Since opening Martinelli’s in 2001, Tony Dong has become an active member of the Salina Community – hiring college student and working with several nonprofit organizations. Tony Dong is the BANK VI Hero of the Week.
Tony grew up in Concordia before heading off to college in Springfield, Mo. He majored in business education and was a member of the wrestling team. “I wanted to be a wrestling coach and a teacher,” Tony said.
During his final year of college, Tony got a job as a server at the Lone Star Steakhouse and Saloon. He said he fell in love with the restaurant business and has worked in it ever since.
“I had always done really hard labor jobs,” Tony said. “Working in a restaurant as a server was great. The money was way better than minimum wage and it wasn’t just lifting a bunch of heavy things.”
After college, Tony saved his money while working in and managing restaurants in Oklahoma City, Memphis and Chicago. With no Italian restaurant in Salina at the time, Tony said he saw an opportunity and took it.
“One day I was walking downtown and saw this corner and I thought that it looked like a good place for a restaurant.”
Since then, Martinelli’s has become a staple in downtown Salina and its proximity to the icon Stiefel Theatre has brought some big names through the door. Tony says that Richard Branson, John Legend and Tony Bennett have been some of the most memorable for him.
The restaurant has also given Tony opportunities to help out the community by catering or hosting events for nonprofits. Tony is also on the Salina Big Brothers and Big Sisters board- he has been involved with the organization in some form for over a decade.
“It is such an important organization that really changes the lives of children,” Tony said.
Tony says that the restaurant business is also good for college towns. Many of the servers he hires are college students because it allows them to work around their busy schedules. He is also open another restaurant on East Crawford at the end of the month.
Tony is married with two children.