What is the specific gravity range of pizza sauce?
That is one of the 100 questions on the Valentino's Pizza
College final exam that Kansas City Chief safety Brian
Washington aced last spring en route to purchasing his own
Valentino's in St. Joseph, Mo. Yes, he ate his way through
college, thank you, but now, says Washington, "there isn't an
item on our menu that I cannot cook."
No, there isn't. From manicotti to mostaccioli, from pizzas to
pastas. "Brian's here three to four days a week [in the
off-season]," says his restaurant manager, Stephanie Rae Vogt,
"and he always has an apron on."
Today is Labor Day. They call it Labor Day yet nobody works.
O.K., Jerry Lewis does. But surely nobody moonlights.
Washington does. An hour ago he stepped off the field at
Arrowhead Stadium, and an hour from now he will make the
42-mile trek from his suburban Kansas City home to Valentino's.
The Kansas City Chief doubles as a Kansas City chef.
Right now Washington is talking retirement and because he is 30
and a football player by trade, the topic would not surprise
you, except that he is reminiscing.
"Retired! Can you believe that? I announced my retirement at age
23," says Washington. So he did. A 10th-round draft choice of
the Cleveland Browns in 1988, Washington started 14 games as a
rookie. During the following preseason, though, he asked for his
release after the Browns placed him on injured reserve, in
effect sidelining him for the season. Washington didn't believe
a broken nose warranted wasting an entire year on the bench, and
neither did the New York Jets, who picked him up in the second
week. But after a one-day workout for then Jet coach Joe Walton,
Washington "retired." Never mind Gotham and its pizza, which he
abhors--"the cheese slides off the dough!"--Washington had no
appetite for football either.
Returning home to Lincoln, Neb., he implored his father-in-law,
Tony Messineo, who is Valentino's CEO, to teach him the
restaurant business. Soon Washington found himself an assistant
manager at King's, a '50s-style eatery.
"And, god, he did a phenomenal job there," says Messineo. "Our
numbers increased. Brian is a sharp businessman."
So sharp that Washington is posting some equally impressive
numbers at Valentino's. "Before Debbie [his wife] and I bought
this franchise in May, the board of health had given it a poor
rating. Even the roaches were getting sick. We put a premium on
fresh food and a clean restaurant. Our profits have increased
300 percent in just four months."
He is not all work and no play. After his one-year sabbatical
from football he was invited back to the Jets in 1990, when
general manager Dick Steinberg and coach Bruce Coslet arrived.
He played five seasons, was named team MVP in 1992 and led the
Jets in interceptions in 1992 and '93.
When he signed with the Chiefs last spring as an unrestricted
free agent, he was reunited with former Nebraska teammate Neil
Smith and with coach Marty Schottenheimer, who had drafted him
for the Browns. "We wanted Brian here in Kansas City because he
has speed and is an aggressive hitter," says Schottenheimer.
"Brian eats receivers for lunch."
And bakes pizzas for dinner.
COLOR PHOTO: JOE ANGELES The Chiefs' defensive back is getting a good taste of the restaurant business. [Brian Washington]