New restaurant whets appetites



February 5, 2015 - 12:00 AM

Giovanni Elezi’s dream is to give Iolans a taste of his native Sicily.
Elezi opened the doors last month to Giovanni’s Italian Restaurant, 2402 N. State St., in the building formerly home to Ken’s Pizza, and after that, Corleone’s.
Offering authentic Italian fare is more than a family business for Elezi.
It’s his passion.
“The restaurant industry is great, but it’s also a tough business,” he said. “With restaurants, either you love it or you don’t. And if you don’t love it, running a restaurant can be very unpleasant. Me, I love the restaurant business.”
It’s been that way since he was a child.
“I was born and raised in a big family, where cooking is a tradition. Every morning, every single day, our kitchen was always busy, similar to a restaurant.”
That passion remained, even as Elezi left Sicily as an exchange student in college to study criminal justice at the University of Dallas.
While attending college, Elezi worked almost daily at his uncle’s nearby restaurant.
He eventually earned his degree, but by then, the food industry had him hooked.
Elezi maintained his family ties, working extensively with his uncle, cousins and eventually brothers, as they opened Bella Roma restaurants in Fort Scott, Chanute and Neosho, Mo.
A customer at the Chanute Bella Roma convinced Elezi to consider opening a similar restaurant in Iola.
He found the old Corleone’s building, which had been recently remodeled by owner Ron Boren before closing in 2013.
“Ron is a great guy. He has a great family,” Elezi said. “The Borens have a better understanding (of the restaurant industry) because they’ve been in business themselves.”

ELEZI has moved to Iola with his wife and two children.
“Opening a restaurant in this community is great,” he said. “Also, I want to do everything I can to be a part of this community. As a business owner, if something’s going on around the community, I want to be a part of it.”
He’s already met several Iolans in the few days his restaurant has been open.
While spending large amounts of time in the kitchen — he’s the main chef — Elezi also can be spotted helping wash dishes, greet customers as they walk in the door or walk from table to table to visit with guests.
“It’s personal pride for me to walk into the dining room and see everyone with a smile,” he said. “It’s fun for me to say, ‘we appreciate you here.’ It makes my heart work to know everybody enjoys it.
“What I believe is, in order to be great, you have to show each employee what you’re doing and why it’s important.”
That starts with ensuring every meal is fresh, regardless of how busy he is.
“If we have a huge, busy night, we want everything fresh,” he said. “And there may be days where we’re not so busy. We’ll still have fresh food. It’s cooked when you order.”
Elezi uses several ingredients imported from his native Sicily.
“I use real fine ingredients, real cheese, fresh meats and fresh seafood,” he said.
Even his pasta is made from scratch.

Even so, Elezi has vowed to ensure his meals stay affordable.
He offers daily lunch specials, and says he will not change his prices for at least two or three years, even if his costs rise.
“You can’t just increase your price every time it costs more to buy a tomato,” he said. “For some people, money’s not a problem, but for some people it is. That’s why when I opened the restaurant, I believe it should be affordable. I don’t believe in choosing your guests.”

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