BROOKSVILLE — Eight months after a fire destroyed Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant, owner Joe Giarratana said people still ask if he plans to re-open the popular eatery.
Joseph and Donna Giarratana opened Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant in 1981. On Jan. 24, 2014, the landmark restaurant burned to the ground leaving only the concrete Roman support columns. A fenceline encircles the area where the restaurant once stood.
Barring unforeseen delays, Papa Joe’s will again serve up its trademark pasta and spaghetti sauce in about five months. Hernando County officials have received Giarratana’s plans for a new restaurant on the same site, and he plans to meet with building staffers and inspectors at a code compliance review meeting Thursday to address a few technical matters.
The eatery at 6244 Spring Lake Highway, between Brooksville and Ridge Manor, opened 33 years ago. Many considered it a local landmark. The pre-dawn fire that destroyed the building in January was sparked by an electrical malfunction in the dining room’s ceiling, the State Fire Marshal determined.
From the outside, the new Papa Joe’s will resemble the former restaurant. Giarratana plans to expand the sidewalk about two feet but the building will look similar, right down to familiar columns.
Inside, patrons immediately will notice differences, he said.
Instead of a deli section there will be a larger and more visible full liquor bar, possibly with a fountain for effect.
Most diners will be seated in a small dining room, equipped to handle about 60 people. There also will be a private dining room with 80 to 90 seats for banquets and larger-party events.
“Before, we were sitting about 100 people in the big dining room and 40 in the banquet room,” Giarratana said.
The menu will be much the same, except for expanded seafood and steak selections.
“All the Italian staples will be there, but we’ll be changing the menu a little bit,” he said.
Bob Showalter, owner of Brooksville-based Showalter Builders, said he felt bad for the Giarratanas and, as a contractor, plans to be personally involved with the rebuilding.
“We’re hoping to be in construction by the end of September and we’re hoping to be completed sometime in February,” Showalter said. “That’s the game plan right now.”
Showalter said he realizes the significance of Papa Joe’s and how important it was to the community. That is one reason he pursued the project. “I was looking forward to doing it and really went after the job,” he said.
Giarratana said Nicholson Engineering Associates is the engineer for the new building.
Joe and Donna Giarratana frequently held charitable events at the restaurant, including an annual 99-cent spaghetti dinner the first Tuesday in October with proceeds donated to charities.
Joe Giarratana said that won’t change when the building reopens. In fact, he’s not even waiting that long.
On Oct. 7, he once again will give out meals — albeit cooked off-site — for people to take with them. A percentage of the proceeds will go toward churches that assisted in the restaurant’s relief fund.
After the fire, Joe Giarratana let go of about 45 employees. Shortly before he re-opens, he plans to advertise for another 45 or so staffers. Former employees are welcome to apply, he said.
Joe Giarratana said he has vivid memories of rushing to his restaurant in the early hours that winter morning and seeing the business in flames.
“You never forget,” he said.
Now, with its rebirth likely a few months away, Joe Giarratana said it’s almost too much to take in.
“It’s been overwhelming,” he said. “It’s like reading your eulogy. You’ve been dead and you come back to life.”