MANATEE COUNTY -- The Gio brothers are readying themselves for a restaurant makeover that will make their casual dining restaurants more fabulous and affordable.
Gio Fabulous Pizza & Martini Bar is poised to makeover its two existing Manatee County restaurants this summer as well as update its menu to keep up with the times. The restaurants are owned and built by brothers and New Jersey natives John, Anthony, Nick and Carmen Gio.
"The span of rejuvenating a restaurant is about 10 years and I think we're at the mark where our design and our menu have to go through a little bit of an evolution especially with Italian restaurants being a dime a dozen," Anthony Gio said.
Starting in late June, the 4805 Cortez Road location will undergo a transformation. The restaurant will remain open during construction, which will resemble
a bit of a "Restaurant: Impossible" makeover.
Flooring, kitchen, walls, ceilings and the bar will all change in the matter of two days. A curtained wall will be added to the elevated area of the dining room, too. The brothers are also contractors, and plan to do the work themselves.
"We're going to brighten it up a little. We have a lot of earth tones now with a lot of dark wood and stone," Anthony Gio said. "We have a brick wall that we're going to whitewash."
With all the changes and celebrities photos on the wall, the constant will be that IMG tennis coach Nick Bollettieri will still have his own table, the brothers said.
"We gotta get him a special table with his own name on it," Anthony Gio said, jokingly.
In Ellenton, 2219 60th Ave E., the tables and chairs will be changed over. The kitchen will be changed to accommodate the menu changes as well. Next door, the brothers opened their Rippers Roadstand hot dog and beer joint in January, and said the new concept is doing well. To tie everything together, along with the Joia Fabulous in Riverview, the brothers launched www.GioBrothers.com to house all of their brands under the Gio Brothers Restaurant Group.
The Gio brothers decided not to renew their lease for the East Manatee location off of State Route 70 and sold the restaurant equipment to the current occupant, Cedar Reef Fish Camp, which opened this month at 7240 55th Ave E.
About five years ago Gio's rid itself of white cloth service to make its restaurants more casual and affordable to attract a larger crowd, and also offers takeout pizza service. They're continuing to what Anthony Gio termed as "casualizing the restaurant."
"Now we went to granite tables, and we're going to wood tables. We're going to rustic wood tables where they're cleanable," Anthony Gio said. "When people coming into a restaurant and see white table clothes these days, they get intimidated. They think 'pricey.' "
The changes, particularly the food, are focused on a changed economy where diners are looking for affordability. The menu editing includes additions of a portabella mushroom burger, a wild mushroom ravioli and a warm spinach salad with Gorgonzola and caramelized onions. What you won't see anymore is the spicy pesto puttanesca or some of the older staples of Italian cuisine, but the restaurant will have the ingredients on hand at the beginning of the transition just in case a customer still wants their puttanesca, Anthony Gio said.
"People's tastes are definitely changing, and when you can find an Italian joint on every block, you want to differentiate yourself a little bit from the typical spaghetti and meatballs place," Anthony Gio said.
One area of interest is affordability for families, Nick Gio said.
"Everybody can come in and share a pizza, have some sodas and get out of the place for under 30 bucks," he said. "Or a couple can come here and spend a little more, have a steak.
Even the music has changed. Gone is the classic typical Italian music, and now it's mainly pop music, though not everything was scrapped from the old playlists. Sinatra is here to stay.
"That would be a sin to take out Frank Sinatra altogether," Nick Gio said.
Charles Schelle, business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.