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Guzzardo's Italian Villa Ready for Another 50 Years

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[March 21, 2008]  If a person doesn't walk away with a smile on their face after chatting with the Guzzardo family, then there is no hope for them.

In a recent interview at their restaurant, located at the back of the Arcade Building, it became obvious why the Guzzardos have been so successful for as long as most of us can remember.

Photos of the family restaurant's founders, Dominic, Doc Guzzardo and Rose Guzzardo, decorate the walls. When John and Frankie Guzzardo are joined by their son, Nick, and daughter-in-law Shelley -- and they are joined by their children, J.T. and Julia -- the business represents four generations.

Much love for each other, as well as the restaurant business running through this family's veins, is evidenced. There is no sense of competition in the room. No one is saying that this is mine. Everyone is saying that this is ours. It is this infectious caring for each other and the business that has made the Guzzardo name and restaurant benchmarks in this community for over 50 years.

The obvious observation that this restaurant runs through the family's very being is in the story. Started when Doc and Rose Guzzardo opened a small restaurant in 1957, the business has grown, and the family name has become synonymous with great Italian food and great service.

"Dad always loved to cook and always dreamed of opening a restaurant, so that's what they did," John explained.

When asked how old he was before he knew the restaurant business was his life's calling, John knew the moment exactly. "I was 10 when we put the floor down in this small room, which was the entire restaurant back then. I knew then this is what I wanted to do."

When a youthful John took a liking to a young waitress from Ohio, named Frankie Hallett, who was attending Lincoln Christian College, the chain of Guzzardos was ensured. Their son, Nick, who now runs the kitchen, wasn't perhaps as young as his dad when he knew his life's work was in the family business, but maybe he was.

"Nick always had something to do when he was young," Frankie explained. John reiterated, "High school was very busy for Nick." Still Nick often helped out busing tables and working in the kitchen in those years, and during his second year in college he came home and told his parents he wanted to run the kitchen for the restaurant. Smiling broadly, Nick said, "This is what I wanted to do."

When Nick married Shelley, who has a degree from Eastern and worked at the restaurant during breaks and summers while a student, she also decided to forgo a career in teaching to become part of the restaurant's family. "I decided this is what I wanted to do rather than teach," she said. You could tell by the smile on this usually quiet young lady that she harbors no regrets in her decision.

Nick and Shelley have two children, J.T. who is 6, and Julia, who is 3 years old, and if early signs are anything to judge by, the family tradition is well on its way to celebrating 100 years in business.

Although Julia is less than enamored with the conversation we are having, J.T. has sat intently listening to everything being said. When asked what help he brings to the business, J.T. had a ready and simple response: "I like to do everything." When asked how old he was when he knew the restaurant business was what he wanted to do for the rest of his life, he pondered for a moment and then replied, "When I was 5."

Again, showing no competition or personal ego, when asked if his younger sister would be involved with the business, J.T. explained, "She's only 3. Maybe when she is 5 she will start helping."

To a large extent, John and Frankie have turned the restaurant over to Nick and Shelley, with Nick running the kitchen and Shelley handling the dining area. "We go on lots of vacations now," Frankie said. "With Nick and Shelley running things, we don't have to worry about things like we did when we were younger, when the restaurant and the kids took up all of our time."

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John and Frankie currently work weekends and handle the catering business, and that seems to be a good balance for everyone.

Nick seemed appreciative of the fact his parents handle the demanding catering, but if one has ever been to Guzzardo's on a busy night, which are as common as corn in this area, it is obvious that the staff works very hard to serve all their customers. As Shelley nodded about the hard work a night brings to the business, Nick quickly said, "But I love it."

Frankie and John both wanted to point out that their foods are not processed and are prepared to order at the restaurant, and that means there are as many hours getting ready for business as actually being open for customers.

Over the years the family has discussed changes. From time to time a different location was brought up, but with good business every night, there is nothing broken that needs to be fixed. The original decision by Doc and Rose not to sell alcohol has been left to each generation, but the Guzzardos haven't found it necessary to change.

Certainly some things have changed. Carryout and home delivery used to be 75 percent pizza, but now, as more and more families eat prepared foods at home, 75 percent of the "back door" sales are other exceptional meals that the family offers. "Our delivery sales are as much as what comes into the restaurant now," Frankie explained.

Currently the restaurant has 34 employees, with an additional 24 who help with the catering. It is obvious with every one of the Guzzardos, including J.T., that the employees are a great source of pride with the entire family.

"All of us went on vacation for two weeks, and every one of our employees did a great job while we were gone," John boasted proudly.

Everyone was in agreement that they have been blessed with great help throughout the years. "I only wish I had written down all the employees we have had since we opened. There have been so many. I just wish we had kept track of everyone," John said. Frankie interjected, "Even with college help, we average over seven years on the job, and many of our employees have been with us for 20 years."

The magic words in Frankie's statement were "been with us" rather than "work for us." It is this sense of family that all the Guzzardos meld into their business. If you work for them, you are part of the family.

John had to add, "We have been blessed. There is no doubt about it." Frankie interjected, "The money might not be great, but the lifestyle is wonderful." With those remarks Nick and Shelley and even young J.T. nodded in agreement.

John finished by walking along the restaurant's walls, past pictures representing 50 years, four generations of family, customers and friends. Beaming, he stopped from time to time to tell the story of a certain picture. It was a perfect end to the visit.

He really didn't have to explain the pictures. All of them have a story to tell. One only has to listen.


Readers can find more of Mike Fak's writing at www.searchwarp.com and www.problogs.com.

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