21st Street on the west side of Astoria carries a lot of cars, some building-sites, a drive-through MacDonald’s and at first sight, not a great deal else.
But on its corner with 30th Avenue there is a restaurant that has become a hub of activity, pulling in a young crowd from the surrounding neighborhood. Childhood friends Giuseppe Falco and Leo Sacco opened Vesta in 2008. When they decided to start a restaurant, Astoria was the logical place. They went to high school together here, and Giuseppe had moved back in 2000. But why that particular location?
“Actually I live about five blocks away,” says Giuseppe. And there was such an incredible amount of building on 21st Street. We felt like we were priced out of the main area on 30th Avenue and on Broadway and Ditmars. It also felt like the young generation that was moving into Astoria was looking around the outskirts, around the edges of Astoria.”
That feeling was right – that young generation of newcomers to the neighborhood has made Vesta their home. “That was the whole idea of Vesta. It was supposed to be a place where you can come in have a glass of wine, have a soup, or just not have anything. They’ve found a place where they can feel comfortable.
“Our biggest achievement, I would say, is that we’ve managed to develop a group of 100 or 150 people who eat here once, twice, three times a week. To me that’s completely amazing. It was never set as one of our goals, but one of the most positive things you can feel in a restaurant is when you can see the same faces all the time.”
Giuseppe’s parents and siblings are from Sicily, and he was born soon after they moved to the US. He says of Astoria, “It’s probably the most diverse place I’ve ever heard of. It’s incredible how many large communities live in one community. The way that you have a large Greek population that lives next to a large Egyptian population that lives next to a large Bangladeshi population that lives next to a large Italian community.”
He describes the neighborhood as “devoted”, “arts-oriented”, and “tight-knit”. The main change he’s noticed since he was at high school here is the population getting younger. But “It’s always been a community that’s very involved with their children, and what’s going on locally. Everyone seems to know each other. It’s a really small place even though it’s actually a vast area.”
Vesta aims to source all of their ingredients relatively locally. “Sometimes it’s not completely possible but every year it gets easier. People are catching on to the idea that it doesn’t make sense to get an apple from Chile when you can have an apple from ten miles away in upstate New York. Brooklyn Grange are growing food not even a mile and a half away from us here, on a rooftop. It really is the way things were done fifty years ago, eighty years ago…we’ve just gotten away from it.”
Giuseppe says that his approach “to everything I do is that the moment you wake up and don’t feel challenged, that’s the moment that everything fails. I try to challenge myself with the smallest thing every day.”
LISTEN TO FULL INTERVIEW: Giuseppe Salco – Vesta – 4 Dec 2010