Editor’s note: This article is part of a series about new restaurants around Summit County. If you have a newly opened restaurant in the county, contact arts and entertainment editor Krista Driscoll at firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the moment that Tuscato Ristorante Italiano closed its doors on Main Street in Frisco on Wednesday, April 30, to the moment Greco’s Pastaria opened in the same location a mere 63 days later, owner and proprietor Jonny Greco hasn’t had a day off. That may seem like a daunting statistic, but Greco takes it in stride with his usual cheerful demeanor and big smile.
“We’re excited to be in Frisco, to have this restaurant launched and provide a place of gathering for drinks, eating, parties, whatever,” he said. “We have a prideful feeling in that, growing from Jonny G’s that had just that nightclub mystique to this restaurant on Main Street.”
Greco credits his staff, many of whom came from his former night spot down the road, Upstairs at Jonny G’s, for getting the new restaurant up and running so quickly.
“I love having my namesake on the building,” he said. “Mom and Dad were out for the grand opening, they got to see the restaurant in full swing, but for me, it’s not about me, it’s about us as a whole.”
BUILDING A RESTAURANT
Greco’s Pastaria launched with a soft opening and a limited menu on Wednesday, July 2, but the restaurant quickly upped the ante by fleshing out its dining options, building a beer and wine list and attracting repeat customers. Greco said since opening the restaurant, business has been beyond his expectations.
“I told a lot of people the last month and a half we threw ourselves to the wolves,” he said with a laugh. “We’re lucky to have a lot of industry professionals that I hired that didn’t need a lot of direction. They took the direction themselves, and that’s a cool feeling. From having hosts to our wait staff, bar staff and, maybe most importantly, the guys in the kitchen, chef Gavin and Eric, all the way down, they performed beyond expectation.”
The layout of the restaurant has changed slightly from the Tuscato days. Greco removed the elevated dining area and replaced the booths with high-top tables. He said the changes give Greco’s a more casual feel.
“It used to be a little segregated with the downstairs dining area,” Greco said. “You can see all the way into the bar area and the bar can see all the way out into the dining area and the patio. The room co-mingles now, and I think that’s really cool. Everybody can see everybody, and that’s pretty unique in Frisco.”
The restaurant provides fresh food at a fair price in a social atmosphere, with big flat-screen TVs for watching a game and a newly remodeled, trendy looking back bar, Greco said. Transitioning from the nightclub scene to being a restaurateur has been a big learning curve for Greco personally, complete with an entirely new sleep schedule, but he said he and his staff have hopefully created a fun working environment, as well as a comfortable hangout spot.
“We’ve grown from Jonny G’s,” he said. “We called Jonny G’s ‘a sunny place for shady people,’ and it was kind of fitting up there. I’ve reworked that here to have a Greco’s tagline, ‘a casual place for classy people.’ It’s a play on Jonny G’s history.”
WALK THROUGH THE MENU
Greco’s Pastaria offers a full lineup of Italian-inspired cuisine with a few curveballs thrown in here and there.
“I call it a hybrid Italian dining experience because you have this really great chef-driven food, nice price points that appeal to families and groups — all of our dishes are priced under $20 for entrees — then you throw in the pizzas,” Greco said. “We’re creating this theme with casually classy.”
Lunch starts at 11:30 daily, with sandwiches, salads, apps and select pasta dishes, followed by a competitive happy hour from 4 to 6 p.m. with appetizers and drink specials such as $2.50 PBRs and $6 Moscow mules. Dinner runs from 5 to 10 p.m., and the bar stays open as long as customers are enjoying themselves. Greco’s menu was a collaborative effort, the owner said, with inspiration coming from Greco family recipes, executive chef Gavin Lewis’ creations and even customer feedback.
“After feedback from customers, a lot of people were saying, ‘We’d love to just have that build your own pizza, that classic pizzeria pizza,’” Greco said. “We took that feedback and added it to the menu. It’s important to listen to what customers are saying and respond to that, and we can.”
There wasn’t a particular philosophy employed when bringing the dishes together for the final menu, Greco said, but there was a lot of attention to detail, from homemade sauces and other high-quality ingredients to sourcing fresh pasta from a company in Denver.
“We have a variety of appetizers, including the Italian wonton, which has become very popular. It’s one of chef Gavin’s creations,” Greco said. “We take a wonton noodle and fill it with cream cheese, pepperoni, banana peppers, chives, and we deep fry that. It’s cool to have an appetizer that almost fools people. They think we brought it in, but it’s homemade. Then classic Italian fare, and our mussels have become a big hit, too.”
Another must-try item from the appetizer menu is Greco’s twist on the classic caprese salad.
“We’re using Roma tomato, putting fresh basil leaves under it,” Greco said. “Rather than buffalo mozzarella on top of it, we’ve taken a burrata ball — a mozzarella ball stuffed with ricotta — drizzled with balsamic reduction, a nice olive oil and then sprinkle it with a little salt and pepper on top and it’s really refreshing. We’ve really gotten a lot of nice compliments on it. It’s easy to share.”
Of course, the bread and butter of Greco’s are the pizza and pasta. Greco said the number of people who had missed Jonny G’s pizza surprised him, and the expanded gourmet pizza offerings, from barbecue chicken to Philly cheesesteak, have also had a lot of traction. The restaurant’s traditional five-layer lasagna is made with fresh basil and tomato topped with either Mom’s Bolognese sauce or vegetarian marinara, and many other Italian favorites have special touches to make them unique.
“Our picatta dish has one secret ingredient, that’s a citrus-based dish, and Mom’s spicy red sauce, it has a little kick to it,” Greco said. “Our Marsala, we do a jerk chicken rub so you get a little bit of the heat on the chicken that offsets the sweetness of the Marsala. It’s a little twist on the classic dishes.”
WHAT’S DOWN THE LINE
Greco said the past two months have been a constant state of evolution, from building the wine list from seven to 40 bottles to creating a rotating beer program for the bar’s 12-tap system.
“One thing we’re conscious of is — I don’t use the term farm to table, we’re surely not — but we’re trying to source from Colorado as much as we can,” Greco said. “We want to educate people that we proudly support and serve these Colorado products. We’ll have a shelf that will highlight all Colorado spirits, too.”
Once Summit County starts edging toward ski season, Greco plans to implement daily chef specials to incorporate more of the Italian favorites that didn’t make it onto the regular menu, and the restaurant long ago secured its NFL and college football television packages for the season.
Greco said the most rewarding part of his new position as restaurateur is having customers come in and have a positive dining experience and leave raving about particular dishes or how excellent their service was.
“We take a lot of pride in people walking through the door and dining with us, that’s why we run restaurants,” Greco said. “When people come in here and spend their hard-earned money and say everything was wonderful, we had a great time, we can’t wait to come back — those are the rewards for me.”
“Mom and Dad were out for the grand opening, they got to see the restaurant in full swing, but for me, it’s not about me, it’s about us as a whole.”