Augustino Vitale grew up with mouthwatering Italian food. “It was a lot of pasta, sauces, home cooking, all homemade,” he said, adding that the food at home made school lunches pale by comparison.
Vitale’s father Salvatore and his mother Maria moved to Kentwood from Sicily in 1964 to be with family and opened a pizza take-out establishment in Grand Rapids in 1966. Vitale said his father had no background in the restaurant business, noting the pizza take-out at 834 Leonard NE in Grand Rapids “was a whole new venture.” That venture expanded into a full-service Italian restaurant, and the family now owns five Vitale’s in West Michigan, including Vitale’s of Comstock Park.
The family opened a pizza take-out at 3868 West River Drive in the mid-1980s, and Vitale worked there summers when he was in high school. “When the White Caps came in down the road, we had the pizza take-out,” he said, referring to the baseball team’s stadium at 4500 West River Drive NE established in 1994. “Dad decided to tear that down and build a restaurant.
“We’ve done very well in Comstock Park.” The food on the menus at all the Vitale’s restaurants are the food Vitale grew up with. “It’s all family recipes, all homemade,” he said. “The pizza sauce, Dad has been using (the recipe) for 48 years almost.”
Vitale grew up in the restaurant business. “Dad would take me to the restaurant on the weekends,” he said. “I was maybe 13, and I would answer the telephone.” Vitale said it was natural for him to eventually own his own restaurant, because “it’s what I know.” Vitale lives in Forest Hills with his wife Kerri and their three children ages 19, 16, and 14. His wife helps manage the restaurant, and his oldest son Salvo also works there.
The Comstock Park Vitale’s features a pizza take-out, restaurant and sports bar with big-screen televisions, and a 1500 square foot, four-season patio that can be opened in the summer and has heated floors and is enclosed for the winter. Customers can enjoy acoustic music on the weekends in the summer. Future improvements include a remodel of the kitchen.
Vitale said it’s important as a business owner to be involved in the community where his business is located, and he contributes to events such as fundraisers for the Comstock Park Schools and Relay for Life. Vitale donated funds for the scoreboard at Comstock Park High School gym. He noted it was ironic that he presented one of those giant checks for the scoreboard at a Comstock Park home basketball game when the opposing team just happened to be Forest Hills. “My kids go to Forest Hills (schools), and my son was on the Forest Hills team,” he said. “They were saying, ‘what are you doing?’.”
Vitale said the White Pine Trail connector project improved the area behind the downtown businesses on the east side of West River Drive. “It looks nicer, it’s cleaned up,” he said, adding that Trail users regularly stop in the restaurant.