The Odza family gathers on a recent weekday around a table at their Italian eatery, one of the oldest restaurants in Allen, and reminisces about what brought them here.
The family of first-generation immigrants owns three businesses in Allen: Nash’s Automotive, Allen Café and this one, Italian Villa.
Italian Villa was the family’s first foray into the restaurant business. Nash Odza, a Macedonian immigrant of Albanian descent, had moved to Chicago in the late 1970s to work as an auto mechanic while his family still lived abroad. For five years, he worked in America preparing the way for his wife and children to join him.
Now he and his family run three businesses whose presence in Allen came about unexpectedly.
“We had never heard of Allen before—never,” Nash’s son Tony Odza said.
The family had moved to the Dallas area in the 1980s as Nash continued his work in the automotive industry. They had relatives in the area who had signed a lease in an Allen shopping center, hoping to start a restaurant. When those relatives backed out of the Allen venture, Nash saw an opportunity to buy the lease and finish the job.
“Opportunity presented itself,” Tony said. “We put our resources together with my uncle and his son, and we gave it a shot. It’s the American dream.”
When Italian Villa opened in 1992, Allen was home to less than a quarter of the residents who live here today.
“Yeah, it was a small town,” Tony said. “There was one stoplight in the whole town: Greenville [Avenue] and McDermott [Drive]. Everywhere else was stop signs. … The only sit-down restaurant besides the fast foods—McDonald’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken—was Tamales.”
Italian Villa started out with a simple menu of pizza and pasta using recipes from home, Tony said. The restaurant offered the occasional special, but several of those specials became so popular with the locals that the Odzas added them to their regular—and now, much larger—menu.
One of those former specials has become Italian Villa’s most popular dish: the Chicken Murphy, sold for $10.95.
“It’s like a craze,” Tony said. “It’s our best-seller. It’s all anybody ever really talks about. We have really good pizza—we have really good food in general—but that just stands out.”
Diners frequently request the lasagna and veal Parmesan, Tony said, and give good feedback on the restaurant’s homemade Italian dressing.
The business is owned and managed by members of the Odza family, who take part in nearly every aspect of running the restaurant, from fixing broken appliances to busing tables.
“We’re the general managers, we’re the dish-washers—whatever is needed,” Tony said. “You’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. There’s no shame in that.”
Nash said his family goes back to Macedonia occasionally to visit where he was born. It gives him an opportunity to reflect on what brought them to the United States.
“I don’t know what would have happened” had the Odzas not left Macedonia, Nash said. “I probably would have had some kind of business, but it’s not going to be like here.”