Salt Lake City restaurateur Valter Nassi remembered for passion, dedication to community
Sep 22, 2022, 9:40 AM | Updated: 10:50 am
SALT LAKE CITY — The Salt Lake City community is remembering a beloved downtown restaurant owner who died Wednesday.
Called a “Utah icon” by Gov. Spencer Cox, Valter Nassi often served celebrities, Utah Jazz players and plenty of loyal customers at his fine dining establishment, Valter’s Osteria.
Anyone who walked through the front doors of the Italian restaurant on 300 South near 200 West was met with the warm smile and joyful energy of Valter Nassi.
On Wednesday, Tom Jordan arrived for a reservation with friends. He’s experienced Valter’s hospitality, he guessed, somewhere around three dozen times.
While Jordan thinks the food makes it the best restaurant in Salt Lake City, he talked about how Valter was always the staple of the experience dining at Valter’s Osteria.
“He would always go from table to table and say hello, and thank you for being there,” Jordan remembered.
Valter’s son, Enrico Nassi, described his father as uncontainable with an inexhaustible passion.
“He would bounce around from table to table, asking you all of the questions about your life, and all of the things about your experience here,” Enrico said. He continued that it made customers “feel like he was talking to someone he was related to.”
Valter wanted nothing more than to please the customers who Nassi said his father considered family. He would strike up conversation as guests savored Valter’s mouth-watering authentic Italian dishes created from family recipes.
Nassi explained how Salt Lake City didn’t have very many Italian restaurants specializing in the Tuscan region in the late 90s. Valter wanted to change that.
“This city embraced my father with open arms, and this was a place where my father could shine,” Nassi said. “And that brilliance was something that this community loved. And he felt so grateful for being given a chance to do that here.”
Over the last decade, Valter’s Osteria has become one of the highest-rated and most popular Salt Lake City fine dining restaurants, visited by people from all over the world. The wall inside the front door is lined with photos of Valter posing with celebrities.
The establishment built up a following. As loyal as locals were to Valter, Nassi described how his father was just as devoted back.
“My dad used to say that, ‘Salt Lake, my city,'” Nassi said, taking on his father’s accent. “And it was. Because he found family here, and he found friends here, and he found a community that understood him here. And that was the joy of his life.”
Valter managed to continue serving his city during the pandemic, despite not being able to be inside the restaurant with customers. As someone in his mid-70s, Valter instead connected with customers and “bounced” from table to table through a tablet, held by the restaurant’s general manager.
He greeted every customer with the enthusiasm Valter was known for, despite what he was facing on the other side of the screen.
“During the pandemic, he was going through chemotherapy, and he was compromised,” Nassi said. “But he came in every day.”
Nassi said it showed that Valter cared and loved everyone, keeping that link alive even through a difficult time.
Valter lost his battle with cancer, leaving the community he loved at a loss.
On Wednesday evening, flower arrangements delivered to the restaurant with condolences sat on a table outside. Candles lined the bottom of the table, casting a glow on the patio.
Despite Valter’s passing, Nassi explained how it was important to keep the restaurant open and running. He explained it’s what his father would want, and that staying open is how they can honor Valter and his career that spanned more than 50 years.
His hugs and exuberance may no longer be greeting guests, but Nassi hopes Valter’s legacy, will.
Nassi told a story of how a man experiencing homelessness once walked through the front doors. Instead of turning him away, Valter sat him down in the middle of dinner service in the restaurant and made sure that man was served a nice meal.
“It didn’t matter who you were, and it didn’t matter how you came through the door — you were going to eat,” Nassi said. “And he fed this city because he loved it so much. And we’ll miss him.”
A Celebration of Life Mass for Valter Nassi is planned for Nov. 10 at 6 p.m. at the Cathedral of the Madeleine in Salt Lake City. All are welcome to attend.