwavable. He also sold liquor to those who were interested. Luckily, he was able to rely on money that was offered to small businesses to facilitate these changes and stay afloat.

He was forced to shorten his hours and staff, temporarily. Through it all, he kept a positive attitude and thought of his mom and her tenacity and Italian spirit. He knew he was doing the right thing by her and his customers. Some of his biggest sellers are his meatballs, homemade sausage and rabe, fettuccine Bolognese and gnocchi.

Give Vanda a try. You’ll feel like you are visiting a small village in Italy! Here is their website and contact information (www.vandacucina.com) – if you stop in, tell Dino that Cindy sent you!

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