One year after an accidental fire devastated Giovanni Restaurant, the local Italian eatery is planning to reopen this fall under new management.
Two Berkeley alumni — Nathan George, a local developer, and Xin Jin, an entrepreneur specializing in start-up companies — have partnered to revitalize the restaurant, hoping to add a modern twist to its classic ambiance.
“We want to make it a lively and engaging space with the street and pedestrian activity,” George said.
The new restaurant, located at 2420 Shattuck Avenue, is envisioned as a local pizzeria where families and young couples can convene, according to George. George added that the restaurant was originally meant to reopen over the summer. Repairs to the building were delayed, however, due to hidden infrastructure damage including outdated electrical and plumbing systems.
The fire, which broke out in April 2015, caused over $100,000 in damages to the entire building. According to George, Anastasia Schipani, the daughter of the previous owner, had approached George about selling the restaurant in late 2014. George added that he had planned on meeting with his attorney to finalize his ownership before the fire occurred.
George cites his relationship with Giovanni’s owners as a motivation for restoring the restaurant, adding that his son viewed Schipani “like his grandmother.”
According to George, he and his wife “fell in love” with Giovanni Restaurant because it reminded them of their first date in a similar venue.
Potential improvements to the original building include an indoor Bocce court, a revamped bar and a more spacious entrance that George said will spill over into the sidewalk and contribute to the atmosphere of Downtown.
George added that he and Xin hope to maintain key elements of Giovanni Restaurant in addition to modernizing the space.
“I think what was really important for me was making (the restaurant) financially feasible, making it work in today’s economy and making it attractive, but also trying to preserve … the style and (bring) it back to its roots,” said George.
Linda Hunt, a former customer, shares similar sentiments about the restaurant, which was the location of her first date with her current boyfriend.
“It was kind of special compared to other Berkeley restaurants,” Hunt said, praising the restaurant’s “romantic” ambiance.