When people told them restaurants had a track record of failing at the Route 59 location they chose to open a new, welcoming Italian joint in Naperville, family restaurateurs Michael, Anthony and Nick Vai didn't turn away.
The father-and-sons trio is living a dream of operating a restaurant company together and wasn't about to let a little location-based superstition derail their plans.
Already the owners of fire + wine in Glen Ellyn, they were comforted by the fact the market research they conducted since dreaming up their latest concept proved Naperville is the perfect spot for what they call VAI's Italian-Inspired Kitchen + Bar. The restaurant at 916 S. Route 59 opens Saturday.
"It's not going to be like anything else down this road," said Nick Vai, one of the sons. "You're going to come here and get that family flair, that extra love."
VAI's aims for a warm and comfortable atmosphere to serve the everyday restaurant-goer, Nick and Anthony's father, Michael Vai, said.
The space has decor chosen by restaurant partner Sandy Georganas of Naperville and it will offer a menu of "smallish plates" meant to share, Neapolitan pizzas from a wood-burning oven and entrees cooked on a separate wood-burning grill.
"It's really a tremendous piece of equipment that imparts amazing flavor," Michael Vai said about the grill, which already earned raves from diners during a friends and family night.
The activity at VAI's won't be just eating, the owners say, but connecting, slowing down and "sharing life over plates." It's all part of filling a family-centric niche with food, atmosphere and service.
"We put our name on the building," Michael Vai said. "We want to take care of our people."
Their "people" include customers, of course, as well as delivery drivers, landscapers, the 50 employees they've hired, and up to another 20 they plan to bring aboard as business ramps up. Respecting the hardworking employees of the restaurant industry is a key component of the plan for Anthony Vai, who said he enjoys being in business with his brother and father so they can be to others the great bosses they always wished they'd find.
Anthony Vai said he thought he wanted to steer clear of the restaurant industry because he didn't aspire to the long hours, weekends and holidays his father always worked. But he changed his plans, studied hospitality, then finance, and now is excited to get VAI's off the ground.
"There's a lot of emotion going into this. Dreams." Nick Vai said. "It's a blessing that we're here and we're going to be able to benefit the community."
Executive Chef Scott Raiman is ready with a full menu including one item the Vai family predicts will be a standout, the mushroom carpaccio, an artfully designed dish topped with swirls of goat cheese cream and balsamic glaze with a garnish of pickled red onion in the center.
"This is going to be a signature item," Michael Vai said. "Everyone's going to eat that and go, 'Wow.'"