This beloved Midwest institution started out as a fruit market in a town that knew little about pizza.
Val and Zena Weiler owned a fruit market in Lincoln, Nebraska, in the 1950s, but they feared the larger grocery chains would muscle them out of business. Their solution? Open a pizzeria instead! Thus, in July 1957, Valentino’s was born. On the first day of business, the Weilers raked in $60 despite the fact that most locals were not exactly avid pizza eaters. “Valentino’s was one of the first pizzerias in Lincoln,” says Anthony Messineo, vice president of operations for Valentino’s. “Word spread quickly on how great the pizza was—most people had never tried it outside of traveling to the East Coast.” And, to hear Messineo tell it, Valentino’s pizza still sets the bar for “Nebraska-style pizza—a soft, not-too-thick crust, a flavorful thick pizza sauce, fresh toppings and whole-milk mozzarella cheese.”
The Messineo and Alesio families took over the business in 1971 and decided to grow the brand in other markets. Since the first franchised location in 1975, Valentino’s has expanded to more than 40 locations across several states in the Midwest: Nebraska, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Kansas. The Valentino’s To-Go concept launched in 1990; 10 years later, the first Valentino’s Grand Italian Buffet location opened (these offer more than 150 selections: pizza, salad bar, pastas, desserts and more). Loyal customers can even have Valentino’s products—including pizza, lasagna and spaghetti sauce—shipped to them anywhere in the country through a mail order option.
Still, Messineo is proudest of what his company does for the community. “Valentino’s has been a leader in community involvement by giving back to schools with our High-Five program, which recognizes students who give extra effort in the classroom,” he says. “It’s also very rewarding to hear past employees who have moved on to other careers say that Valentino’s instilled in them a strong work ethic. Ultimately, our greatest success is the people who have worked with us over the past 52 years.” —Tracy Morin