A Tupelo staple for nearly 25 years, Vanelli’s remains a family-owned business beloved by many.
Written and Researched by Leslie Criss | Photos Contributed
“I WORKED FROM 1998 TO 2006 WITH PAPA — HE TREATED ME LIKE A SON. IT’S A LEGACY THING, MY FAMILY NOW OWNING THE BISTRO. I UNDERSTAND AND RESPECT THE WAY PAPA, AND LATER VOZ, COOKED FROM SCRATCH. CONTINUING THIS LEGACY IS A TREAT FOR ME.” — PETER BIZON
When people around Tupelo share memories of favorite eateries, Vanelli’s takes the top spot for many. But which one? Truth is, there have been at least three iterations of the Greek and Italian restaurant through the years.
In September 1975, Demetrios Kapenekas, known far and wide as Papa Vanelli, opened the first restaurant on South Gloster Street near the hospital, at 712 South Gloster, where House of Honda sits today.
Kapenekas had reason for using Vanelli above the door of his restaurant. “Who is going to buy pizza from a Greek named Kapenekas?” he would say when asked.
Voz Kapenekas, who, with his brother John, joined the family business in the beginning, said his father started the eatery with pizza, pasta, Greek salad and, for those with a sweet tooth, homemade baklava.
In December 1991, the family built a new and larger Vanelli’s on North Gloster.
Happy customers dined at the new place for 23 years, until the restaurant was hard hit by a tornado on April 28, 2014.
Rather than rebuild on North Gloster, Voz opened Vanelli’s Bistro in downtown Tupelo on Main Street in 2016, carrying on the legacy of his father, who died in 2005. Voz continued to feed fans their favorites.
In August 2023, Voz sold Vanelli’s Bistro to Peter Bizon, who will continue to run Vanelli’s as a family business with wife Nancy and their children Meaghan, Tori and Andrew. Peter worked for Vanelli’s as executive chef and food/beverage director three decades ago.
The Bizon family has made some changes, but promised the pizza, Greek salad, lasagna and chicken tetrazzini will remain as they’ve always been.