I started my career in the restaurant business when I was 15 years old in my home town of Montgomery, Alabama. Through high school and college I worked as a bus boy, server and bartender. In the early years my mom told me that the attraction to the restaurant industry was a natural, as her mom had made her living as a waitress working in restaurants in Mobile, Alabama.
Since then, I’ve spent my entire career in the industry and was lucky enough to work for some very successful operators, gaining experience and growing my love for this business. In the mid 1980’s I relocated to Atlanta and began working in the local restaurant scene and spent 16 years working for two of Atlanta’s most successful restaurant companies. In that environment, I built my own reputation by being focused on detail, consistency and genuine hospitality; I flourished while working in a large corporate restaurant atmosphere. That experience was the foundation and inspiration that I needed to go out on my own.
I am very fortunate to have relationships with two people instrumental in my path to becoming a restauranteur, and there is a common thread that these two share. First and most important is my wife, Tonya. She spent her career working in the restaurant industry and has always been my biggest fan. She’s the one who always touted, “Michel, you are the best I’ve ever seen at what you do” and that unwavering support is truly what gave me the courage to venture out on my own as a restauranteur. The second person instrumental to my success is my business partner, Steve Rayman. Not long after I met this gentleman, he made me an extremely generous offer, right after he made the exact same statement that Tonya had made for years – “Michel, you are the best I’ve ever seen at what you do.” He finished his statement with “and let me know when you are ready to open your own restaurant… I will be there to support you.” I give thanks to both Tonya and Steve for helping my dream become a reality, as I would not be where I am today without them.
Just as a child’s name encompasses the love and significance of family and identity, so do the names of my restaurants. HAVEN was named after our neighborhood, Brookhaven, where my family has lived for more than 17 years. Our second restaurant, Valenza, gets its name came from a small city in the Piedmonte region of Italy, and it was a natural choice for my wife and I since the city also carried our son’s name, Valen. In Italian, the word “vero” simply means true, which matched perfectly to the idea for our third concept- producingpizza in the true to the napoletana pizzerias in Napoli.
Our first restaurant venture, HAVEN, opened on November 13th, 2003. My goal with HAVEN was to offer a dining experience where guests felt warm, cozy and safe. After an incredible experience I had opening a small neighborhood restaurant in the Highlands area of Atlanta in the late 80’s, I knew I wanted to return to a small and intimate dining experience, where our guests could “feel the love.”
One of my strongest passions is Italian culture and cuisine. The goal with Valenza was to treat Atlanta to an authentic Italian dining experience, as if they were swept away to the Italian countryside where the food is simple and elegant, the wines are robust, and the people are warm and friendly, and with that simple set of ideas in mind, Valenza opened on August 20th, 2007.
The latest concept is our authentic napoletana pizzeria, vero, opened in December of 2015. My family vacationed in the Campania region of Italy several years ago and we fell in love with this style of pizza, and knew we had to bring it home to Brookhaven to share. Vero pizzeria offers Atlanta an opportunity to enjoy the tastes of Napoli.