Yetty’s Pizza & Pasta

EricS.

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At just 21 years old, a sole female proprietor boldly earned her nickname as the “pizza queen” of the Mohawk Valley, transforming a six-table hangout into a thriving two-story empire.

Felicia Netti, owner of Yetty’s Pizza & Pasta in Herkimer, New York, isn’t 100% sure when the business opened—though some old timers estimate 1952, the earliest mention she can find in a local phone book is from 1957. The original owner, Paul Yetty, has passed away, but his memory looms large in the business, partially via its mascot, a towering yeti-like figure lovingly named Paul (Felicia’s brother in costume, who sometimes emerges to entertain kids).

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Paul was a much-loved local, hosting cigar smoke-filled card games in the cellar, doling out pocket money to local youngsters, and hanging his biggest fishing catch on the wall as decor. “The place was well-known because of Paul, but it wasn’t a packed house,” Felicia recalls. “Paul was a great man, but he had a tiny menu and six tables—that was it. It sometimes stayed open until 5 a.m.”

After Paul passed away, his sister took over the business for a two-year stretch but soon looked to sell and approached the Netti family. Felicia’s brother took it on and hired Felicia, who bought the store from him in 1981, when she was only 21 years old. “When I started, everything was baffling to me,” she admits. “I was totally self-taught. And being a girl in business was challenging. People don’t take you seriously—plus I was a kid! Male sales reps would always say, ‘Let me speak to the owner.’”

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Luckily, Felicia was a lightning-fast learner. In 1998, she bought the building next door, turning a tiny pizzeria into its modern incarnation: a dual-story full-service restaurant with a six-page menu, dozens of employees, seating for 90, delivery, catering and a full bar. She even opened two additional locations, while doting on two young children as a single mother, before scaling back to only the original, for fear of spreading herself too thin. Today, Felicia trains her 25-year-old daughter in operations and hopes her son, now in The Culinary Institute of America, will later join the team—but she has no plans of retiring. “I don’t need to,” she says. “I’ll be doing this ’til I croak!”

Felicia lights up the screen with local half-hour TV spots four times yearly, where she whips up her homemade delicacies at the restaurant in her singular no-nonsense style. She even taps social media to host live streams from live-music Tuesdays at Yetty’s. But the focus remains on her community. “I always put money back into the restaurant and never say no to giving back,” Felicia notes. “If I want customers to come back, I have to care. And I may sign the paychecks, but I can’t do it without my employees. Yetty’s has been part of my life forever—and I can’t imagine life without it.”

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