BROOKSVILLE — Only the foundation has been poured for the new Papa Joe's Italian Restaurant rising out of the ground east of Brooksville, but that won't stop the family-owned dining mainstay from carrying on with an annual tradition.
Despite a fire that destroyed the restaurant in January, Papa Joe's 99-cent Pasta Fest will take place on Tuesday, and, as always, the proceeds will go toward a good cause.
After the nighttime fire on Jan. 24, sparked by an electrical malfunction, owners "Papa" Joe and Donna Giarratana pondered, regrouped and are now answering catering calls out of kitchen space at the nearby Quality Inn.
From that kitchen for the fundraiser, Papa Joe said, he will cook up enough pasta with his signature Pomodoro sauce for 1,300 dinners to be served in takeout containers at a makeshift drive-through in the parking lot of the once-proud restaurant.
Donna Giarratana explained that the 99-cent price — the actual price on the menu when the restaurant opened in 1981, by the way — is "a draw, to bring the people out." Money is raised through the sale of raffle tickets for any number of prizes the couple rounds up from various businesses and individuals.
The raffle headliner this year will be a flat-screen TV donated by the Walmart Distribution Center in Ridge Manor West. Other prizes will include tickets to Tampa Bay Lightning hockey games and Florida State University football games.
This year's proceeds will go to a half-dozen local churches that held numerous fundraisers to help the restaurant's 45 employees who lost work when the establishment burned to the ground.
The benefiting congregations, with proceeds designated for their youth groups, will include Spring Lake Methodist, Hillside Community Baptist, St. Anthony Catholic, Grace Brethren, Grace World and Providence.
Raffle tickets, at $2, are available at Capricci Gifts and Healing Waters, a business owned by the Giarratanas adjacent to Papa Joe's, and at the cooperating churches.
Mrs. Giarratana pointed out that some congregants of those churches, along with other devotees of Papa Joe's, raised some $2,000 during a mammoth yard sale next to the ashes just a week after the restaurant fire. Various money-makers have continued since.
"The community just really came together for us," she said.
The Giarratanas, also concerned for their employees' welfare, brought in CareerSource Pasco-Hernando to help the newly jobless apply for unemployment compensation, seek jobs and write resumes. Mrs. Giarratana noted some of the employees had joined Papa Joe's directly from high school and never had put together a resume.
The couple will announce publicly when they are ready to begin hiring for a targeted reopening in February. Former employees will be welcome to apply, Papa Joe said, though, "I'm not going to steal them away from other restaurants where they might be working now."
The new hires will work in a more centralized kitchen, which will make for greater efficiency in service and less footwork, Donna Giarratana said. The former restaurant had grown from a single unit in a small plaza to engulf the entire plaza, which put one of the dining rooms a long haul from the kitchen.
While the building's footprint will remain nearly the same — with a slight expansion for rest rooms — the interior layout will be altered.
The deli will be eliminated, providing for enlarged beverage and takeout areas, plus a hostess station.
There will continue to be a main dining room and a banquet room. Seating capacity overall will remain at 150.
"It's better designed," Mrs. Giarratana said. "People are going to be, like, wow."
Nicholson Engineering Associates of Brooksville has designed the new restaurant. Bob Showalter of Brooksville is the general contractor.
Meanwhile, next week's 99-cent Pasta Fest will assure no hiatus in Papa Joe's commitment to helping others.
Papa Joe's reasoning for the continued effort rings ironic this year.
"Today is you," he says. "Tomorrow is me."
Contact Beth Gray at firstname.lastname@example.org.