Serving it Up — A passion for Pino’s of Farmville

Published 6:00 am Friday, March 12, 2021

Story and photos by Titus Mohler

Countless Farmville residents have found the pizzas and food at Pino’s Italian Restaurant & Pizzeria to be particularly outstanding, and learning about the people responsible for making those offerings helps explain why.

The Farmville business has been an important factor in the life of its young owner for almost all of her life.

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“I’ve always loved the restaurant,” the 36-year-old Marilena Lentini said. “I’ve always been a part of it.”

By April 2021, she will have been the sole owner of Pino’s in Farmville for five years, but the establishment’s impact on her life began when she was a baby.

Peter and Bella Buzzetta opened the Farmville location in 1979.

In the 1980s, the Buzzettas received some help from Salvatore Lentini, who had just moved to Farmville from Italy with his family.

“When my mother and father came to the United States, this was my father’s first job, working for Peter and Bella,” Marilena said. “I was a baby, just a few months old.”

She said her parents, Salvatore and Antonina, had not been in the restaurant business prior to coming to the U.S., but it became their focus once they were here.

“My mom had brothers in New Hampshire opening restaurants, and that’s when (my parents) decided to move up north,” Marilena said.

The Lentini family came to own a restaurant in New Hampshire.

“We all worked,” Marilena said. “My mom cooked, my father made the pizzas, my brother helped bus tables. He was still a young teenager. I was already getting phone orders, and my father had a little stool for me to step on (at) the register to ring up customers.”

She learned the ropes of cooking from her parents in a restaurant kitchen at an early age.

“We have pictures when I was just a little girl already making large pizzas,” she said. “I was maybe 7 or 8 years old.”

After 11 years in New Hampshire, the Lentinis decided to move back to Virginia.

“For a little while, my father worked again here (at Pino’s) for the Buzzettas, and I did too, through high school, helping the owners up here at the register area,” Marilena said.

It was when Marilena was in high school that her family took over the Pino’s in Buckingham County — Pino’s Italian Grille & Pizzeria.

Marilena said her parents and brother owned that Pino’s together at first, and her mom and dad have since passed ownership solely to her brother, Giuseppe.

After the Buzzettas moved on from the Pino’s in Farmville, they retained ownership of the building, but the business came under the ownership of Marilena and her father, who were partners at first before Marilena became the sole owner in April 2016.

Running the restaurant is something she loves.

“It’s my passion because otherwise I wouldn’t be here,” she said.

When asked if the job can be stressful, she said, “Extremely,” followed quickly by a laugh.

“It’s a lot to carry,” she said.

In October 2017, Pino’s of Farmville went from being a seven-day-a-week restaurant to six days a week, allowing Marilena and staff at least one day off, Tuesdays, which had been considered the business’ slowest day of the week.

Other than Tuesdays, Marilena said most of the time she has to be at the restaurant.

“Sometimes I’m able to take a half a day, take care of things in the morning and then maybe sometimes go home for a couple hours for the night shift or possibly a Saturday morning and then just come in for (the) night,” she said. “But most of the time, even if I’m not here, I’ve got cameras on my phones, I’m in touch with my staff, so your mind is always here, really, regardless.”

In her more than 20 years of experience working in the restaurant industry, Marilena has usually not been the actual pizza maker, but that time arrived a while after she became sole owner at Pino’s.

“I always knew how to make them, but it was never really my role to be the pizza (maker) until two years ago,” she said. “I was understaffed, and I made pizzas for a good year, six days (a week), open to close, and running the business too and (having) two children.”

Mixing together pizza dough, prepared fresh daily, with ingredients including water, flour, yeast, oil, sugar and salt became part of her daily routine.

Eventually, helping lighten her load was Steven Buzzetta, son of the original Pino’s owners who retired and now live in Florida.

“We have known each other since we were kids,” Marilena said, referencing Steven and herself.

Steven grew up in Farmville but then left and lived in Florida for about a year before returning last spring.

“At the time, I was in need of a pizza man, as I, as a single mom, was making pizzas six days a week on top of running my business, and he was moving back to the area, so I contacted him (to see) if he would be interested in the position,” she said. “I can’t begin to explain the weight lifted off my shoulders once he started working with me. We make a great team as we have the same mindset about our work ethic. We both grew up in the restaurant business all our lives.”

He holds the title of manager at Pino’s, and Marilena said he makes “the ultimate, best pizza ever.”

Describing him as legendary, she relayed a quote from him that he shared in reference to himself and his role in his family’s business.

“I’m the prince of an empire that was never crowned king,” he said. “But my story isn’t over.”

Marilena said a lot of the staff working under her and Buzzetta have been with the restaurant for a while.

“Some servers or cashiers are students at Longwood or even students at Prince Edward, the public schools, as well,” she said.

In offering specific detail on what she loves about running Pino’s of Farmville, Marilena indicated it is far more than just one aspect of the experience.

“I think it’s all of it — just the passion for the food, or the presentation, the preparation, just interacting with people every day, and then you have so many loyal locals too that you know them by name,” she said.

She noted that serving people through the work of the restaurant is a great feeling.

And the COVID-19 pandemic has not stopped that service.

“We do takeout by phone, we do online ordering, we added WayFast Delivery last March, and that’s doing really well too, and dine-in is limited capacity, but we do have some dine-in too,” she said.

Marilena said she is forever grateful for the opportunity the Buzzetta family gave her to own the business, as her own family is very much on her mind as she pursues her passion each day.

“All my sacrifices, long hours, hard work and dedication over the years is for my two boys,” she said, referring to her sons, Antonio, 11, and Cristian, 10. “I hope one day they take my place and carry on the legendary Pino’s of Farmville.”