If you had spoken with Laurentian Commerce graduate Chris Vitiello in the early years of his degree, he would never have believed that he’d be successfully navigating the food industry in just a few years’ time. Raised in the Valley East area, Chris Vitiello shares what it means to be a local entrepreneur, and the importance of giving back to our communities.
Chris always knew he wanted to major in business, and chose Laurentian University for its reputable Commerce program – he just wasn’t sure what area of business specifically interested him most. During his studies, he took courses with a focus on marketing and advertising, and decided that he wished to open his own business in the future. Chris fondly remembers his days at Laurentian, and notes that his instructors always made classes enjoyable to attend… even through his more difficult core year!
After completing his degree, Chris spent his early career in sales until a local restaurant went up for sale in his hometown. Chris saw the opportunity and took it – he opened the original Cousin Vinny’s restaurant right in his hometown of Hanmer in December 2009. This year’s Cousin Vinny’s Hanmer anniversary – happening this December – will mark 10 years of the restaurant being established. Following the first Cousin Vinny’s restaurant, Chris saw an opportunity to bring his restaurant to Chelmsford, and opened his second Cousin Vinny’s restaurant in spring 2017.
A typical day for Chris involves working with customers and making sure to be on the floor supporting his staff. Chris also manages the restaurant’s marketing and advertising, monitoring social media accounts on his own, and meeting with media periodically. Chris credits his Commerce degree with teaching him about the many aspects involved in a business's operations.
On top of managing two restaurants, Chris and Cousin Vinny’s support many other community initiatives. Chris coordinates the Valley East Days festival in Hanmer, which brings in roughly 30,000 guests every year, and provides a free, fun-filled weekend for families in Northern Ontario. Overseeing the Valley East Days festival involves meeting with other businesses and sponsors across the city year-round. “It’s a whole other job,'' Chris notes. Cousin Vinny’s also provides tens of thousands of dollars in sponsorship to sports teams and divisions in the community. From hockey to basketball, Cousin Vinny’s is proud to support our local athletes.
When asked why he chose the name Cousin Vinny’s, Chris says it was a combination of a few ideas. Most notably, Chris’s father’s name on his birth certificate reads “Vincenzo”, or “Vinny” for short. For Chris, naming the restaurant after his father serves as a constant reminder of the support and encouragement provided by his family and friends that got him to where he is today.