HAMPDEN – Gio’s Pizzeria at 9 Allen St. is currently undergoing an expansion that would turn the former Optical Expressions office next door into full liquor bar with expanded seating for its patrons.
Gio Cirillo, a resident of Ludlow who started the business alongside his wife Tiziana more than four years ago, told Reminder Publications his pizzeria remains open during the expansion, which would add a 21 foot long bar with 15 to 16 seats around it as well as tables and seating areas.
The Planning Board approved the expansion project and the Board of Selectmen issued the full liquor license, which would be in-hand at the restaurant within a little more than a week, he added.
“We want to give people around here another option,” Cirillo said. “A lot of people like to have a beer with a pizza or a glass of wine with a pasta meal.”
He added that the expansion would put an emphasis on offering more dining for customers. The dining area is planned to be about 12,000 square feet.
Cirillo said he also hopes to hire four to five additional staff members, including bartenders and servers. The pizzeria’s current staff consists of 10 people.
“We’re hoping to be open for Labor Day weekend – just in time for football season,” he added.
While the pizzeria side would retain its normal hours, the bar portion would offer an after-hours bar menu featuring mozzarella sticks, salads, macaroni and cheese wedges, broccoli bites, nachos, and barbecue short ribs, he noted.
“There’s definitely are market for this here,” Cirillo said. “A lot of people around here that come from Somers, [CT], Monson, East Longmeadow, they just travel to this area here – they’re looking for something like this.”
He added that he’s spoken with customers who’ve told him that Hampden lacks a casual neighborhood bar.
“I want it to be like we are,” Cirillo said. “I don’t want people to get dressed up ... They should be themselves. This should be like a modern day Cheers.”
Gio’s menu will mostly remain the same and will continue to offer original culinary creations such as Gorilla Boy – a gourmet steak grinder with toppings such as mozzarella sticks, bleu cheese crumbles, pepperoni, onions, and marinara sauce, he added.
This grinder and others, including the McBride, a crispy chicken sub with bacon, sweet tangy barbeque sauce, tomato, French fries, ranch dressing, as well as mozzarella and cheddar cheeses, were the result of customer suggestions that have been added to the menu, Cirillo said.
Creativity in the kitchen is one of the cornerstones of the business, he noted.
“Everyone gets tired of the same old ham and cheese cold cut grinders,” Cirillo said. “It gets boring after a while ... Let customers come up with ideas.”
Tiziana cooks most of the meals while Gio makes the pizzas, he said. Prior to setting up shop, he worked at Pizza Makers in Springfield for 14 years.
“The opportunity came about of opening our own [business and] supporting our own family without having to worry about, ‘Do I still have a job today or tomorrow?’ This here falls on my wife and I. If we make it, we make it. If we fail, it’s because of our own doing,” he added.
Cirillo hopes the expansion proves successful so that he could begin to hire full-time employees in the future.
He added that the business doesn’t consider his customers to be another “number” walking in the door.
“Our customers aren’t really our customers,” he added. “They become friends, family. We get to know them. Without them we wouldn’t be here. That’s the bottom line.”