When COVID hit, Andre Velasquez was petrified that his family’s restaurant, Tuscany Ristorante Italiano in Newport News, would fall victim to the pandemic. People stopped eating out and fear in the air was palpable.
“It was a very rough time,” says Velasquez, who manages the restaurant. “I thought we were going to close. It was very hard. We didn’t know what was going to happen next, if we were going to make it or not.”
But Italian food lovers rallied, and their to-go orders saved the business.
Since then, Tuscany, a small, cozy restaurant located at the end of a strip mall in Denbigh, has thrived. The restaurant has been serving Italian food to Peninsula residents for 20 years. It was purchased by Velasquez’s family in 2018. His brother was a chef at Tuscany and decided to purchase it and make it his own. The restaurant is now a family affair, with three brothers in the kitchen and Velasquez out front.
The Velasquez family is originally from El Salvador. The brothers have loved working together and continuing the tradition of Tuscany. Customers flock to the restaurant for amazing Italian fare and an atmosphere that lends itself to romantic dinners, business lunches and family meals.
“It’s so enjoyable for me,” Velasquez says. “When I first started, it was difficult. Now I love it.”
The brothers have kept the heart of Tuscany intact, making some subtle changes. The restaurant specializes in homemade pasta, pizza and Italian desserts such as tiramisu. Tuscany draws customers with regular specials.
Velasquez is the first to say how great the food is. He says his favorite dishes are flounder Francese and salmon with vodka sauce. “I love Italian food,” he says. “Ours is so good.”
Tuscany has a large number of regular customers, some of whom eat there several times a week. “We have a lot of loyal customers. Some order the same thing, but many try different things,” he says. “I love when I see our customers come in. I feel so happy to see them.”
Velasquez says his family enjoys working together to create Italian masterpieces and a restaurant experience that will keep customers coming back for more. Diners come from as far away as Richmond and Virginia Beach.
“It’s a romantic place. It’s quiet. It’s a nice place to just talk with your partner,” Velasquez says. “It’s a great place for a date night.”
Tuscany keeps the menu the same, but always offers specials. The restaurant also serves alcohol, including homemade red sangria and espresso martinis. “People really like that,” Velasquez says with a smile.
To keep the restaurant at the top of customers’ minds, Velasquez makes sure that Tuscany’s social media presence is strong and continuous. “It’s very important,” he says.
A free cannoli is offered to customers who check in at the restaurant on Facebook when they dine there. Velasquez posts pictures of the restaurant’s food on social media platforms as a way to entice new diners. “It draws people in,” he says. “It’s one of the keys to success.”
Velasquez and his brothers have loved owning Tuscany so much that they decided to expand their presence on the Peninsula with Toscano, another Italian restaurant which will have a similar menu. Toscano will be located in York Country and will officially open in the spring.
I really love what we are doing,” Velasquez says. “I can’t wait to open another one.”
TO THE POINT:
Tuscany Ristorante Italiano
Address: 12638 Jefferson Ave., Newport News, VA 23602