The year was 1956 when Frances and Michael Geraci opened their eponymous Italian restaurant in University Heights. After five years they moved to their current location
(2266 Warrensville Center Rd., 216-371-5643), where they have been feeding multiple generations of happy families for more than 60 years.
Come spring, the iconic Italian eatery will open a second location, this one in the former home of XO Seafood & Oysters, which opened in 2014 as XO Prime Steaks and closed at the end of 2017. Taking shape in Executive Commons (29425 Chagrin Blvd.), across the street from Beechmont Country Club in Pepper Pike, the new location will offer management, staff and guests a number of amenities not present at the original shop.
“One of the main reasons we went there was because all of the things we don’t have here [in University Heights],” explains Greg Spoth, who runs the business with his wife Marti Geraci-Spoth and three of their five children. “Despite being very busy, we have very little parking, never had a party room, there’s no place to sit with a drink while waiting for a pizza or table, here we have no patio, there we have a beautiful patio. I’m pretty excited about it.”
When it opens in May, the interior will have a completely different look and feel from both XO and the original Geraci’s. Following some “pretty extensive remodeling,” the space should conjure the mood and spirit of a Tuscan cottage. There will be seating for 40 in the bar, another 75 in a pair of dining rooms, and an additional 50 on the front-side patio. A private dining room will be able to accommodate groups up to 50.
As for the food, Spoth says, “If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.” Diners can look forward to an identical menu, with identical pricing, although the chefs likely will enjoy some liberty to offer weekend specials. And as for that nettlesome cash-only policy, in play since the Eisenhower administration, that will be scrapped in favor of a more progressive financial system. Spoth even confessed that the old spot might soon bow to public pressure and accept credit cards.
After six decades in business, a restaurant builds up a deep well of goodwill, and the family is banking on that resource to propel them to success at the new location.
“Another big reason we’re going out that way is that a lot of our clientele has moved out that way – to Pepper, Solon, Moreland Hills, Orange,” notes Spoth. “They still come down here once a month, but we’re hoping up there we might be able to get them once a week.”
For those keeping track, Geraci’s will be the latest in a long line of restaurants that have occupied that spot, some with very short life spans. Ones that come to mind include Flo and Eddie's, Il Davide, Gaylin's Tavern and Marbella, not to mention XO and its successor. Admittedly, the history concerned the owners, but in the end, they felt that theirs was a name, brand and concept that transcended a “cursed” location.
“The one worry was the stigma of the building not being a good location for restaurants over the years, but I think between our reputation and our food, we’ll overcome that,” Spoth asserts. “When you think about it, there are a lot of families with kids out there and there’s no family friendly Italian restaurants you can go to without breaking the bank. We’ve always been super kid friendly.”