has traveled a long journey from his childhood in downtown St. Louis' Sicilian neighborhood to celebrating five years of owning Blues City Deli
in Benton Park. Through it all, he's had his family, good food and a lot of soulful music to keep him going.
As the youngest child in his family, he learned about cooking from his mother's Italian kitchen and his father's barbecue pit while getting a musical education from his older sisters.
"My sisters listened to race records, as they called them back in those days. Once in a while they'd find a soulful-type, bluesy record. She'd put it on the record player, and I'd like it, as a kid. I liked that soul. R&B, then Stax out of Memphis. I'm more of a Stax guy than a Motown guy. They had more of an edge. The Wilson Picketts and Sam and Daves -- this is different. They're pouring their souls out, and they hit you real hard. That's the stuff that got me going. Then, later on, I started learning about the blues. I was into my 30s when I really started digging in and getting to know about it. The Stax stuff bridged the gap into Muddy Waters."
As an adult, Valenza worked a variety of jobs to pay the bills. He was a laborer and a salesman. In the mid-1980s, his friend Joe Alagna hired him at Fratelli's
, where he spent a few years getting his restaurant education while working other jobs, playing drums in local blues bands and creating menus for the Italian sandwich and pasta shop he dreamed of opening.
"We were always big on sandwiches at our house. It was sort of a Saturday staple. We had Genoa salami, Italian cheese, Italian bread. Every Saturday we'd sit around the table. That was our tradition. So I always had a love for the sandwiches."