Fifty years ago, when Kansas City residents could tear themselves away from the three networks on TV (Petticoat Junction and The Fugitive both premiered in 1963) to go out for a little cibo Italiano, the choices included Italian Gardens downtown, Jasper's in south Kansas City, Villa Capri in Overland Park and V's Italiano Restaurante on Highway 40. V's was named for Vita Totta, who opened the tiny restaurant with her husband, Jay; the original place (three blocks from the current location) only had a seven-stool counter, three tables and four booths.
"And a much more limited menu," says Greg Hunsucker, the current president of V's who has worked at the restaurant, beginning as a 13-year-old busboy, since 1974. Hunsucker later married the Tottas' daughter, Mary. "I'm Italian by osmosis."
To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the iconic Italian restaurant, Greg and Mary Hunsucker are featuring monthly specials from now until October, the actual anniversary month of the trattoria, which is now much bigger and fancier than the first location. The January special, offered every day of the week, is a good one - I've had it myself! - a four-course dinner for two for $19.63. The meal features a toasted-ravioli appetizer, two salads, and two pasta dinners with a choice of meat sauce or meatballs or meatless marinara sauce, and two slices of the restaurant's signature rum cake for dessert.
Spaghetti and meatballs continues to be the most-ordered dish on the V's menu, although the menu has greatly expanded since 1963.
"The core of the menu has been the same since 1963," Hunsucker says. "The recipes are all original family recipes, many of them created by Vita's mother, Carrie Barber."
Jay Totta, who died six years ago, designed the current location of V's (the third restaurant, which opened in 1972), and Vita will turn 82 years old on February 15. "Vita still comes into the restaurant almost every day," Hunsucker says.
Hunsucker says the V's clientele has been growing older and older over the past decade, but thanks to marketing on social media and the Internet, the restaurant is attracting much younger new patrons. The younger clientele requested that Hunsucker add a gluten-free menu, which he has ("It's very popular, much more than I ever thought it would be," he says). V's also offers a popular Sunday buffet brunch, which has also changed very little over the last 29 years. "If we make any dramatic changes to our brunch items," Hunsucker says, "our customers complain. So we don't make any changes anymore."
Because V's is so close to the city's football and baseball stadiums, you might think the restaurant would get a lot of business from sports fans. Thy answer is no...and yes. "People are typically tailgating before a Chiefs game," he says. "But if the weather's bad, we do well. And if the Chiefs win, we have a great Sunday-night business."
The February special at V's will be a list of bottled wines priced at $19.63; the March special will be a gift of two commemorative wineglasses served with each bottle of wine ordered.