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Dining Out Spotlight: Vanelli’s, Tupelo

Vanelli’s a Tupelo mainstay for more than 30 years

Vaz Vanelli’s passion is music and classical guitar, but his clear love of people has helped the restaurant opened by his father remain a Tupelo mainstay for more than 30 years.

Vanelli’s father, Demetrios — known to most as Papa Vanelli — was born in Athens, Greece, and the family has nearly 100 years in the restaurant business.

In the 1950s, Papa Vanelli settled in the United States in Michigan, and after moving from Michigan to Tupelo in the early 1970s, he opened a pizzeria in 1975. He named it Vanelli’s because he said he didn’t think people would buy pizza from a Greek named Kapenekas.

The restaurant served pizza, Greek salad, lasagna and a Greek sub.

“Pop brought a different flare to Tupelo dining back in the mid-1970s,” Vaz Vanelli said.

When Vanelli graduated from college in 1978, he planned to attend law school, and his father suggested he attend school in Mississippi.

“I came here and started working with my father and never decided to go on to law school,” Vaz Vanelli said. “I liked it. I liked being with my father. I had a very interesting father, and I loved to spend time with him.”

Eventually, Vanelli’s mother and brother migrated to Tupelo as well.

“The whole family sort of relocated to Mississippi,” Vanelli said. “It’s been a good place for us over the years. We’ve been accepted by the community.”

Vanelli’s is now at 1302 N. Gloster St. and serves authentic Greek and Italian cuisine. Breads and sauces are made from scratch, as is the ravioli.

Vanelli said the customers most like the restaurant’s Greek salads and pizza, with the No. 1 seller being the house pizza, which features French bread dough made from scratch, homemade sauce with an herb blend created by Papa Vanelli, and a blend of 10 toppings.

Guests are occasionally treated to a song or two from Vaz Vanelli on either the guitar or concerto, which also keeps customers returning.

“We’ve fed families for four generations,” Vanelli said.


Up Close With …


Age: 57

Hometown:  Ferndale, Mich.

High School: Graduated from Ferndale High School in 1972

College: Bachelor’s degree in history and classical guitar from Eastern Michigan University and master certification classes from the Culinary Institute of America.

Key to success: “Quality, service and value. To get you must give.”

Coolest thing you’ve ever done:  “How I feel is that every day there is something really neat that I’m able to do for someone – and I look for something to do for someone -and that then makes that day a complete day.”


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