Romano’s reopens: ‘We really missed this place’

  • Posted: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 1:22 a.m.
    UPDATED: Tuesday, February 12, 2013 1:41 a.m.
Romano’s owners Nick Georgiou gives his wife Margaret a hug at the restaurant after the lunch crowd had thinned out. Romano’s Restaurant has been closed for 14 months while the building was being rebuilt after a fire gutted it.
Romano’s owners Nick Georgiou gives his wife Margaret a hug at the restaurant after the lunch crowd had thinned out. Romano’s Restaurant has been closed for 14 months while the building was being rebuilt after a fire gutted it.

SALISBURY — There were two big stories Monday: Pope Benedict announced he would be stepping down, and Romano’s restaurant at 1510 W. Innes St. reopened in Salisbury.

OK, maybe one was bigger than the other, but people who came to love Romano’s before its devastating fire 14 months ago celebrated the restaurant’s reincarnation Monday, with “Papa Nick’s” original Italian cuisine and New York-style pizza.

“We’re glad they’ve opened back up,” said Bonnie Byerly, who was having Monday’s deli sandwich special.

Jimmy and Nancy Linn, who were regular Romano’s customers before the fire, asked the rhetorical question: What’s not to like?

“We have really missed this place,” Jimmy Linn said.

They appreciate the quality of the food, the nice portions — often big enough to split — and the friendliness of owners Nick and Margaret Georgiou.

Nancy Linn said the staff used to know as soon as the couple walked in they would be having baked ziti, salad and non-sweetened iced tea.

The rebuilt restaurant has a redesigned entrance, a tweaked interior layout, expanded kitchen, larger bathrooms and more parking if needed.

Nick Georgiou said he left the inside colors, fabrics, floor and window treatments to Margaret and son Dino.

“It’s brighter,” Nancy Linn said. “That’s what I like about it.”

The Dec. 7, 2011, electrical fire gutted the building. The only things left of the original structure are some brick walls and trapezoid windows that were original to the building when it started out as a Pizza Hut.

Romano’s had been in business for eight years before the fire. Margaret Georgiou said Monday’s opening took a year, two months and four days to happen.

“It took too long,” Nick said. “... I got gray hairs just waiting, waiting, waiting.”

Nick Georgiou accepts the blame for five weeks of the delay, but that’s all.

“That’s in the past,” he added. “Let’s look to the future.”

Papa Nick can’t hide his excitement for the new place and being open again.

“I love it,” he said. “... There’s no word to describe it, in English or Greek.”

Georgiou said he must thank two people in particular. Banker Mark Lewis was there immediately after the fire, ready to give him the loan he needed to help through the early months.

And Victor Wallace, whose family’s Merritt-Innes Co. owns the property, “has been more than good on everything,” Nick said.

Georgiou tried his hardest to have a quiet opening Monday. About half of the 25 to 30 people he’s trying out have worked for him before, and he wants to make sure all the kinks are ironed out.

When some employee cuts are made later, Georgiou said, it will be difficult, because all the men and women are good and willing to do anything he asks of them.

In the days leading up to Monday’s opening, Georgiou put staff members through the paces, which he described as “Seal Team 6” training.

Georgiou, who also owns The Palms and Capriano’s, said the “new” Romano’s has a few subtle menu changes. Otherwise, all the old choices are still in place.

Cold boiled shrimp and some Romano spreads are offered, for example, as new appetizers. Georgiou replaced a manicotti with a five-cheese lasagna. “It came out better,” he said.

He also has three new burgers to try.

Bonnie Byerly, Vee Condrey and Marjorie Everhart live in Davidson County, but they were well familiar with the old Romano’s. Though they traveled to Salisbury Monday to attend a funeral, they felt fortunate to drive by Romano’s and see it was open again.

“And here we are,” Condrey said.

Nick Georgiou promised the new Romano’s is not going anywhere, if he can help it.

“I’m looking to have it another 80 (years),” he said. “I’m still young — only 64.”

Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.

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