HOUSTON, Texas -- "I intend to go out with a fish in one hand and pasta in another," Tony Vallone once said.
His namesake restaurant, Tony's, first opened in Houston in 1965. Over half a century, it grew from a small Italian spot into a fine dining institution. Tony's became a go-to spot for visiting dignitaries and celebrities from across the globe, including several U.S. presidents.
But in September 2020, Houston lost its beloved "king of fine dining." Tony Vallone, who brought authentic Italian cuisine to the city and changed its dining landscape, passed away at the age of 75. Now, those who loved him most are carrying on his long legacy as a trailblazer.
Vallone's wife, Donna, partnered with Kate McLean, the first woman to hold the chef de cuisine position at Tony's. Together, they are keeping one of Houston's longest restaurants running and continuing to serve the classic dishes that put Tony's on the map. But they are also planning new innovations, like adding a happy hour menu at the bar, an upgraded caviar service and seasonal tasting menus, to name a few.
"That was always what we did at Tony's, how do we be innovative? How do we keep creating?" said McLean, who is executive chef and partner at Tony's. "Yes, the classical things are important to keep and remember, but we're a creative place here, so her and I are bouncing off ideas a lot. We are looking at things we want to change and ways to grow. I know he's proud. And now we just keep doing it and moving forward and we don't have him in person but we certainly have him in spirit."
"He would be very proud of how we're carrying on in his absence and in his honor," said Donna Vallone. "He was always re-creating, re-doing, paying attention."
ABC's Localish team caught up with the pair to see some of the exciting developments underway at Tony's!