January 19, 2006

Famed Eatery Opens Again

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It is rumored that Ithaca has more restaurants per capita than any area in the United States. Everybody knows the staple institutions: Moosewood Restaurant, The Nines, John Thomas Steakhouse and Joe’s Restaurant.

But for many of us, that last restaurant has been a mere myth, a vague allusion to a legendary downtown Italian eatery. Originally opened in 1932, the restaurant changed ownership multiple times, closing in the mid-1980s, reopening a few years later and closing again in 2002.

After three years of inactivity in the 602 West Buffalo St. building and intense hunger on the part of locals, Joe’s returned on Monday night, serving classic Italian dishes and their trademark bottomless salad bowl.

James “Jamie” III and Heather Ciaschi, the new owners, decided to return the site to its glory days by adopting a “30s, 40s, 50s” theme, as opposed to the “80s” theme it most recently sported. Photographs of historic downtown Ithaca, purchased from The History Center in Tompkins County, grace the walls and menus and Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Tony Bennett croon in the background.

Bringing the restaurant back to its roots was important to the Ciaschis, Jamie said. He and Heather insisted from the start, “If we remake it, it has to be exactly what it was before.”

Jamie, who grew up in Ithaca, said he was interested in restoring Joe’s because of an appreciation for landmarks. He said that buying the property was the “best decision I ever made.”

They decided to make the investment after taking a vacation to Ithaca last summer, wishing to raise their three children in central New York. But Jamie knew that if they were to move to Ithaca, he wanted to “create [his] own job.”

Jamie was well prepared for the undertaking. In addition to having studied hotel and restaurant management at Florida State University, Jamie has the Ithaca restaurant industry in his blood. His grandfather owned the Villa Restaurant and Big Jim’s Bar and Carryout and founded the Char Pit Restaurant, which was later sold and turned into Lucatelli’s. His father spent his career at the Char Pit until it was sold in 1984.

The Ciaschi family made its grand return to the Ithaca restaurant scene last weekend, serving 1,000 dinners before the opening night on Monday. Hosting events for community leaders, friends and family, the restaurant staff prepared for a full house when it opened to the public.

The restaurant has received numerous accolades over the years. The Ithaca Times named Joe’s “Best Restaurant” in 1989-1999 and Restaurant and Hospitality Magazine called it one of the country’s top 500 restaurants in 1993 and 1994.

Jamie said that many in the community have thanked him for reopening the restaurant, regaling him with stories of dates, birthday celebrations, proms and even wedding receptions that took place at Joe’s.

“It is rewarding to give back to the community and let them relive memories,” he said.

Archived article by Eric Finkelstein
Sun Managing Editor
and Melissa Korn
Sun Senior Editor