Vincenzo & Agostino Gabriele keep iconic restaurant in forefront of Louisville’s fine-dining scene
By Sarah Provancher
Photos by Andrea Hutchinson and provided by Vincenzo’s
How many restaurants can say they have hosted cultural icons, including Billy Joel, the late Frank Sinatra, Al Pacino, Yo-Yo Ma, Tom Brady, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Spielberg and the late Jerry Lewis? Vincenzo’s Italian Restaurant in downtown Louisville is one of the few that can declare this honor.
Celebrating its 35th year as a stalwart of Louisville’s restaurant scene, Vincenzo’s continues to welcome guests, including today’s well-known celebrities, to share an authentic Italian meal. One of those current-day celebrities includes rapper Jack Harlow, who even had a line about Vincenzo’s in the hit song, “What’s Poppin.”
“…In the ‘Ville and I move like a don eating fettuccine at Vincenzo’s…” is the lyric in Harlow’s track. Vincenzo Gabriele says that he was both flattered and surprised to have the restaurant mentioned in the song, but he talks more about how Harlow and his parents and grandparents have been longtime guests of the restaurant. “We love when they come in, but we love when everyone comes in,” says Gabriele. “We treat everyone as if they are a guest at our family’s table.”
A native of Palermo, Italy, Vincenzo Gabriele opened Vincenzo’s in downtown Louisville in 1986. His brother, Agostino Gabriele, joined him soon after as the Executive Chef and co-owner. The brothers (who are married to sisters Pat and Joan) are very family-oriented. Almost all their respective children have worked in their restaurant at one time or another. Similarly, both Agostino and Vincenzo consider their team family. “Many of our staff have been with us for over 25 years,” says Vincenzo.
Growing up in Italy, Vincenzo had his eyes set on working in the Merchant Marine in Italy, following in his father’s footsteps. Having the opportunity to move to the United States, both Vincenzo and his brother immigrated to St. Louis to begin working in the restaurant industry – at a time when neither of them spoke English. Vincenzo started his career at Tony’s, a top 10 fine-dining Italian restaurant, and Agostino opened his own restaurant in 1975 called ‘Agostino’s Little Place.’ “We knew that the U.S. was the land of opportunity, and I still say now that America is the land of opportunity,” exclaims Vincenzo.
Agostino learned his passion for cooking from his mother at an impressionable age. He remembers being in the kitchen watching his mother cook and asking her lots of questions. At the age of 14, Agostino was hired as kitchen help at Rosticceria Domore in Palermo. His intense desire to learn took him to train at five restaurants over the next four years, including the internationally renowned Le Caprice in Palermo under Chef Cascino – a chef to this day he credits as his idol.
Vincenzo says one of his father’s favorite sayings was, “the most important thing about hospitality is sincerity.” And it is this sincerity that has also extended into Vincenzo and Agostino’s love of their Louisville community. They both have supported numerous organizations over the years.
A passion that is very close to their hearts is helping to feed the homeless. Each Thanksgiving, Vincenzo and Agostino make and serve over 500 meals for those who may not have access to hot meals in the cafeteria just down the street from the restaurant at the Cathedral of the Assumption.
This giving back doesn’t just happen once a year. As we started this interview, Vincenzo had just packaged up a to-go box of entrees left over from the day’s lunch and took them across the street offering them to two individuals in sleeping bags. He says that it’s something he does almost every day.
Vincenzo says that he will be at the restaurant welcoming guests for as long as possible, which he hopes for many, many more years. He explains that it is his brother Agostino’s joy to cook the freshest, most authentic, gourmet Italian dishes for the restaurant’s guests. It’s his joy to ensure that everyone who walks through the restaurant’s doors feels welcome, accepted and respected.
He says, “It’s our honor.”
150 S 5th St.
Louisville, KY 40202