How Steven Nardello Brought East Coast Bites to Bismarck
A recipe for success is not just about the perfect blend of ingredients but also about determination, creativity, and a dash of passion. Meet Steven Nardello, the visionary chef-entrepreneur who took the leap from watching Food Network shows to owning a celebrated New York-style pizzeria in Bismarck. But his journey didn’t end there. Discover how he spiced things up with Jimmy V’s, a contemporary dining haven that reflects his grandfather’s legacy, all while navigating the challenges of a pandemic and coming out stronger on the other side.
Throughout high school, seeds were planted in Nardello’s head regarding entrepreneurship and owning a restaurant. He and his mother would watch the Food Network often, bonding over watching people cook, something that he loved to do as well. Additionally, Nardello’s father and both his grandfathers were business owners themselves, with his father formerly owning a restaurant as well.
“As high school was ending and college was approaching, I knew that I was a bit of a slump. If I pursued college, I’d have to take an additional two years of education, which I didn’t want to add on top of the other four to six years of college, so that path just wasn’t for me. I’ve always wanted to do my own thing. I’ve tried other jobs, including corporate positions, but I’ve always enjoyed taking my own path,” Nardello said.
The Nardello family originally hails from New Jersey, moving to Bismarck nearly 30 years ago. Whenever they returned home, they always cherished the food. They loved it so much that they believed everyone should try it at least once in their lifetime. Steven always found the idea intriguing and decided to propose opening a New York-style pizza restaurant in Bismarck.
“I thought that it would be very successful, fun, and unique to the area, but I also knew that the restaurant industry had a 50/50 shot at success and involved a lot of risks, especially since I was 18 or 19 at the time. Although my parents were a little uncertain about the idea, they supported me throughout the process. I had no credit to my name, so my parents also put their house on the line for me to pursue this dream. They were willing to take a significant risk for me and this idea, and I know they were just hoping that their kid would follow through and put effort into making it work,” Nardello said.
Steven’s parents supported his idea, but they also wanted him to experience the industry firsthand to justify any decisions. They made a call to Sal Bonfanti, a family friend and owner of Sal Vito Pizza in Voorhees, NJ, who has owned the renowned pizza shop for decades. Nardello traveled across the country to train for a week under Bonfanti with mentorship and guidance, with the goal of bringing his knowledge back to the food connoisseurs of Bismarck.
“They were very welcoming because we weren’t going to be their competition since we lived across the country. I learned everything I could in about a week’s span of time. I worked 12-hour days for free, and when my dad asked me how I liked it, I told him, ‘I’m going to love it. I just need some good shoes.’ I started getting things rolling from there,” Nardello said.
When asked why he wanted to bring that specific style of food to Bismarck, Nardello was adamant that the area was craving something different at the time. “We had a lot of chains and not a lot of local, unique places at the time. At the same time, I didn’t want to go to college. It just wasn’t a path that I wanted to take since I wanted to start working right away and avoid wasting time. I had to learn the whole nine yards, and a lot of it was teaching myself. I had to figure out how to create a business plan, so I researched online, watched YouTube videos, leaned on my parents a bit for questions, and ran with it.”
- A Classic Cheese Pizza
“There’s just something about the cheese pizza that I love. I know it’s Plain Jane but you can’t go wrong. You’re getting the essence of the dough, sauce, cheese, and the perfect little bit of Parmesan on top. It’s delicious.”
- Philly Steak Sandwich
- Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich
They started making significant progress on the business shortly after, and on June 26, 2013, Nardello’s Pizza opened to the public. Confident that he had the quality ingredients and first-rate recipes, but not so sure about their capacity to handle a rush out of the gate, Nardello and his employees made the decision to not advertise at all upon opening. They planned to open on a Monday without posting on social media or telling a soul, to get the basics down, and tell everyone that their grand opening was the following Friday so that they would be prepared and ready.
“I knew that we were going to make mistakes because we’re brand new, but we still needed to go in strong with our heads held high to have an ace in the hole. We had people lined up at the door at 11 a.m. that Monday. All I could think was ‘Holy shit.’ I didn’t advertise at all, so it blew my mind. All we did was open our doors and put a logo up. Monday was successful and Tuesday’s rush was insane. From that point on, it was nonstop,” Nardello said.
When they first opened, Nardello’s mentality was that this would be a make-or-break thing with the Bismarck-Mandan community. He believed that they would either do very well the first time and customers would recommend it to friends and family, or they were going to miss the target and result in no one coming back. Originally, he would be there from 8 a.m. to 1 a.m. and open seven days a week, but they made the decision to close on Sundays soon after when it became too much for the team. Shortly after, some “new in town” news stories came out from local news outlets, promoting the new business, and they had a grand opening with the Bismarck Mandan Chamber EDC.
“Looking back, if you were to throw me in that situation today, I would have crushed it, but I didn’t know all the ins and outs on the second day. I had an entire staff that I trained, and it was all new to them as well, so we all needed some rest. It was stressful, but it paid off in the long run. We hit the ground running entirely on word of mouth. People kept coming in, loving it, and telling more people. A lot of our first customers were East Coast people and I still see them frequently to this day as regulars,” Nardello said.
After years of growth and success with Nardello’s Pizza, Steven made the leap to launch a second restaurant in the community named Jimmy V’s; a “feelgood, sit-down East Coast restaurant” in downtown Bismarck. Jimmy V’s is somewhat similar to Nardello’s Pizza while offering a unique menu and dining experience.
In a sense, Nardello’s is more of a family restaurant, while Jimmy V’s offers a more contemporary dining and drinks experience. Nardello said that he felt he had more creative freedom with the menu at Jimmy V’s, along with a full-service bar, making it a different experience from Nardello’s Pizza.
While Nardello’s Pizza was a success from the start, Jimmy V’s had a slower climb, likely due to the pandemic. Steven explained that he had an “itch to start something new and do something fun” with some close friends of his, both of whom had past experience in the bar industry, and had that itch as well. He wanted to bring them in and give them the same experience of owning and being a part of something, just as he had with Nardello’s Pizza.
“I opened [Jimmy V’s] during COVID, like an idiot, in 2020. We did some more advertising than last time, but since we opened in the middle of a pandemic, nobody was going out and hanging out at a restaurant or bar. They were grabbing takeout and eating it at home. We went through some changes and adapted to the times to get things to where they’re at today,” Nardello said.
Nardello knew that failure wouldn’t be an option when the pandemic impacted businesses. He was adamant that there wasn’t the slightest chance that he was going to jeopardize all of his employees’ livelihoods, as well as his career, eight years in at the time. They did whatever they had to do to stay alive, and adapted however was needed to stay open, including alternative delivery methods and curbside pickup.
“When third-party food delivery systems shut down, two of my friends were out of a job, so I hired them so we could do our own deliveries. We did everything that we could to ensure that we remained busy, successful, and profitable during that time because, at any point, it could have been a loss of business. In my mind, I have these great people who rely on me now. I’m their source of income that’s keeping them going. Sure, they can go find another job, but I need to make sure that they’re okay and that I’m doing what I can to make sure that everyone, as well as the business, is taken care of. If someone has a spouse and two children, they’re going to do whatever they have to do to make sure they’re taken care of. These employees, and these businesses, are like my kids,” Nardello said.
1. Italian Reuben Sandwich
2. French Fries
“Our French fry menu options are to die for. We have an entire section dedicated to loaded French fries. We use this unique style of fry that not many other people do, if any, that I know of. Imagine a steak fry, but cut thin, not like a potato chip. They hold up well when fried, making them perfect for loaded fries and other dishes. We offer mouthwatering options like Buffalo Chicken, Reuben, and Philly Cheesesteak fries—all of which are super delicious.”
3. Chicken Parmigiana Sandwich
Initially, they believed that having Jimmy V’s exclusively for ages 21+ would be the key, but they adopted an all-ages policy until 8 p.m., with 21+ hours from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. shortly after opening. Now, they have more options for fun, all-ages events for the whole family.
“We realized that we were shooting ourselves in the foot by turning away customers just because they wanted to bring their kids to try it out. I thought, ‘What are we doing to ourselves? If customers want us to be a restaurant where they can bring their kids, hang out, and have fun, we should do that.’ Bismarck-Mandan is a very tight-knit community that likes to do things with their families. People in this community jump at the opportunity to do or try something new. We’re constantly adapting and pivoting, which is the nature of this business,” Nardello said.
Did You Know?
“Jimmy V’s is named after my grandfather, who hasn’t been with us since 2003. He was always someone who loved to talk over a Manhattan, and that’s the environment that I want people to experience here. We wanted to make an environment where everyone’s welcome to come in, hang out, have a good time, and feel like they’re part of something bigger than what they expected when they first walked in the door.” – Steven Nardello
The story of Nardello’s Pizza and Jimmy V’s isn’t just about the food; it’s also about the power of ambition and the value of community support. Steven Nardello’s passion and determination turned aspirations into reality, bringing a slice of the East Coast to the heart of North Dakota.
As they continue to evolve and adapt to changing times, both establishments represent one person’s goals turning into so much more. Whether you’re an East Coast native seeking a taste of home or a local looking to try something new and unique, Nardello’s Pizza and Jimmy V’s are the epitome of supporting local businesses, while also offering a slice of home.
Q & A with Steve Nardello
Q: After your time learning the ropes in New Jersey, what surprised you in the pizza industry or running a business in general?
A: The biggest takeaway is how much really goes into a restaurant or business. There’s a lot more that goes into it than I anticipated and didn’t quite fully comprehend at the time. People walk into a restaurant and order, but there’s so much more that goes into it than meets the eye. The gentleman who showed me the ropes of everything showed me the “hidden” parts of the restaurant industry that aren’t seen at first glance. We were there early in the morning to pick up fresh rolls and produce and had to have everything prepped before lunchtime, which was nonstop. You’re always doing something and always on your toes, which is what I was looking forward to because I knew that this would be perfect for me.
Q: What do you believe is the main obstacle that both Nardello’s Pizza and Jimmy V’s face right now?
A: Supply chain problems are a big issue, but we adapt. For instance, we’re short on five ingredients this week because we can’t get them, but we come up with alternative solutions and different ideas. Goods got pricier, so we adjusted operations to save costs for us and our customers. In tough times, with unemployment and limited finances, as a business owner, especially in hospitality, it’s so important to understand the economy. We changed because I knew overcharging wouldn’t succeed, and failing wasn’t a possibility without adaptation. Balancing quality and affordability was definitely the biggest challenge since the beginning.
Recently, it’s been tougher due to staffing problems. I had better luck hiring during COVID than post-COVID, which surprises me. It’s hard to find anyone now, no matter how we try and get people in. I wish that I could pay everyone starting at $30/hour, but razor-thin margins in this industry make it impossible. We’re focused on providing a great, cost-efficient product that’s harder to bring to the table in today’s expensive world.
When we lost some kids to college in places like Fargo, Minnesota, and Arizona, which was expected, we had to have a conversation about how to move forward. It’s just the nature of the beast and there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. It’ll get better, but we have to keep pushing through. We’ve been through worse crap and that’s just the mentality you have to have. If you sit around and focus on the negatives, then that’s how life is really going to be.
Q: How often are you replacing or trying out new menu items?
A: At Nardello’s, we stick to what we know, keeping it fresh by experimenting with occasional specials like Chicago Italian beef, a true Chicago specialty. We maintain our core menu, valued by customers, as we’re careful not to risk what already works well.
Jimmy V’s is a bit more challenging, but my goal is a rotating menu. We’ll keep our staple menu consistent, introducing new items or rotating dishes around every six months. For example, now I’m working on burgers and other items. After six months, we’ll offer some different choices for customers to try. If the response is positive, we’ll keep them.
Staff comfort is my priority, however, as I don’t want to push them wildly past their comfort level. I want them to enjoy their work, and I want us to work well together so we can keep having these conversations and collaborate on new ideas. The menu concepts are not mine; they come from the team. They bring me all these ideas, and I respond with, ‘Okay, I’ll build it. I’ll figure it out, and then we’ll run with it.’ So, in a way, they are building the menu for me. I want them to take pride in their work, find enjoyment in what they do, and feel a sense of ownership, as this place is theirs just as much as it is mine.
Q: How do you approach new creations?
A: There’s not as much fear as there was, say, 10 years ago, when it comes to trying something new or different. I trust my instincts with recipes. If I love it, I share it, hoping others will enjoy it too. Before adding to the menu, I get honest feedback. If it’s positive, we’ll go for it. I want to serve what I believe is good. It’s about sharing something that I genuinely like and, chances are, a few others will feel the same way. This community itself has been very, very, very good when it comes to creating and trying new things, so it makes it a lot easier for us.
I always make the joke that this area is like the Gordon Ramsay of people. It’s either a huge hit or a huge miss, and they’re gonna tell you all about it, either way. That’s fine, though, because if you can’t take criticism, learn from it, and strive to improve, you’ll end up kicking yourself. Even during challenging times like COVID, the community has come together to support each other. I can’t speak for other states, but I feel like North Dakota really embraces and supports local businesses wholeheartedly. It’s incredible, and it makes a tremendous difference.
Steven’s Tips for Success
#1: The only thing holding you back is yourself
“If you have an idea, do whatever you have to do to see it become an established entity, or whatever it may be. You can’t let anyone tell you ‘No’ or that you can’t do something because they’ll hold you back and it will eat at you. You have to pursue it, roll with the punches, and see where it goes. The biggest thing for me is ‘at least you tried.’ If it succeeds, awesome. If you fall on your butt, it is what it is. You tried, and that’s much more than many people do.”
#2: Don’t be scared to try something different
“The other thing is not being afraid. You know, just be yourself, experiment, and show the world your new, crazy, awesome ideas. Try something unique and different—go for it. Just be yourself and be unique. Trying something new would be my other piece of advice. In today’s world, if you want to stand out, you have to show people what you’ve got. It might seem overwhelming with so much going on, but going the extra mile will surely make a difference.”
#3: Ask questions
“Remember, no question is dumb. Seek advice from experts in the field, or anyone who might have insights. Asking questions leads to success and it’s never a bad thing. Don’t feel embarrassed about asking because it can only help you. If you don’t, you’re only hindering your progress. There are people out there with the knowledge and willingness to assist you. Asking for help and clarification is crucial. I personally had to overcome my stubbornness and ask for assistance, and it ultimately benefited me.”
Q: What brings you the most satisfaction or fulfillment as the owner of both Nardello’s and Jimmy V’s, and being a restaurant owner for 10 years now?
A: My biggest focus now is supporting the people I work with and care about. I’m grateful for the ability to contribute to the community in so many different ways. In my career and businesses, I take pride in helping others in numerous ways. It could be as simple as being there to listen or offering valuable advice. Witnessing past employees thrive and knowing I played a role in their journey is incredibly rewarding and means more to me than any material wealth. Being in this position, actively engaging with different people, and contributing to the community has become a passion for me. It’s a unique experience that I would have never imagined a decade ago. It’s truly amazing how life can surprise us!
Q: Do you think that 10 years from now, you might have a different answer?
A: Certainly. In another 10 years, I hope to have even more experience, knowledge, and notoriety in this field with both restaurants, along with any future projects. It seems that over time, my knowledge and experience have been growing. The core mentality is still intact, though I think that I can contribute more than before. Comparing myself to a decade ago, significant changes have occurred— personal growth and a constantly changing mindset. Not having kids at the moment is another factor that might influence things further. Honestly, my response would likely be similar, but with many positive additions. However, who knows what the future holds? A decade is a substantial timeframe, and when I look back in ten years, I’m amazed at the progress and changes that have occurred. Life’s progression is astonishing. As one goes through different stages, the mentality evolves, and figures things out along the way. It’s a strange and fascinating journey. I have customers who visited me eight to nine years ago, and now, some of their kids are working for me. It’s a remarkable and somewhat surreal experience.
Q: What’s something that you remind yourself of often?
A: ‘Never forget your roots.’ Our family friends helped me learn everything; I wouldn’t be here today without them and that’s huge for me. I’m extremely grateful for my wife as well. We attended the same school, but we grew closer while working together at Nardello’s Pizza every day. That’s how things naturally unfolded. Although she hasn’t worked with me for quite some time, we’ve been together ever since. My family, friends, and wife have been crucial in supporting me. Without their support, I wouldn’t be where I am today. My parents, my brother-in-law, sister, and wife are all involved in the business in some shape or form. They are incredibly supportive, patient, and understanding. When I get upset or things become stressful, they talk to me and keep me level-headed. Not every day is perfect, but they provide a strong support system. In short, the last 10 years wouldn’t have been possible without the people who’ve been there for me, and I’m so thankful for that. My business partners and I have been friends for a very long time. Having them as my support structure keeps me grounded and on the right path. We spend a lot of time together, joking around and having fun, and I truly value that. It’s essential to have people like them in your corner to keep you balanced and focused. I owe a lot of my success to the wonderful people I surround myself with.