The paper has finally been peeled off the front windows as Gio’s Pizza and Bocce in downtown Berkeley prepares for its grand opening later this month. This new Italian-style restaurant, at 2420 Shattuck Ave., is an ode to the previous business, the much-loved, family-owned Italian restaurant, Giovanni, which was established in 1961. Giovanni caught fire in April of 2015 and has been closed ever since.
Now run by Berkeley-based restaurant consulting and management team Farm League Restaurant Group — which has also opened East Bay establishments Westbrae Biergarten, Tigerlily, East Bay Spice Company and most recently, Arthur Mac — Gio’s is not yet completely ready to open. The grand opening is slated to happen in the next few weeks, hopefully by the end of August.
Nosh was invited to get a sneak peek at Gio’s and wanted to share what’s to come inside.
Although the restaurant isn’t quite ready for the public, the bar staff at Gio’s is. Bar manager Nick Stolte (East Bay Spice Company) traveled to Italy last month, partly to study vermouths and amaros, which will be specialty at Gio’s full bar.
At Gio’s, expect vermouth and amaro digestifs, spritzes and cocktails. Pre-meal vermouth aperitif flights are $6, spritzes range between $8 and $9, cocktails between $10 and $12 and post-meal amaro digestif flights are $8.
Many drinks feature cordials and shrubs made by Stolte, and are often locally sourced. Stone fruit cordial, strawberry-fennel shrub, and house-made limoncello make appearances on the new bar menu, which took a year to create.
On our visit, we were offered a flight of vermouth and tried two cocktails from the new menu: Bada Bing, made with Amaro Braulio, amontillado sherry, rum, stone fruit cordial, lemon and soda ($12) and Bada Boom, made with Cynar, nocino, tequila and salt ($12).
The bar also will have 12 beers on tap, most of which will be from rotating local breweries.
As its name suggests, there’s a bocce court at Gio’s. Located across from the bar, where the original kitchen used to be, the indoor bocce court invites people to play on its artificial green turf.
TVs at Gio’s will provide another form of entertainment, although the goal is to not have them on too much. When they are on, they’ll play black-and-white movies, soccer games and weekend football.
Adam Stemmler and Joel DiGiorgio of Farm League Restaurant said one of their main goals with Gio’s is to pay respect to Giovanni, while also creating a brighter, more industrial atmosphere.
DiGiorgio has a personal connection to Giovanni. As a Cal student, he would come with his varsity rugby team to the Italian restaurant. “It’s nostalgic for me personally. We’d have pregame dinners here,” he said. “There’s a lot of romantic history here.”
To keep a part of that history alive, the Farm League Restaurant Group retained as much of the original Giovanni as possible during the renovation. They kept the original murals on the walls – one of which features an umbrella that says “Cinzano” (a white vermouth), which was the inspiration for the bar theme. Giovanni diners may recognize the back “boat room,” a dark wood-paneled dining area, which has stayed almost exactly as it was at its previous incarnation. And small parts of the original wall, near the front show signs of fire, which were left there as a memento and reminder of the restaurant’s past.
And DiGiorgi said Gio’s new design has “an intentional cheesiness to it. Because, you know, Italian restaurants back in the day were kind of cheesy.”
The new kitchen is located toward the “boat room.” and will be serving a much smaller menu. It will still feature Sicilian-style pizzas and calzones. Prices and exact dishes are still to be determined.
Original owner Giovanni Schipani himself stopped by to have a look at the new iteration of his former restaurant. He’s been a part of making sure things are up to snuff at Gio’s. In fact, he had spent three hours at Gio’s on the previous day, observing the bar training in progress. The Schipani family’s presence at Gio’s will remain strong, as his daughter, Anatasia, will be working behind the bar.
Stay tuned on Nosh for updates and news of Gio’s grand opening.
Gio’s Pizza and Bocce will be at 2420 Shattuck Ave. (at Channing St.), Berkeley