Tony Vallone, a force in Houston’s fine-dining scene for more than 50 years, died Thursday at age 75.
His company said the lifelong restaurateur died peacefully in his sleep from natural causes. The exact cause of his passing was not revealed.
Vallone’s namesake restaurant, Tony’s, provided Houston’s celebrities and A-listers with a place to go for an upscale Italian meal served in a white-tablecloth setting. The restaurant describes its cuisine as “inspired by Naples, influenced by Milan and cherished in Houston.” It opened in the mid-1960s, when Italian fare was still synonymous in many areas of the country with red-sauced dishes served atop a checkered table. It was the place to go for marriage proposals, the celebration of a major anniversary or birthday, or a sampling of Old World sophistication amid a city known for its brash cowboys and oil barons. Vallone provided ample amounts of the charm, flitting from table to table in a suit and greeting guests in a soft voice barely above a whisper.
According to the lore, Vallone opened the first version of the restaurant when he was just 22, though that figure doesn’t jibe with assertions that the year was 1965. He would go on to add other locations as well as a catering business. Vallone’s wife of 36 years, Donna Vallone, indicated via a Facebook post that she will assume management of the two Tony’s branches and Tony’s Catering after a brief shutdown to pay tribute to her husband. “I’ve lost the love of my life and best friend, but I will continue Tony’s legacy,” she said in the post.
It quotes Tony Vallone as vowing to leave his life “with pasta in one hand and fish in the other.”
“The country has lost one of the greatest mentors, chefs, and restaurateurs,” the post says. “Many were impacted by Tony’s vigor for the restaurant industry and learned from his dedication to excellence, innovation and attention to detail.”