Hartselle losing Italian eatery?
Giovanni’s restaurant owner announces expansion to Athens square
By Deangelo McDaniel
HARTSELLE — Is Giovanni’s Italian Grill nearing the end in Hartselle?
It may not be dead, but the eatery is on economic life support.
“We hope we can stay in Hartselle, but it becomes economics after a while,” owner Rod Ross said. “I don’t want to close the restaurant. But economics may drive this decision whether I want to or not.”
Ross made these comments after announcing that he is expanding to Athens.
Giovanni’s on the Square will open in May in the old Wilson’s Fabric store building.
Delegation sought business
Ross said an Athens delegation came to the Hartselle restaurant about two months ago recruiting the business.
“I resisted at first, but they made me a deal I couldn’t refuse,” he said. “They told me they didn’t want me to take all the chances, and they are putting their money where their mouth is.”
Ross did not want to give specifics, but he said Flagship Development Co. partners Derrick Young and Johnny Furline are providing the building and some “start-up funds.”
“They have treated me like a rock star,” Ross said. “I really feel special and wanted.”
Ross said he loves his Hartselle location and the community, but the restaurant is not getting the community support it needs to remain economically afloat.
On New Year’s Eve, for example, Ross said, he had 105 customers in the restaurant at about 7 p.m.
“I went around to see where the customers were from, and we didn’t have one customer from Hartselle,” he said. “This is really what got me thinking about the offer to expand to Athens.”
Changing menu, prices
Ross changed his menu at the Hartselle location, lowered prices and added a competitive-price lunch menu, but the daytime customers still haven’t been in numbers the restaurant needs.
There’s also the issue of alcohol sales. Athens, unlike Hartselle, is wet. This means customers will be able to drink a glass of wine with their Italian dish.
“This is a big issue,” Ross said about wine sales.
Just as he did in the Hartselle location, Ross is doing the millwork. He said the Athens eatery will have a “top-notch” bar.
“Being able to serve alcohol is one of the best things about coming to Athens,” he said.
Ross said he also plans to expand his menu to include steak.
“Our primary focus is going to be Italian food, but we’re going to offer a little more,” he said.
Giovanni’s located in Hartselle more than a year ago after a failed attempt to purchase and put the restaurant in the old Decatur Utilities warehouse building on First Avenue Northeast.
Ross offered $97,000 for the deteriorating building, but city leaders said the property was worth more than $200,000.
Ross and his wife own Lagniappe’s on East Moulton Street in Decatur, and he hopes to one day have an Italian restaurant in the River City.
For now, however, he said he’s focusing his energy on Athens, where the support from city leaders has been phenomenal.
“When I first walked in the building over here, there were 60 to 70 people cheering and clapping,” he said. “It blew Shelly (his wife) and I away. The Athens people have put a lot of hard work in and we’re going to do the same.”
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