Text by Emily Alberts
Photos by Always and Forever Photography
Cody Thompson and Chris Mullens became business partners in mid-May of this year when they made the life-changing decision to buy Zeppoli’s from previous owner and co-founder Doris Fleming. She was nearing the end of a long restaurant career and seeking capable, hardworking hands to carry on her legacy.
Since starting Zeppoli’s in 1996 with former co-owner Joe Slattery, Fleming made it her mission to offer fresh, made-from-scratch, Italian cuisine. Drawing on recipes handed down from their Italian mothers, the pair created a place that was unique in the New River Valley. Fleming later became the sole owner, and years later the stars have aligned for Thompson and Mullens to take over the business.
“It was really good timing for me,” Mullens says. Coming with seven years of experience in the kitchen at Abby’s and four years as a manager, “it was a great opportunity to move further along in my career and the chance to be my own boss.” With a two-year-old daughter at home, it means more support for his family as well.
“We believe in the concept,” Thompson adds. He is very familiar with Zeppoli’s because he spent the last six years working in the kitchen and moving up to manager. Thompson knew what he was getting into – sort of. “I am here constantly,” he laughs. But it’s okay because he is surrounded by good staff and limitless possibilities. “Whatever I put into it is what I get out of it,” he believes.
For now, Thompson and Mullens aren’t making any drastic changes to the restaurant. They have given the interior a makeover with fresh coats of vibrant paint, and they updated the décor. New flooring is on its way, and they are also rolling out a new winter menu around Thanksgiving. “We are open for lunch on Saturdays, too,” Mullens states, which is new.
Thompson and Mullens have ramped up social media efforts which is producing great results. They have been able to offer more charity and philanthropy events, hosting “percentage” nights for professional businesses in the area and sororities and fraternities around campus. Between five and 15 percent of all sales go to philanthropy, which is something they are extremely proud to do.
“We are definitely keeping the wine the same,” Thompson vows. A big perk of the restaurant is that they offer their wine at retail prices. The Zeppoli’s Wine Tasting events boast a loyal following, as customers are presented with an extensive list of wines to taste, and bottles are sold at a discount. Knowledgeable staff are on hand to introduce the wines, and a carefully planned dinner is paired with the tasting. Seats for these events fill up quickly, so you definitely want to make a reservation.
Thompson and Mullens are thankful they were in the right place at the right time, and though they only knew each other for six months before partnering to purchase Zeppoli’s, they know they can rely on one another to keep the restaurant going strong for many years to come.