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Giovanni’s closes in Hartselle
Italian eatery prepares to open on Athens square

By Deangelo McDaniel · 340-2469

HARTSELLE — The economic lifeline Giovanni’s Italian Grill needed to survive here has died.

“I am out of Hartselle,” owner Rod Ross said.

Visitors to the Italian eatery Monday were greeted with a sign that read: “Sorry we are closed. Please join us in Athens at Giovanni’s on the Square. Thank you for having us here in Hartselle.”

After almost two years, during which Ross changed his menu, lowered prices and added a competitive-price lunch menu, the owner was unable to carve out a place in the appetites of Hartselle eaters.

“This is not what the community wants,” he said. “We just couldn’t get the community to come in and support the restaurant.”

Even when Giovanni’s offered free meals to Hartselle school employees, they still didn’t come.

Ross said lack of alcohol sales hurt. Hartselle voters overwhelmingly rejected legalized alcohol sales in 2002. Ross said he talked with chamber officials and it became obvious the city was not going wet anytime soon.

“To be where we need to be, we’ve got to have alcohol sales,” Ross said. “We’ve had people to tell us they would come more if they could have a glass of wine with their meal.”

Giovanni’s caught the attention of an Athens delegation that paid Ross a visit in November.

“I resisted at first, but they made me an offer I couldn’t refuse,” he said.

Giovanni’s on the Square will open this month in the old Wilson’s Fabric store building on Market Street in downtown Athens.

Flagship Development Co. partners Derrick Young and Johnny Furline are providing the building and what Ross called “start-up funds.”

The Athens restaurant will have a bar, an outside dining area and an expanded menu including steak.

“This community over here (Athens) has been behind us like you wouldn’t believe it,” Ross said.

As for the Hartselle facility, Ross said, he is responsible for the building. Except for the dishes, the restaurant equipment remains in the building.

“I hope to lease it to someone,” Ross said.

Giovanni’s opened in Hartselle after a failed attempt to purchase the former Decatur Utilities warehouse 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 also own Lagniappe’s on East Moulton Street in Decatur, and he hopes one day to 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.

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