The founder of popular Vinny's Italian Kitchen has sold his remaining restaurant and left the industry behind for the foreseeable future.

The founder of popular Vinny's Italian Kitchen has sold his remaining restaurant and left the industry behind for the foreseeable future.

Vinny DiCostanzo Jr., whose dining experience struck a chord with Rogue Valley customers, confirmed Wednesday he has sold his North Phoenix Road establishment to Frank Liva, who purchased DiCostanzo's Grants Pass restaurant last year.

Liva plans to continue the restaurants as they are with some growth plans.

A third Vinny's in Eagle Point is operated independently by DiCostanzo's father and is unaffected by his son's departure.

DiCostanzo, who sold the restaurant in the fall, said the failing health of his wife, Gina, led to the decision to leave the restaurant business behind.

"I want all the people of the area to know I still care about them even though I won't be benefiting from them financially," DiCostanzo said. "All my commercials and ads were from my heart and my family's heart, but circumstances have changed."

DiCostanzo grew up in and around the restaurant business in New York where his father owned restaurants. They moved here from Westchester County, N.Y., in the mid-1990s and DiCostanzo drove a UPS truck for several years until they opened their restaurant in the Larson Creek Shopping Center in April 2000.

Eventually they grew the business to three Vinny's establishments plus Sophia's Soup Factory in the Medford Center, which was sold to Michael and Sheri Westerman in July 2006. The restaurant repeatedly topped the Mail Tribune's Readers' Choice awards for best Italian food.

The DiCostanzos moved to Hawaii last year, looking to expand the Vinny's brand into Maui.

"We were negotiating with people and real estate agents and I was working for a friend," DiCostanzo said.

But everything changed when Gina became ill and the couple moved back to the Rogue Valley.

The remaining restaurant was sold and DiCostanzo went to work as a broker for Freight Logistics in Medford.

"I know there are some people who think it must be nice to have built a business and sold it," he said. "But I don't want to leave that taste behind."

He declined to speculate about future plans.

"Returning to the restaurant business," DiCostanzo said, "is out of the question for now."

Liva was in the entertainment industry for 25 years before returning to his roots in the restaurant business.

"My family had restaurants and a catering business in Chicago when I was growing up," Liva said.

Liva said the Vinny's menu remains the same, but the wine list has changed.

"My grandfather was a winemaker in Italy and Chicago," he said. "We're also coming out with our own private label — Liva Brothers."

Liva said the Vinny's tradition will continue under his stewardship.

"Vinny laid back to see how I did in Grants Pass," Liva said. "Then he came to me and asked if I would be interested in taking the whole thing. I was, because I live over here (in Medford) and kind of knew the area even though I've only been here for four years."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 776-4463 or e-mail business@mailtribune.com.