Oprah's dream guy from Hoffman Estates doing talk show

 
 
Updated 9/20/2011 8:57 AM
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  • Paolo Presta

    Paolo Presta

  • Paolo Presta, best known as the Hoffman Estates grocery store worker who got a "wildest dream" wish granted by Oprah, just launched his own online talk show, "A Spoonful of Paolo."

    Paolo Presta, best known as the Hoffman Estates grocery store worker who got a "wildest dream" wish granted by Oprah, just launched his own online talk show, "A Spoonful of Paolo." courtesy of Paolo Presta

  • Paolo Presta, best known as the Hoffman Estates grocery store worker who got a "wildest dream" wish granted by Oprah, just launched his own online talk show, "A Spoonful of Paolo."

    Paolo Presta, best known as the Hoffman Estates grocery store worker who got a "wildest dream" wish granted by Oprah, just launched his own online talk show, "A Spoonful of Paolo." courtesy of Paolo Presta

Fans of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" remember the moment Paolo Presta's life changed forever.

One weekday morning in 2004, while he worked unsuspectingly at Valli Produce in Hoffman Estates, his family's grocery store, Oprah's "Wildest Dreams" bus pulled up and she came into the store.

As Presta quivered, jumped and wept -- a clip played repeatedly for years afterward -- Oprah told him she was making his dream of being an actor come true. He was getting a walk-on speaking role on "Will & Grace," then a top-rated show.

Presta took that opportunity and ran with it. He left the suburbs and the grocery business, moved to West Hollywood and began pursuing his dream.

He landed a small, recurring part as Pizza Shack owner Doug Mancino on the soap opera "General Hospital," appeared in several commercials and worked behind the scenes at two popular talk shows: "The Ellen DeGeneres Show" and "The Talk."

Now Presta has his own online talk show, "A Spoonful of Paolo." It debuted Sept. 8 and airs weekly at aspoonfulofpaolo.com.

His first guest was Sharon Osbourne ("She is the BEST"), and his next two guests are Oprah's former executive producer and OWN co-president Sheri Salata ("It's a full-circle moment for me") and "The Brady Bunch" mom Florence Henderson ("I love her! I grew up watching her!").

Presta, 35, buzzes with enthusiasm and gratitude when he talks about the past seven years.

"If (Oprah) never came to the store, I'd probably still be working at the store. I would not be in L.A. doing this," he said. "My goal, back then, was to please my family and please my dad. ... Now I'm living my dream, and I'm having the best time of my life."

Paolo -- who grew up in Glenview and whose parents now live in South Barrington -- always was a huge Oprah fan. He watched every show, repeatedly attended tapings at Harpo Studios and wrote Oprah hundreds of letters. He viewed her as the only person who could free him from his fate to work in his family's grocery store business.

Winfrey's visit to Valli Produce that morning really did change his life, and he said it opened the eyes of his strict Italian-born father who at that moment realized that his son had other dreams.

"I'm grateful to God. My life changed because of a minute," Presta said. "Every day I wake up, I feel blessed."

"A Spoonful of Paolo" is put together by a two-man team, Presta and production editor Patrick Phomassie. The show's mission is similar to Oprah's -- to inspire people to dream big and celebrate life. It will feature a mix of celebrity interviews, dream fulfillment, travel, fashion and cooking segments, and upbeat real-life stories.

Presta said he learned a lot watching Oprah and working for years at two popular daytime talk shows.

"I learned the format of how a talk show should run and what the audience wants. I always ask the questions that the audience wants to know," he said. "When I interviewed Sharon Osbourne, I wanted to know, what does she do when she's not working? Or if you could invite anyone over for dinner, who would it be? And she said Barbra Streisand. That was surprising, because she could have dinner with anyone, you know?"

Presta's goal is to have his own televised talk show, but in the meantime he's enjoying doing the show his way and living off money he's saved from working at Valli and "The Talk."

Members of his large family, who all still live in the suburbs, are supportive of him. His eighth-grade nephew Frankie, who lives in Bartlett, is his new show's biggest fan.

"He called me up the other day and said, 'Hey, I like the promo on YouTube, but you don't have it on your website yet,'" he said. "He's always looking out for me."

Presta says Oprah plans to mention him in her new "Oprah Lifeclass" next month on OWN and points to him as an example of how to change your destiny.

"If you really want to do something, you have to go for it," Presta said.

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking for suburban people in showbiz. If you know of someone, send a note to dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com.