“I’m in Love with the City!”
Hot Springs Pizzeria Owner Opens His Kitchen to Visiting Chefs.
By Sara Dacus
DeLuca’s Pizzeria Napoletana in Hot Springs opened its doors four years ago. During this time, proprietor Anthony Valinoti, who had no previous restaurant experience, grew the business from a fledgling restaurant to the establishment hailed by the Arkansas Times as having the best pizza in Arkansas and receiving recommendations from The Food Network and Time Out New York.
Valinoti prepares his pizza dough by hand daily. He tops this dough with fresh ingredients sourced from a slew of local farmers. All of this is crafted with, he says, “love, passion, dedication and enthusiasm.” This culminates in a product that regularly sells out, sometimes as early as 1:30 in the afternoon.
Photo by Jeremy Rogers
In addition to Valinoti’s commitment to quality, his charisma and relationships in the statewide culinary community have contributed to his success. Instead of viewing other businesses as competitors, Valinoti actively promotes other restaurants.
“We’re a small city. Primarily we’re a tourist town. So if people come to DeLuca’s once, I’m thrilled. And we want to send them to places we enjoy,” Valinoti said. “I want everyone to thrive. I think it’s in my best interest and the city’s best interest to have that happen.”
Photo by Jeremy Rogers
One way Valinoti partners with other restaurants is through Cucina di Domenica (“Sunday Kitchen”), which Valinoti started this summer. Each Sunday, a guest chef comes to DeLuca’s and presents a specialty pizza and an appetizer. Hot Springs restaurateurs Joey Godoy and Ozzie Oseguera of the Bleu Monkey Grill, Casey Copeland of The Avenue and Diana Bratton of Taco Mama have participated. The executive chef from the governor’s mansion, Patrick Herron, has come, and so has Philippe Durcrot, a French chef and instructor at the Pulaski Technical College Culinary Arts and Hospitality Management Institute.
Valinoti is a Brooklyn native with Italian roots. These roots inspired his Sunday Kitchen at DeLuca’s, which Valinoti named after his grandfather, Pat DeLuca.
“In so many Italian kitchens, on Sundays, the family always comes over,” Valinoti said. “I miss that feeling of being home with family. We always had people coming in and out of the house all day. People who were cooking, drinking, laughing, cursing, fighting and loving. The longing for that, a very traditional Italian Sunday kitchen, gave me this idea. I have so many good friends who come down to the restaurant from Hot Springs, Little Rock and Fayetteville. I thought, ‘What better way to spend a Sunday than to share the kitchen with some of my friends?’”
Godoy, co-owner of The Bleu Monkey, said participating in the Sunday Kitchen was mutually beneficial.
“We were very appreciative of the invitation Anthony extended to us. The cross advertising for the event helps us as small restaurant owners grow and build off each other,” Godoy said. “We get exposure with his customers, and he gets exposure with our customers. Working together definitely benefits small restaurants, and it is fun.”
Valinoti said another benefit of Sunday Kitchen is learning from the chefs who visit.
“When I opened DeLuca’s, without any real experience, I learned on my own. Sometimes I learned the hard way, through mistakes. Learning from people who know what they’re doing is essential. These chefs are so well-versed in what they do,” Valinoti said. “These guys aren’t coming in here just winging it. They put a lot of thought and concern into what they want to serve here. They come up with these beautiful ideas. Their creativity has opened me up to new ideas. I feel so honored that they would put that much thought into coming here to make pizza with me. I love it.”
The Sunday Kitchen will continue indefinitely. Upcoming chefs include Matt Bell from Little Rock’s South on Main and Scott Rains of Table 28, and Scott McClard of Hot Springs’ McClard’s Bar-B-Q.
Valinoti has returned the favor, serving as a guest chef at Little Rock establishments South on Main, Lost Forty Brewery and Eggshells Kitchen Co. Bell has recently asked Valinoti to return to South on Main on October 16 to help with a fundraiser for the No Kid Hungry campaign in Arkansas.
“It is a great honor he bestowed on me. I was so stunned. I am overwhelmed that the organization thought I would be a great fit for this,” Valinoti said.
Valinoti passes on a lot of credit for his success to the people of Hot Springs.
“I’m in love with the city. I’m in love with the people who live here and come visit. This could never have succeeded anywhere else. This is where DeLuca’s was supposed to be, and this is where we will always be,” Valinoti said. “I couldn’t be more pleased with what is going on and the response we get. It’s pretty overwhelming, and it’s a joy to come to work and do what we do. We don’t have a lot of pomp and circumstance. It’s about come in, sit down, and we will try to serve you something really great and have fun. I think it shows that we’re having fun in the kitchen. This is not a job. It is a beautiful labor of love.”
DeLuca’s Pizzeria Napoletana is located at 407 Park Avenue. The restaurant is open on Thursdays and Fridays from 4 p.m.—9 p.m., Saturdays from 11:30 a.m.—9 p.m. and Sundays from noon—8 p.m. Reservations are recommended and can be made by calling (501) 609-9002.