Mike Garozzo

from Garozzo’s Ristorante

may-chef250With 3 locations this Italian classic is one of the KC Original’s most highly honored dining establishments. This month we interviewed the charismatic owner, Mike Garozzo, and his daughter Gina Vitale, a member of their crack management team. Sitting down with Mike and Gina at their iconic original and perhaps best loved location in northeast KC it’s hard not to come away impressed by their shared enthusiasm and love for their family owned business that just celebrated its 27th anniversary. As restaurateurs they are clearly doing something right!

Given Mike’s history and genuine personality it’s not hard to see why his family restaurant is such a success story. Growing up on the Hill in St. Louis, MO Mike was not only exposed to generations of classic Italian food traditions but worked in some of the best venues in that city learning the business from the ground up. After moving to KC in 1979 he continued honing his skills, got married and starting raising a family while also growing a business. In 1989 he opened the first Garozzo’s at 526 Harrison. The concept was simple he says: “we wanted patrons to feel as if they had just joined Mike Garozzo and his family for Sunday dinner;” and that is still true today.

All 4 of Mike’s daughters have worked at the restaurants starting by bussing tables and then as servers and helping in the kitchen. Only Gina is still full time with the business and she splits her time helping manage the operations [primarily hiring and training] of all three locations and being a Mom to one of Mike’s 3 grandchildren. Proud grandpa Mike beams when he talks about both his family and his restaurants – and it’s crystal clear that they all immensely important to him and keep him engaged in making the Garozzo’s experience first class at every level. He points out that menu and food quality are critical – [“no skimping”] and his chefs put their [and his] heart and soul into every dish.

garozzosThe signature item on the Garozzo’s menu is “Chicken Spiedini” and “we invented it” nearly 30 years ago. In the run up to opening in 1989 Mike tells us that he was brainstorming ideas with his uncle who suggested that the menu might need less red meat and offer more chicken items since that was becoming a trendy and health-conscious choice for many diners. The “crazy” idea they hit upon was to prepare the popular “spiedini” skewers, regularly made with beef or veal, with chicken instead and it quickly became their most popular item and remains so to this day. There are at least 4 versions of this offering on the menu already and this month they will roll out “gluten free” versions of each of them – healthier but just as delicious.

Of course, Garozzo’s has lots of other news to crow about right now as well, and Gina was happy to share with us. Also on the menu front are some new dessert items adding to their already amazing offerings. Folks will also want to drop by the Overland Park location to scope out the newly renovated dining room space with new fixtures and window treatments as well as a walk-in wine cellar. And with patio season here, or soon to be, the OP location is the perfect space to enjoy the balmy weather – maybe while sipping some of Garozzo’s own wine varietals imported from Italy under their label. And speaking of the Garozzo label you will want to check out the pre-packaged Chicken Spiedini available at local supermarkets around the metro. What a great idea!

As we wrapped up I asked what Mike his message is for our readers and without hesitation he said: “We have lots of great fans and repeat customers but I know that our reputation is based solely on the last meal they had with us. That means I have to see everything [food, beverages, service and atmosphere] from the perspective of the diner and do my very best to see that it is THE best – a memorable experience on all counts.” Make sure you visit soon to discover what memories Garozzo’s Ristorante has prepared for you. Mike is ready and waiting for you!