Giovanna’s Pizzaria restaurant sits on the corner of Broad Street and 16th Street—to be exact, 614 16th Street. Owner, Nelson Rodriquez, has been in the Chattahoochee Valley area for more than 42 years—since 1978.
He named the restaurant after one of his two daughters and has been in the restaurant business for more than 17 years, two in Columbus, four in Phenix City on Railroad Street, and then 11 years in the current location, which he rents. He owns the building on Railroad Street.
Even though the restaurant is classified by many as Italian, Rodriquez said it serves many different cuisines, including Greek (traditional gyros with homemade Tzatziki sauce), Cuban (sandwich), what he said is the best Philly Cheesesteak in the area, and even German food.
Rodriguez said they plan to add new items to the menu soon, such as a New York style Reuben sandwich. All food is cooked fresh to order and the New York style pizza, which he said is the cheapest pizza around, as well as calzones, top the list as customer favorites.
Rodriquez said he wished more locals would come into the restaurant. Most of his business is from people from out of town who visit Giovanna’s because of the great online reviews—a steady 4.5 rating with 682 reviews to date. Giovanna’s is currently ranked as the second-best restaurant in the city, right behind Café 431.
They did hold first place. Yet despite the great ratings, Rodriguez said he sees very few locals, even before the pandemic, which has had a negative impact.
“COVID-19 has really affected the business a lot,” he said.
Giovanna’s did have eight employees, now because of the pandemic it is just Rodriquez and his assistant. He cooks and she serves. He said he tried to hire people back but because of the lucrative unemployment, they refused to return. And now, since he hasn’t seen any profit for the past couple of months, he can’t afford to hire. He is managing by using his savings.
“This is a mom and dad business. We’re not supported by big, corporate dollars,” he said. “There is no comparison on quality. I wish that the community in the surrounding area would support the business more rather than go across the bridge and give their dollars over there. This is a great location and a great restaurant. I don’t know how much longer I’m going to be here, but I’m not going anywhere right now.”
Originally from New York City, Rodriquez was drafted into the Army in 1968 when just 20-years-old, during the Vietnam War. He did another tour starting in 1975 after reclassification and left the Army for good in 1981. Afterward, he worked for 10 years at Fort Benning, selling ice cream out of an ice cream truck under government contract. He said that back then ice cream trucks were referred to as ‘Pinky Dinky” trucks here in the South.
Rodriquez has been married to his wife Ginnette for 53 years, and they’ve been together for 55 years. They attend Solid Rock Church in Midland, Ga.
“My wife says I’ve always been a good provider, and both my children have Ph.Ds.,” he said. “So, I can brag about that.”
He credits his wife with being very supportive and involved with the business, though she has taken time off due to the pandemic. Rodriquez, who turned 72 on Sunday, does not look his age and is full of exuberance.
“I have never wanted to look my age. My mother never looked her age either when she passed away…God bless her soul,” Rodriquez said. “I remember as a young boy, there were two things that I always wanted..”
The first thing, Rodriquez said he asked God for was a big moustache. That was after meeting the man who married his cousin.
“He had a big sucker [moustache]. From the first time that I saw him, I was so impressed. I said I wanted to have a moustache,” Rodriquez recalled. “During the time of being a hippie, I bought a fake one and I used to wear it. But now, I have a [real] moustache.”
He quickly flipped down his face mask to reveal a full, trimmed moustache before flipping it back up. He said the other thing for which he asked the ‘man upstairs’ was to never look his age.
“I received two miracles. The moustache and not looking my age,” he said, laughing. “I don’t want to act like an old man. I don’t see myself as an old man, even though I’m up in years. If I could go back with what I know today, I’d do it all over again, but with the knowledge I have now…I wouldn’t change anything.”
Currently, Giovanna’s is open from 11:30 until 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. until 7:30 p.m. ET. On Saturdays, the restaurant is open from noon until 7:30 p.m. They are closed every Sunday and Monday. Orders can be called in to 334-732-0804, but only takes cash. You can also find Giovanna’s on Facebook.