Executive Managing Editor
For Isla Vista residents and countless Gaucho alumni, Mon., Jan. 11 marked the end of an era. Giovanni’s Pizza, better known as Gio’s, announced via Instagram that the restaurant would be closing its doors indefinitely at the end of the day on Thurs., Jan. 14 due to failure to renew the lease.
In a note accompanying the post, former owner Matt Metzka thanked customers for their years of support and business. His post generated immediate response from many loyal customers, with many taking to social media to express their discontent or share fond memories of the iconic pizza.
In the days leading up to its closure, lines poured out the door and wrapped around the building. Wait time for slices skyrocketed — some customers reportedly waited longer than 45 minutes. At the end of what felt like a three-day, non-stop party, Metzka closed Gio’s doors for what many thought would be the last time.
Metzka offered no comment about the future of the restaurant. Many speculated Gio’s would fall victim to boutique developers or others hoping to raze the property to make room for new luxury apartments. For the next three days, the shell of a restaurant haunted Isla Vista — an empty patio and dim lights replaced the normal hustle and bustle that typically occupied the end of Pardall Rd.
Sometime between Fri., Jan. 15 and Sat., Jan. 16, boards went up around the glass windows that surround the patio. While some residents interpreted this as the beginning of the end, flyers displaying a message hope were taped to the glass — “Original Owners. We are back. Opening soon.”
According to Danny Babai, the original owner of Gio’s Pizza, he never had any intention of closing the restaurant.
“This place — I built it myself, it’s like my baby,” Babai said. “I would never want to close it down and lose it. There were rumours that someone from LA would build a high rise here — I never had that plan.”
After starting Gio’s in 1979, Babai expanded from his original downtown location to Isla Vista within four or five years. After selling the franchise to different owners or managers, most recently Metzka, Babai stepped back in to reclaim the Gio’s name.
“We had trouble with Matt,” Babai said. “I’m not going to say anything more for his privacy, but I just have to say we had to take [Gio’s] back.”
Babai chose to keep Gio’s closed for a week in order to follow through with much needed cleaning and equipment upgrades. After getting the restaurant back in order and re-hiring Metzka’s former staff, Babai re-opened Gio’s on Mon., Jan. 25.
“The people like to come someplace with all their friends,” Babai said. “We have such a big place, our prices lure them away from other places and our slices are bigger than other [restaurants].”
According to Babai, Metzka removed a large amount of menu items which he hopes to reintroduce throughout the following weeks and months. Alongside his general manager, Babai hopes to continue to improve the Isla Vista location and bring it in line with his other locations.
“I brought one of my boys from my other restaurant,” he said. “He’s back there working — showing them the way we do things down on State and Mesa.”
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Despite being retired, Babai hopes to retain control of Gio’s for the foreseeable future.
“I always wanted to take back Giovanni’s and I will have it as long as I live.”