Giovanni’s reopens as newly designed Gio’s Pizza & Bocce

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Ketki Samel/File

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A walk through the newly opened Gio’s Pizza & Bocce takes you on a trip across three different time periods — the contemporary, the ’80s and all the way back to 1961.

The new-school Italian restaurant, located on 2420 Shattuck Ave., calls itself a modern reiteration of Giovanni’s, which opened in 1961 but closed in 2015 because of fire damage. Although there were plans to repair and reopen the original restaurant shortly after, a change in ownership and full redesign process took about two years. The restaurant held its soft opening Aug. 16.

“We really wanted to pay homage to Giovanni’s,” said head server Journey Frost. “This is kind of our modern take on how Gio’s grandson would’ve opened a restaurant.”

The new restaurant includes bocce and an open area with several television screens that play sports games.

Remnants of the past, however, deliberately remain. The wooden truss ceiling of Giovanni’s has been converted to furnish the bar. A mural that was discovered during the renovation also decorates the wall behind the bar.

The inner room sinks into lower ceilings and has Giovanni’s red banquette booths and neon signs that are meant to take customers to the ’70s and the ’80s.

Beyond those two spaces, a special room lies behind an Andy Warhol-inspired art piece — a dimly lit room in which the floors, walls, ceilings and booths have been untouched from the original Giovanni’s. This room is only meant for special occasions and events, according to Joel DiGiorgio, co-owner of Farm League Restaurant Group — which created the concept for the new restaurant — and UC Berkeley graduate. DiGiorgio added that a “prix fixe” menu may be served for customers only in that room.

“We’re serving memories,” DiGiorgio said. “By keeping history here, all the memories created here can be felt by customers.”

The restaurant features an Italian menu, from salads to pastas to pizzas. The bar menu was also Italy-inspired, as bar manager Nick Stolte went on a trip to Italy. Stolte added that the menu will continue to expand in the future.

Stolte said he wanted to make a drink for people to enjoy after work and shortly before dinner after seeing that tradition in Italy.

“It’s very refreshing. It prepares you for dinner,” Stolte said. “Everyone is just hanging out with their red drink.”

DiGiorgio said people love stories and traditions because they evoke “special emotions,” which he hopes Gio’s will bring to its customers.

“(We want to) bring in a new generation of people … (and) maintain tradition and start something new,” Frost said. “(We hope to) bring a collective of people in, regardless of age.”

Contact Christine Lee at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @christinejlee17.

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