Jonny Greco, owner of Upstairs at Jonny-G’s, didn’t come to Summit County with the intention of opening a bar, but in the past dozen years, he has grown his signature place on the second level of the Frisco mall from one of the only little late-night spots on Main Street to a thriving nightclub.
“I came from Backcountry Brewery when the opportunity presented itself that they didn’t want to be in the late-night business,” he said. “Owning my own business was a dream, and doing that was so special to me.”
On Wednesday, April 30, Jonny-G’s will close its doors for the last time as Greco embarks on a new adventure, leaving behind the late-night scene to become a full-blown restaurateur with his new endeavor, Greco’s Restaurant & Bar, which will occupy the space that currently houses Tuscato Ristorante Italiano.
Losing a lease, gaining a restaurant
Greco said it was a tough pill to swallow when he first found out that Jonny-G’s would have to close. The nightclub owner’s lease negotiations with the mall’s new owners ultimately didn’t work out.
“All in all, what happened was the owners of the Frisco mall decided that a nightclub wasn’t in the future of the building,” Greco said. “They wanted to go in a different direction. So when that went down, basically in October 2013, I knew that I was no longer going to have Jonny-G’s at the end of the 2014 season.”
The original plan, Greco said, was to relocate Jonny-G’s to a new retail spot on Main Street, but the pickings were slim. At that point, he struck up a conversation with Bob Kato, a man Greco describes as “a pillar of the community” who had owned Tuscato for 15 years.
“He was helping me negotiate a lease with these guys because he has so much experience in the industry,” Greco said. “(I told him) we were unable to come to an agreement, so at the end of the season I’m going to be losing my space. There was something in passing like, you should sell me Tuscato.”
Greco said the wheels started spinning from there. Kato was planning to do a remodel of the Tuscato space, streamlining his menu and taking the restaurant in a simpler direction, but once the two started chatting, Greco said, they realized that their situation could be mutually beneficial.
“I was going to reduce my menu a little bit, make it a little less intense menu to put out,” Kato said. “It had gotten to be so big that it was a hard menu to put out on a regular basis. Before I decided to sell it, I was going to scale it back a little bit.”
Instead of making the changes, Kato decided to hold onto his other two restaurants, Incline Bar & Grill at Copper Mountain Resort and the Island Grill at the Frisco Bay Marina, and part ways with Tuscato, handing over the space to Greco.
“Tuscato was the one I ran, and I wanted to take a break,” Kato said. “I’ve been doing restaurants for 38 years and I thought it was time to spend a little more time with my family, my 7-year-old daughter and my wife.”
Not another Jonny-G’s
Greco was emphatic that the new restaurant wouldn’t be another Jonny-G’s in a new location, but nor will it be Tuscato under a new moniker.
“It’s going to be kind of a mix,” he said. “We’re going to try to casualize the Tuscato experience and class up the Jonny-G’s experience.”
Tuscato will also close on Wednesday, April 30, beginning a remodel process that will last into mid-June, with a tentative Greco’s opening date set for sometime around the Frisco BBQ. Greco said the remodel would bring the sunken floor of the restaurant up to sidewalk level so the whole restaurant is on the same plane as the street. The owner of the building will also be installing a nano door system, creating an open-air feeling similar to that of a garage door with panels that fold into each other.
“It’s going to create this small patio area this summer, almost like Prost has, that little deck there, but this will actually open up into the restaurant,” Greco said. “When you go into Tuscato, it has that romantic, Italian restaurant feel. We want to bring in that higher energy, fast-paced, more casual feel.”
The new restaurant will serve lunch and dinner and potentially be open for late-night hours, Greco said.
“We’re going to do lunch service this summer,” he said. “With this new window system, we’ll be able to offer outdoor seating right on the sidewalk with these doors open on beautiful Frisco summer days — lunch, dinner, happy hour, after-dinner hours, late-night hours, that kind of thing, which is kind of that Jonny-G’s touch.”
Greco will be bringing his entire crew from Jonny-G’s with him to staff the new Greco’s, and Tuscato’s legendary happy hour will remain intact, along with the familiar face of Keith Hogan, aka Hogan, behind the bar.
“We’ve built up a great clientele at Tuscato, and it’s going to mean a lot to keep those people for our happy hour,” said Hogan, who has been a bartender at Tuscato for the last five years. “I’m hopping aboard with Jonny. People were wondering what’s happening — Are you staying here for work? — I’ve got a great clientele and they were wondering if we were going to stick around and keep the great happy hour going and great service and great environment.”
Hogan said he’s committed to keeping “the best happy hour in the county” as strong as it’s always been, and he’s looking forward to working with Jonny, who was one of the first people he met when he moved to Summit County 15 years ago. Kato said he’s going to mentor Greco on some of the favorite items that will be hold-overs from the Tuscato menu, along with any other support he might need.
“I have complete confidence in Jonny,” Kato said “I see in Jonny a little of me when I was his age. He’s very genuine, he’s a hard worker, he’s driven, he’s very well liked and he’s willing to learn. He wants to get out of the nightclub business and get into a full-on restaurant business, and I have all the confidence in the world in him being able to make that transition.”
Italian-inspired pub food
The new restaurant will have a menu that Greco describes as “Italian-inspired pub food; pizza, pasta pub.” He said he would continue to have pizza as the highlight of the menu, along with other items from the Jonny-G’s menu, as well as Tuscato classics. The full list will include appetizers, salads, pizza, entrees and pasta.
“One thing I’m most proud of taking out of the Jonny-G’s kitchen, which opened in 2010, was I finally figured out how to make my mom’s recipe of her red sauce,” Greco said. “Sunday nights growing up was always mom’s sauce over some kind of pasta. To highlight this, my mom’s recipe, is a dream come true as a restaurateur.”
The menu will also include sandwiches and desserts, a new draft beer system with 10 to 14 taps featuring local and national craft beers and a nice wine list.
“It’s going to have a fresh, new look,” Greco said. “We’re changing our scene, we’re not bringing Jonny-G’s to this space; we’re creating a new restaurant with familiarities of both. We want to be family friendly and offer great service and have a real upbeat, fun establishment that I don’t think we have anywhere on Main Street that’s going to offer what we are.”
Greco said he was pretty sad when he found out that the era of Jonny-G’s would be coming to an end after more than 12 years, which is a long time for any business in a small town that has become a landmark of the community, but he’s looking forward to his new adventure.
“When I was able to negotiate this deal with Bob, everything changed, my excitement changed, to cope with the closing of this place next week,” he said. “We turned a negative into maybe the biggest positive of my life so far.”