CEDAR RAPIDS — Gianna Hadjis loved getting Italian beef sandwiches with her dad.
It’s a memory her father Adam Hadjis cherishes. Gianna was just 4-years-old when she died in Chicago after an accident with a falling television in 2012.
“It was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever gone through in my life,” Hadjis said. “After she died, there was this big void in me.”
Keeping her memory alive has been important to him in the years since, and his new restaurant, Gianna’s Italian Beef, is one way he hopes to do that.
“When she passed, I just had this crazy idea of, ‘How cool would it be to open a restaurant named after her?’” he said.
He had shared custody with Gianna’s mother in Chicago, and said his daughter loved going out for food with him in the city, especially for Italian beef sandwiches and Chicago dogs. Both are on the menu at the cafe, along with grilled chicken sandwiches, a veggie panini, chopped salad, fries and more.
The downtown Cedar Rapids eatery opened Oct. 22. The restaurant is fast-casual, with customers ordering at the counter. Purple is found throughout the space, including in a special purple booth Hadjis has named “Gianna’s booth.”
In the entrance, a portrait of Gianna greets customers, showing what Hadjis described as her ebullient spirit, arms raised in a cheer.
“She was the light in the room. She was just pure joy,” he said.
Booths along the wall are paired with a long community table in the center of the restaurant. Hadjis said he hopes it encourages people to put down their phones and start conversations with others over their lunch.
“The idea is to encourage people on their lunch break to spark up a conversation. There are no TVs in here, no loud music. We want people to talk,” he said.
“I grew up in the restaurant business. Pretty much as soon as I walked home from school, I was reporting to the restaurant,” Adam Hadjis said. He renovated the building over the last two years, doing much of the work himself. He originally hoped the project would take six months, but even when the process stretched on with difficulties with the historic restoration of the building, constructed in 1914, he kept his vision in mind. The space, owned by Steve Emerson, had been vacant since the 2008 flood, but Hadjis had worked there when it housed MCI Communications, and he liked the visibility to foot traffic and the tall, 14-foot high windows that let in plenty of sunlight.
“This corner just felt right, it seemed right,” he said.
Restaurants run in his family. His father Alex Hadjis and uncles Basil and Demetrios Hadjis opened the Vernon Inn together in 1976; that restaurant closed in 2012.
“I learned the impact you can have on the community (with a restaurant),” he said. “This will hopefully build a legacy where people will be saying Gianna’s name for years to come.”
l Comments: (319) 398-8339; firstname.lastname@example.org
If you go
l What: Gianna’s Italian Beef
l Where: 375 Third St. SE, Cedar Rapids
l Hours: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Thursday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 11 a.m. to midnight Saturday
l Details: (319) 200-2994, giannasbeef.com