Student, alums run local Italian eateries

By Heather Fiore

Ciao studenti! Who doesn’t enjoy Italian food? One current Rider student, senior Vince Padalino, and one graduate, John Procaccini, can’t seem to fight their passion to head some of the most successful local Italian restaurants.

Padalino, a partial owner of Palermo’s III in Ewing, N.J., is a business administration and entrepreneurial studies double major. His father and cousins originally opened the first two Palermo’s pizzerias, but Padalino had a lot to do with the menu, marketing and remodeling of the third part of the Palermo’s chain.

Padalino has been working alongside his dad as a bus boy since he was 13, and he acquired a lot of his skill from his father. However, in order to satisfy the customers and further expand his knowledge, he turned to Rider for the help and encouragement that he needed.

“The business classes set official records of how you’re supposed to do things,” Padalino said. “They focus on certain processes on how to start your own business. Most importantly, I learned you need a business plan to bring to the bank to start.”

As Padalino learned the ins and outs of starting and maintaining a legitimate business, he began to realize that it isn’t all about making a profit. 

“At first, you just want to have money for a car,” he said. “Then, you want to make it better and see how far you can take it.”

While Padalino continues to venture into Rider’s business program with his goals, Procaccini, who graduated in 1997, has used the tools he learned at Rider to start two successful Italian restaurants. 

With a bubbly personality and a heightened sense of intellectuality, Procaccini credits Rider largely for his success. Although he and his brother, Tino, a 2001 Rider graduate, started their restaurant Sotto (meaning “under” in Italian, since it’s underground) while John Procaccini was at Rider, he began another small restaurant first.

La Principessa, “the Princess” in Italian, was John Procaccini’s first small business, which he started while he was still a student at Rider. 

He devised the business plan in class. La Principessa, on Princeton-Kingston Road in Princeton, seats 50. Sotto seats 150 in the former Annex restaurant on Nassau Street in Princeton.

“La Principessa was the catalyst for Sotto,” John Procaccini said. “It was a strong business plan that built our clientele and allowed us to move into a larger space.”

John Procaccini said about 90 percent of his success is because of Rider, and because of that, he still continues to help the university today. The Procaccini brothers are Rider Corporate Sponsors, donating money to help other students start their own businesses if they aren’t financially able to.

Besides their education from Rider, the Procaccinis and Padalino have another common thread: Dr. Ron Cook. The men credit Cook as a mentor. As the head of the entrepreneurial studies program, which officially became a major in 2005, Cook takes great pride in his students. Teaching the majority of classes offered for the major, Cook gives advice from his own experience as the owner of several small businesses.

Before coming to Rider, he owned and operated three small family-run businesses. Now a professor, he owns his own successful private consulting business.

Cook has been teaching at Rider for 15 years. He is the creator and president of the student consulting program, which allows students to use their skills in the real world and become outside consultants to companies. Cook also created the Student Venture Experience, which is a course designated for the entrepreneurial studies students and is designed to help them start their own businesses.

Cook has worked closely with Padalino and both John and Tino Procaccini.

“I do a lot of one-on-one mentoring,” Cook said. “I can guide them and give them real world examples of real companies.”

Cook encourages his students to excel in state and nationwide business competitions. While John Procaccini was his first entrepreneurial graduate ever, he entered Tino Procaccini and Padalino in the New Jersey Student Collegiate Entrepreneurial Competition. Tino placed first in 2001, and Padalino placed fourth in 2007 for his other small publishing company, Vestiwear.

“Rider has more student entrepreneurial winners than any other college in New Jersey,” Cook said. “The students I work with are among the best.”

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