Wednesday, April 21, 2010
Geonetti's and Frank's: Thinking outside the (pizza) box
Two Roanoke Valley eateries joining forces is a match made in heaven: pizza and subs.
Geonetti's will soon stay open through the dinner hours, hoping to build its dine-in, delivery and carryout business.
Jeanna Duerscherl | The Roanoke Times
Rhonda Thomas, owner of Geonetti's in downtown Roanoke, and Luigi Greco, owner of Frank's Pizza on Brambleton Avenue, are merging their businesses. They hope to build a strong delivery business, carrying pizzas within a five-mile radius of the restaurant.
Food writer Lindsey Nair
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Downtown Roanoke is a special place for Rhonda Thomas -- her parents, Shirley and Ronald "Chief" Thomas, ran The Iroquois nightclub on Salem Avenue for 13 years.
For Luigi Greco, the word "downtown" conjures up images of a much bigger, livelier city. He grew up in New York City after his parents, Francesco and Ann Greco, brought their eight children over from Italy when Luigi was just a boy.
But life in Roanoke's hub is getting busier all the time, and Luigi Greco now wants to take his business, Frank's Pizza, into the heart of things.
He is joining forces with Thomas, who owns Geonetti's Specialty Subs on Campbell Avenue, to bring some of those old Italian family recipes to the hungry denizens of downtown.
Since Geonetti's opened in January 2009, Thomas has been steadily building a clientele around her soups, salads and sub sandwiches. Now, Greco has moved his mixer and oven into the space and will add his pizza, calzones and pasta to the existing menu.
"We want everybody to know that we are two different restaurants merging together," Thomas said. "Geonetti's and Frank's."
For many readers who frequent downtown, this is bound to seem like a match made in heaven. Since I moved to Roanoke more than 10 years ago, I've been hearing folks rave about the pies at Frank's Pizza, and I have become a fan myself.
Downtown Roanoke does have some pizza offerings already. Big Lick Pizza Co. in the Roanoke City Market Building pumps out pies six days a week. Both downtown bakeries, Bread Craft and On the Rise, offer pizzas, as does Corned Beef & Co., which bakes them in its wood-fired oven.
But you just can't deny the level of pizza-making experience that comes with Luigi Greco.
A family business
Luigi Greco comes from a family of seven brothers and one greatly outnumbered sister. Every one of them -- along with several of their children -- makes a living in the pizzeria business.
But Luigi is the one who started it all, going to work in New York pizzerias at age 16. He worked in several restaurants in the North before moving to Southwest Virginia in 1982 to buy an existing pizzeria in Rocky Mount.
It was already called Frank's Pizza, and because that was his father's name and the place had a following, he decided to keep the name.
Today, mention "Frank's Pizza" in many parts of Southwest Virginia and you are bound to be met with recognition. There are eight shops total, and they are all owned and run by some member of Luigi Greco's family.
He sold the Rocky Mount location long ago to two of his brothers. He opened the one in Hunting Hills Plaza in Roanoke County and sold that to some other family members. Now, he runs Frank's Pizza on Brambleton Avenue with his wife, Kerry, his brother, Mario and his children, Luigi, Danielle and Julie Ann.
His mother's tried-and-true recipes also are used at the other locations in Bedford, Botetourt County, Vinton, Salem and New Bern, N.C.
Luigi's niece, Patricia Giovannini, owns Frank's Pizza in Salem with her husband, Marco Giovannini, and her mother, Frances Corigliano (Luigi's sister).
"Italians do have passion for food, that's for sure," Patricia Giovannini said. "That is one of the main things -- food and good wine."
She pointed out that while important staples such as the pizza dough and sauce are consistent across all of the Frank's Pizza establishments, each owner has been able to put his or her own unique twist on the menu. She, for example, sells a rustic potato pizza and a Caribbean steak sub.
The same will hold true for Geonetti's/Frank's in downtown Roanoke, where Thomas and Greco plan to implement some ideas that will make their restaurant unlike any existing Frank's.
Expect variety, delivery
Rhonda Thomas never pictured herself as a restaurateur. By this time in her life (she is in her mid-40s), she said, she'd hoped to be retired and traveling.
A real estate broker, Thomas also owns Chase Morgan Associates in Roanoke.
But in 2008, she met Tim Rowland, who wanted to move to Roanoke from Ohio and start a sub shop. She decided to back him financially.
Just months after the restaurant opened at 112 Campbell Ave., Rowland faced health problems and decided to return to Ohio, she said. She knew Luigi and Kerry Greco through her real estate work, and eventually they began to discuss a partnership downtown.
Some of the Frank's Pizza locations around Southwest Virginia serve subs, but Taylor and Greco feel that Geonetti's has that base covered already, with its oven-toasted subs on Italian bread purchased from a Philadelphia bakery.
At lunchtime each day, they plan to offer pizza by the slice, and have the 18-inch pies already baked and on display at the front counter.
Thomas said these pies will be more gourmet than the typical fare at Frank's Pizza on Brambleton. For example, they might have a pizza Margherita (tomato, mozzarella and basil), an Italiano, a barbecued chicken pie or a steak-and-cheddar combination.
Ready-made calzones will also be for sale, and customers can order traditional Frank's pizzas or made-to-order calzones with the understanding that those will take longer to prepare. The idea at lunch, Thomas said, is to offer quick options.
They will also install a deep fryer for french fries, mozzarella sticks, battered mushrooms and the like, and offer pasta dishes.
With the increase in downtown residents, Thomas and Greco said they hope to build a strong delivery business, carrying pizzas within a five-mile radius of the restaurant. Geonetti's is currently only open until 5 p.m., but they will soon stay open through the dinner hours in the hopes of building dine-in, delivery and carryout business.
The addition of Frank's Pizza creations will happen within the next couple of weeks, the partners said. And at least until they've settled into a groove, Luigi Greco will be making the pizzas himself, with some help from his son.
You don't get much more experienced than that.
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