For most, opening a restaurant requires a giant leap of faith. The location, the concept, the service, the food—it’s a recipe requiring the kind of preternatural timing and instinct even the most seasoned restauranteurs can get wrong—and often do. But for Tony Ricci and his wife, Debra, theirs wasn’t just a leap of faith; it was an act of one.
“We opened on a Monday, and Friday we had payroll,” Tony remembers. “My bookkeeper told me we didn’t have enough money if we didn’t do the business that week. So that afternoon, I went to St. Columban … the organist was practicing, but I was the only one in the church. I looked at the Guy above, and I said, ‘You know what I promised you … it’s all on you now. It’s all on you.’
“That Friday, we made payroll,” he smiles. “And I’ve never thought about cash flow again.”
No stranger to the hospitality industry, Tony wields a wealth of restaurant expertise. He says it was love at first sight, following his server debut at Hyde Park’s Marjorie P. Lee, where he won over retirees with chocolate sauce and charm. What followed were decades in and around the restaurant biz, until 2009, when he found himself at a turning point—without clear direction on what to do next.
“It was a tough time … emotionally, psychologically. My wife and I were down to the nitty-gritty.”
When a friend casually commented, “Why don’t you do what you’re good at?,” it sparked an ember that would fully ignite when Tony realized the old Bravo restaurant was empty—and for sale. Thus was born Tony’s of Cincinnati. With no marketing budget, a real estate deal that nearly fell through, on a two-lane road under substantial construction, it should never have worked.
“But I had one belief—if we treat people right, if we show them how much we care about their experience in our restaurant, I knew we would succeed … and keep my promise to the Lord above—that I would give back to the community. That’s the deal I made. And here I am.”
Here, for Tony, means 10 years open next May, a milestone topped only by the fact that he also commands two other Tony’s locations in Lexington and Indianapolis, all with the same deep dedication to truly fine food—and abundant community giving.
“Every city I go to, I want to embed myself in the community and help out as many charities as I possibly can. We give back a lot. It’s who I am.”
Flying somewhat under the radar, most people don’t realize the magnitude of Tony’s generosity—or that he’s been doing it from the start. Supporting LIFE Food Pantry, he donates pies and Thanksgiving meals to families in need. He works with the Anthony Muñoz Foundation and Lexington’s Swings for Soldiers. He helps the Dragonfly Foundation, from fundraisers to inviting Dragonfly families to enjoy a meal—on him.
Tony also contributes to high school sports programs, in Loveland as well as surrounding schools here and in Lexington—feeding the football team at his restaurant before every home game being just one example in a long list of local support.
That same level of care and consideration is tangible inside his restaurants, too.
“It’s just the whole experience,” Tony explains. “Here, we can truly say, whether we see you for the first time or for the hundredth time, you’re family … from the minute you walk in the door.”
It’s a lesson his entire staff has learned well from Tony himself—looking you in the eye. Remembering your name. An uncommon, uncanny knack for both putting you at ease and making you feel like the center of attention.
“We take hospitality to the next level.”
Recent renovations have elevated the Tony’s experience even more, stemmed by a desire to cover an often-sunbaked patio.
“It was supposed to be just the bar and the patio, but then my wife got involved and we did the whole thing,” he laughs. “We needed a fresh look. It was dark, and there was too much of the Bravo thing still going on.”
Completed in October, Tony’s now boasts an upgraded bar; a patio with a roof, heaters and fans; plus overall lightening and brightening throughout. And the food? Still fantastic. Always consistent—steaks, seafood and pastas with a luxurious Mediterranean flair, surrounded by the energy and vibe of something a little more familiar.
“It’s just a bigger version of Cheers.”
TonysOfCincinnati.com | 12110 Montgomery Road, Loveland | 513.677.8669
“My favorite steak is the porterhouse.” His suggestion: order it to share, then eat the tenderloin filet side first. “You’ll never want a different filet again.”