Scents of marinara sauce, fresh focaccia bread and parmesan cheese wafted through the air in the recently opened De Vinci’s in Valley Springs on Oct. 31.
Tucked between 1-4-5 Steakhouse & Lounge and Valley Springs Dollar Plus on Highway 12, the restaurant serves up a variety of homemade Italian dishes, including raviolis, rosemary baked chicken, salads and deli sandwiches, among others.
Owner Chris Trotter bought the original Stockton location on March and Pershing about 18 years ago, and has since expanded to Lodi, Linden and now, Valley Springs.
A factory in Linden produces all of the meals to be shipped out to the various locations, where they are cooked and served hot and fresh out of the kitchen.
Clad in a forest green apron, company T-shirt, jeans and a trucker hat, Trotter was busy at work stirring a steaming pot of ground chuck with an enormous wooden spoon.
“That’s what’s different about my business is I actually make the stuff I sell,” Trotter said. “So that gives us our strength, our prices. It’s a little bit cheaper because I buy everything in huge volume for the factory down there. When I buy beef, I buy a lot of it. It’s good for the suppliers because they can just deliver everything to one spot, and I distribute everything for them.”
With power shut off twice in the two weeks that De Vinci’s has been open, Trotter had to make multiple trips between Linden and Valley Springs to keep food from spoiling.
“Not ideal, that was a big pain in the butt,” Trotter said of the outages. “I only worked six days the first week and six days the second week. To make it worse, our store in Stockton was out the same day because of wind damage, so that was the first time that store ever had to be closed all day.”
Even with the setbacks, business has been booming at the new location, Trotter said.
“It’s been kicking butt,” Trotter said. “Right now we’re rocking a million dollar course. That’s hard to do with a crew that’s all learning, all new … There’s so much I haven’t begun to teach; we’re just trying to get the basics down right now. It’s nothing I’ve done. This business is old. As long as I keep doing it like I’m supposed to, it’s going to keep making money.”
Valley Springs resident Fay Murphy wore a beaming smile as Trotter rung her order of spaghetti up at the counter. On her fourth visit to De Vinci’s since it opened, Murphy said she’s happy to have a new Italian food option in the area.
With a staff of about 13 Calaveras County locals to train, Trotter’s been working in the restaurant from open to close.
He said he had no problem finding employees, given the lack of available work in the area.
“It’s a strong workforce up here,” Trotter said. “You put a ‘help wanted’ sign up in Stockton, you could leave it up for months. You won’t get as many applications as you get in three days here, because there are no jobs up here.”
Marc Jackson, who just started as a cook, lives right around the corner from his new place of work.
“Makes it easy to get to work; I just walk over here,” Jackson said in the kitchen with a chuckle. “It’s a great job, I love the food. It’s like my favorite thing to eat in the world – raviolis.”
With relatives living in the community already, Trotter said the Valley Springs location seemed like a natural addition for the business.
“I just grew to kind of like the town and know the town, you know what I mean?” Trotter said. “When you know a place is hurting for places to eat, it’s pretty easy and the building here came up for sale … It just seemed like a smart thing to do.”
Although Trotter feels he may have bitten off more focaccia bread than he can chew at the moment, he said the long-term benefits of owning a store in the prominent downtown of an ever-growing Valley Springs community will be worth the long hours he’s putting in.
“Even if I fail, this will always lease out as a restaurant, and my kids will always have income from it,” Trotter said. “Really everything you do is for your kids, you want to set them up … so just to own the building right in the middle of a town like this, it’s a growing town.”