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Nation's Restaurant News 2023 Power List Vito Prencipe North Italia
Vito Prencipe is a wildly successful general manager for North Italia and has a “farm system of talent” that flows into other restaurants throughout the country.

The North Italia restaurant general manager role is personal for Vito Prencipe

Prencipe started working for North Italia shortly after moving to the U.S. from Italy 10 years ago, and he’s been educating his staff and customers on the culture and food of his home country ever since.

North Italia is an upscale casual-dining concept that strives to emulate the culture and made-from-scratch food of Italy. So when Vito Prencipe moved to Tucson, Ariz., in 2012 from Puglia, Italy, it seemed like the perfect fit for his first job stateside.

About 10 years later, Prencipe is a wildly successful general manager for the brand and has a “farm system of talent” that flows into other North Italia restaurants throughout the country. That is according to Joe Hyslop, division vice president at the company.

“We are expanding this brand and growing rapidly, and one thing I’ve noticed is how many people come from his restaurant in Tucson. It’s innate for a GM to want to keep their best people — the restaurants run better. But we wouldn’t grow nearly as successfully if we didn’t have his training camp from Tucson,” Hyslop said. “He gets that core culture weaved through his employees and they’re transporting that across the country.”

Weaving in that culture is sort of a personal mission for Prencipe. Shortly before moving to the U.S., he was studying food and agriculture, and it was important for him to keep doing that research when he relocated. North Italia felt like the perfect catalyst to do just that, and the Tucson restaurant created a position just for him. He swiftly moved up to manager, then assistant general manager and now general manager.

“He was just so genuine, it was contagious. Even though we didn’t have the position, you can’t pass up on a guy like that. It was a no-brainer. When talent walks in the door, you don’t let it walk out,” Hyslop said.

Prencipe’s talent comes from his desire to teach, and that has helped create a deeper connection to Italian cuisine, wine, pairings — all of those things he considers “his life and lifestyle.”

“This role has given me a responsibility to educate the staff on what I believe hospitality is. What’s the meaning of that word? I discovered it’s a container with magic ingredients that we are required to go through to explain the meaning of the food and everything we do. I cater the concept around that idea,” he said.

That means not just talking about the menu, but also the agriculture behind the food, the ingredients, the history, culture, and people.

“There are people behind the food. Talking about those things, you can see the effect it has on people. They go way above the idea of just food,” Prencipe said.

This educational approach has become even more critical since the pandemic. Prencipe said the focus has shifted from just taking care of the body to taking care of the mind, as well. To do that, it means dedicating more time to his team, and it means sharing knowledge so they know and better appreciate what they’re doing. Prencipe has developed a pre-shift routine, for instance, that includes a map of Italy to point out where certain cheeses or wine come from.   

“Before, basically the effort was, let’s learn everything we can about the food. Now, we need to focus on expanding their knowledge and what it means to do this job,” he said. “We consistently look for things that can allow us to think about the future. That allows them to have a positive approach and can help us all digest the daily situations. And of course, my genuine commitment to educating our staff. That is what I believe is key — a business strategy that can make our restaurant special every day.”

Hyslop said this strategy is working not just in developing talent that proliferates throughout the North Italia system, but also in Prencipe’s restaurant specifically. His Tucson location could reach $10 million in sales this year, for instance.

“Vito takes the work out of work. It’s just this tangible feeling that he has. It’s so important for him to teach. It’s more than just serving dinner and collecting a paycheck. It’s bigger than that,” Hyslop said. “I would say one in three guests come to the restaurant specifically to see him. He’s the mayor of that town, of that restaurant. He makes his staff feel like this is more than just a job.”

Prencipe loves his work and his brand, and he’d like to stick with the company as it continues to grow. This year, North Italia plans up to six new locations on top of its existing portfolio of 33 locations.

“North Italia is a baby company. It just started and I really believe in the platform it offers to me and all the people that work here,” he said. “We focus on the people and the food and wine and knowledge. If I see my future, it’s good with North Italia. I’m really, really happy to be here.”

Contact Alicia Kelso at [email protected]

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