“The most important lesson is to listen to your customers,” said Alex Victoria, who weathered critiques from food critics when Amore Victoria opened. “They said the last thing Minneapolis needed was a red sauce restaurant with meatballs. … We just kind of stuck with it.”
He realized that the residents of Uptown didn’t get a word in the reviews — they have since spoken loudly enough, keeping Amore Victoria going for 10 years and counting.
“They have gotten a word,” Alex said.
Alex has four brothers, all in the restaurant business. They grew up cooking Italian food, inspired and employed by their uncles who worked in California vineyards and went on to open restaurants. (Alex’s brother and Jenna’s sister — also married to each other — own an Italian restaurant in Rochester.) The brothers congregate in the kitchen on holidays and try to out-cook each other.
“There is a little bit of brotherly rivalry,” Alex said.
Amore Victoria has become known for its scratch gnocchi and homemade Italian sausage.
“The more I work on it, it gets better and better,” Alex said.
The house bread is made fresh daily from the restaurant’s own yeast culture, started from a bunch of organic grapes 10 years ago — the owners note that some European venues have used the same yeast culture for more than 100 years.
The couple’s original vision was to open a neighborhood-focused restaurant.
Alex said that after watching his back in LA, he marveled at Minneapolis’ cleanliness and safety.
“I commuted to UW-Stout from here. That’s how much I liked the city,” Alex said.
Alex built the restaurant tables, and Jenna decorated the venue while pregnant with her first child. Alex also built the bar, and it’s inlaid with surplus tiles and Jenna’s old coasters. The wood floor in the back room came from the Armory at Fort Snelling. Part of the main room floor came from the basketball court of a school in Richfield.
The Victorias created a patio years later on the rooftop, which was previously filled with old equipment and appliances.
“Jenna saw the dream up here and thought we could get it cleaned up. And here we are,” said Alex. “I just saw a lot of work up here.”
Alex and Jenna have each spent 20 years in Uptown, and they’re raising three kids in the Lowry Hill neighborhood.
An Amore Victoria benefit raised more than $15,000 for the neighboring residents at 1508 W. Lake when their condo building burned in late 2012. One of those residents came in to eat two-three times a week, and it’s not uncommon for local customers to visit on a weekly basis.
“The bar is full any night with regulars,” Jenna said.