Popular eatery, with locations around Coastal Virginia, still growing strong after 28 years
By Barrett Baker
Tony DiSilvestro, the founder and CEO of Ynot Italian, discovered his entrepreneurial spirit at a very young age—actually starting his first business when he was only eight years old. He bought candy from a wholesale candy store and set up a table at the end of a Jersey Shore street, then sold gum and candy bars to people as they came off the beach. “It was definitely a little bit of a challenge because everything started melting, so we had to get cooler,” recalls DiSilvestro. “Those are the trials and tribulations of an eight-year-old, but we found solutions. I’m a very solution-driven person.”
That same drive led DiSilvestro to open his first Ynot Italian location in the Great Neck area of Virginia Beach in 1993, providing high-quality, hand-crafted food, including appetizers, salads and soups, sandwiches, pizza, calzones, Stromboli, pasta and entrees, plus desserts, as well as a full menu of beer, wine and liquors, including Boozy Gelatos and the Ynot IPA—created through a partnership with Smartmouth Brewing Company in Norfolk. Since then, the restaurant has grown to locations across Virginia Beach, Norfolk, and Chesapeake, including a new Haygood Ynot Express that officially opened on July 28, 2021, in Virginia Beach.
DiSilvestro’s secret to success? People. “I realized a long, long time ago that I am people-driven,” he says. “I learned customer service at a young age, which gave me a huge advantage in working with businesspeople, knowing my customer avatar and working through that process. When I opened Ynot Italian at 23 years old, it was something I had been doing already for almost 10 years—as a kid, in a business, managing people. For me, it’s just always been around the people. Surrounding myself with greatness has been my whole mantra in life. I realized I can’t do it by myself.”
Ynot’s Mission Statement is simple: Family, Quality, and Community—a duty they strive to achieve every day. “Family” relates to the culture they have created where employees and customers are treated as one, ensuring a better overall experience on both sides of the counter. “Quality” refers not only to the highest standard of the ingredients they use and the painstaking efforts they go through to find and serve the best, but also to every facet of the business.
“I have 50 words of quality, so it’s not just the food,” says DiSilvestro. “It’s the people. It’s the uniforms. It’s the silverware I use. It’s the plates I have. It’s the employee avatar and how they present themselves—how are they greeting and communicating with the customers? So, quality means everything to me. I will never stop trying to perfect what we do, to be honest. A problem is an opportunity.”
The final leg of the tripod mission, Community, is a commitment to give back. Ynot supports a variety of nonprofits and charities, as well as sponsorships of ticket sales for Old Dominion University athletics, events at the TED Constant Convocation Center, and performances at the Sandler Center for the Performing arts. Included in that is Ynot Wednesdays, which encompasses sponsoring free summer-long concerts at the Sandler Center Outdoor Plaza in Virginia Beach’s Town Center.
To create additional opportunities for the business, Ynot Italian has been franchising their operations for the last decade and is now ready to expand throughout Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, Maryland,and Washington, D.C. “We’re just continuing to grow our brand like a baseball diamond radiating out from the Virginia Beach area, and surrounding ourselves with great entrepreneurs that want to be in business with us and continue to grow the brand,” says DiSilvestro.
With the success that he has enjoyed after 28 years with Ynot, plus his 10-plus years of experience beforehand, one might think that Disilvestro may start considering taking some time off and resting on his laurels. “I have three amazing children that are all entrepreneurs with me, and I just love what I do. It’s about loving your business and enjoying everything you’re doing every day,” he says. “Retirement for me is going to look very different. I hope to be speaking all over the world and teaching entrepreneurship. That’s my ultimate goal.”