Since 2004, Yelp has worked to connect millions of people to the best in local business. In that time we’ve met thousands of passionate small business owners, a group as hardworking and diverse as any you’ll find. In this series, we share stories of just some of the people who, through their commitment to building great local businesses, are sustaining the vibrant local communities we call home.
Long before he had opened two successful restaurants in Reno, Alberto Gazzola had a passion for motorbikes. It goes back to growing up in Varese, a hillside town in northern Italy tucked alongside a lake of the same name and sweeping views of the Alps. It was here Gazzola took his first food-related job in high school at a local butcher shop, mostly because – between cleaning chickens – a big part of the job was delivering orders on a Vespa.
Today, Gazzola can be found riding his motorcycles on the open roads around Reno or at 100mph on closed tracks. “In the West, we have these giant spaces. In Italy, there are these little towns after another. There’s 60 million of us and it’s the size of California. All of a sudden you come out here and you ride in any direction and you’re by yourself.”
These solitary moments and open roads are two things Gazzola cherishes about life in the United States, where he lives with his wife and son in Reno. But he never may have made it here if not for a spontaneous trip to the area. At age 25, after working up the ranks at various restaurants in Varese, he decided to take a vacation to the U.S. before doubling down on a chef’s life in Italy. On this trip, he decided to visit a friend in Reno and happened on a chance opportunity to help open an Italian restaurant.
That was 1989. He’s lived here ever since.
After lending a hand and his expertise to his friend, Gazzola opened his own Reno restaurant, La Vecchia, in 1990. Named after the restaurant in Varese where he honed his craft, La Vecchia is still open today and is one of the most successful and longstanding restaurants in the city. At La Vecchia, you’ll find housemade pasta and traditional northern Italian dishes with a twist – i.e. inventive new takes on Italian favorites alongside some of the dishes Gazzola grew up loving in Varese, all using the freshest, seasonal ingredients available.
Verging on 30 years of business hasn’t come without its growing pains at La Vecchia, however. Business partners have been brought in and bought out. In 2010, the City of Reno contacted Gazzola letting him know that his building needed to be razed for street widening and La Vecchia would either need to relocate or shut down.
At first, Gazzola thought it was the end. He couldn’t find a suitable spot to relocate. So he fought the city. This was in 2009 when the economy and real estate price tags were down. Eventually, he negotiated a relocation deal with the city after finding a strip mall for sale in Reno’s Skyline neighborhood. He bought the strip mall and reopened La Vecchia in a 2,000 square-foot space in 2012, its current home. “Be the squeaky wheel. I was the guy making noise.” In the end, it was an opportunity to grow.
A couple years later, Gazzola opened a second restaurant in Reno – Centro. Inspired by the vibrant nightlife and tapas eateries he enjoyed in Spain during weekend exploits of his youth, Gazzola wanted to bring a similar concept to Reno. Currently, he’s eyeing spots for a second Centro location.
As a business owner, Gazzola pushes his teams at La Vecchia and Centro to bring new experiences and concepts that other restauranteurs in Reno might be wary of or even lack the foresight to attempt. As a chef, he’s always strived to be true to himself. “You have to be honest about your food. Whatever knowledge you have, whatever expertise you have, that’s what you use.”
Gazzola credits all his successes in business to working as hard as anyone could imagine for nearly three decades, including pounding veal, alone, at 2 a.m. when there was no one else to do it. “People that get into this business, they have to know that it’s not going to happen in two months. Maybe not even in two years. It’s taken me the better part of 30 years to get where I’m at.” And, according to Gazzola, it’s only been in the last few years where he’s finally started to see the longterm benefits of all of his hard work.