Gathering with friends and family around the dinner table comes naturally to Eric Scheffer, proprietor of Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian in North Asheville.
He learned how to cook from the Italian women in his Long Island, New York neighborhood, often spending afternoons in their kitchens instead of playing outside. When he got older, he had summer jobs at Italian restaurants and gained an appreciation for wine and fine food from his father, an avid wine collector. As a young man, he moved to California to produce rock ‘n’ roll concerts and films, and in 1995 he sought out a quieter life in Asheville.
The city’s culinary scene was starting to gain momentum, a period Scheffer refers to as “Asheville’s first resurgence.” He noticed a need for more upscale dining, and in 2000 he bought the North Asheville restaurant Savoy and turned it into a fine dining establishment known for its seafood, prime meats, and wine list. In 2002, the New York Times described Savoy as “Asheville’s restaurant of the moment.”
When the economic downturn of 2008 hit the restaurant industry, Scheffer “did a lot of soul searching” and transformed Savoy into Vinnie’s Neighborhood Italian, a more casual restaurant named for his old family friend Vinnie Coppola. Family-style pasta, chicken parmesan, and calzones seemed like a natural choice for Scheffer. “I decided I would honor my youth and all those great little neighborhood Italian restaurants.”
He wants his guests at Vinnie’s “to feel at home and be a part of my family.” He aims to provide all of the fun and conviviality of sitting down for Sunday supper at grandma’s house.
As a larger-than-life figure in the Asheville restaurant world, Scheffer encourages young chefs to be creative and take chances with their food as they welcome the next wave of visitors to Asheville. Scheffer’s charm and persistence will no doubt inspire a new generation of culinarians to forge their own paths in his adopted city.