Editor’s note:It wasn’t that long ago, but it seems like it. This interview was done prior to the U.S. outbreak of COVID-19. Since that time, many Rochester restaurants have stepped up to provide free meals for kids in need. Victoria’s is one of them.
Here’s an update from Victoria’s as of early April:"Three weeks have passed since we committed ourselves to help feed hungry kids. Free meals are still in full swing, and again, the outpouring of support from this community is second to none. ... We always knew we had great staff, but to put into words their selfless acts and dedication in this time of crisis is impossible. From our back of the house treating each kids meal like they paid top dollar, to our front of the house staff happily volunteering to deliver hot food when needed, in the pouring rain ... 20 miles away. #soakingbuthappy."
Natalie Victoria has always been one of the most positive people we know. So here’s our pre-COVID-19 10 (or so) Questions with her. Because we could all use some positivity right now. - Steve
Rochester Magazine:I’m supposed to ask you about the screwdriver story from when Victoria’s first opened.
Natalie Victoria:Yes. We had a cute little server named Velma. She had a day job at Mayo and she would work at Victoria’s at night. So the first night we opened, it was a Thursday night, she’s beating around the restaurant and I saw a table that was looking around like they were missing something. They said they had ordered a drink and they hadn’t seen their server for a while. So I went back to the bar and there wasn’t a drink ticket at the bar. So I’m just trying to find their server and she was way back in the kitchen. And way back in our kitchen at the time, we were in our old location, was the utility room.
RM:Oh, no. No.
NV: Oh, yes. And she’s in there with the other manager. I said, ‘Velma, you know your table is waiting for their drink.’ And she was like, ‘I know. But they need a screwdriver and I can’t find the toolbox.’
RM:That’s probably a training issue on your part.
RM:If you had to choose only one of your restaurants to eat at for the rest of your life, would it be Tap House or Victoria’s?
NV:I can’t believe you asked me this.
RM:You have to answer it.
NV:My business partner is going to kill me, but Victoria’s.
RM:So what’s your go-to here?
NV:My go-to is Penne Arrabiata.
RM:I moved here in 2000 and started with Rochester Magazine, and we’ve been doing the Best Restaurants issue since then. I can’t think of too many other classic Rochester restaurants from 2000 that are still around. It was Henry Wellington back in the day, it was Michaels ...
NV:Red Lobster. Newt’s. Redwod Room. John Barleycorn. Remember John Barleycorn?
RM:Yes. What has kept you guys around for so long?
NV:It’s been close to 23 years, and I would have to say, it’s amazing how special Victoria’s has become. I mean, not only the fact of our proximity to Mayo and you meet so many people—but also because we are large and we employ a large amount of people and we have just the best staff and we’ve cultivated the best team. When you have the right people, it’s amazing how you can make miracles happen. So, yeah, we are lucky.
RM:And what is it about Rochester that has kept you here?
NV:I love Rochester. And the people who are moving into the community are exactly what the city wants. We have this vibrant, thriving hospital. We have a great school system, whether it’s private or public schools. We have awesome bike trails, we have awesome parks, we have awesome communities, awesome neighborhoods. We’re an hour from the Twin Cities, an hour from the Mall of America. There are always going to be things that you can find wrong with it, I mean, if you look, but this is an amazing city.
RM:Tell me about your family.
NV:Sid has a son and daughter from a previous marriage. We have two boys and a daughter together.
RM:And isn’t your sister your sister-in-law, or something?
NV:No. So my sister’s married to my husband’s brother. We have the same last name again.
RM:Have you ever considered opening a restaurant in the Corn Cob Water Tower? Because that would combine two of the things that you really love—trying to save the Corn Tower and the restaurant business.
NV:I know, right? But, sadly, no.
RM:Does it drive you crazy that you’ve been sitting here this long [in Victoria’s] and you’re not working?
NV:No, because I can’t see any customers. When I’m out on the restaurant floor, I’m always looking to make sure everything is good.
RM:Tell me about the summer of 1993.
NV:I was an unemployed college student living in Green Bay, and my dad was breathing down my neck about getting a job. So he’d lined up a factory job at a steel plant. While it was considered to be an excellent job, spending a hot summer in steel- toed boots and safety goggles was not my idea of fun. I was supposed to be starting like the next day. Then I went out to eat with my grandma and my mom at a Green Bay restaurant called Victoria’s, and they had ‘Now Hiring’ signs everywhere. I knew nothing about restaurants, but I got a quick interview and—after a few lies about my restaurant experience—started the next night as a bartender. It was super busy and there was no training program. None at all. And I loved it.
RM:And then you met your husband, Sid [Victoria].
NV:Yes. The end of that summer I met my soulmate. He was co-owner of the restaurant. We hit it off instantly. By 1997, we had moved to Rochester and Victoria’s Italian Restaurant was born.
RM:You just admitted you lied on your resume to get this job. Do you ever fear they’re going to find out about that and let you go?
NV:I haven’t lost any sleep over that, no. I don’t think they’ll fire me even if they read this and find out about it now.