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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Giardino is seen on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

Jake Leonard and Oscar Ixcot have spent years working in the restaurant business locally and when the opportunity to open their own place on Missionary Ridge on Westside Drive came up, they jumped at the chance.

The two met at Il Primo with Leonard, who has also worked at St. John's and Easy Bistro, working the front of the house and Ixcot cooking in the back. That dynamic will continue at Giardino with the addition of Leonard's wife, Nikki Pruitt handling bar duties and Ixcot's brother, Adrian, joining him in the kitchen.

Leonard said the two had some discussion, though fairly brief, over how the menu should look.

"I love Italian wine," he said. "It has become my strength and Oscar has being cooking Italian dishes for years, so we said let's do Italian. Oscar felt like this would be a great place to cook the dishes he's been cooking up."

Quick bite

Hours: Bar opens at 4 p.m., kitchen at 5 p.m. Closes at 9:30 Monday-Thursday and Sunday (closed July 4), and stays open until 10 p.m. on Friday and Saturday.

Location: 2503 Westside Drive

Phone: 423-648-2222

Specialties and price range: Soups and salads are $5 and $6. The antipasto menu offers bruschetta for $15 and fried calamari for $18. The rigatoni al gorgonzola is $15.

The menu will feature both Northern, which are typically more farm-based, and Southern, which are more seafood-based, Italian dishes.

"We are both from the [American] South so it will be through the purview of Southern comfort dishes," Leonard said. "Comfort dishes, like Chicken Parmesan, that people expect."

Much of the produce used for the menu will come from Big Sycamore Farm in Decatur, Tennessee, and Leonard said the side dishes will change daily based on what is available. The goal is to eventually make all of the pasta in house. Among the house specialties are the Veal Marsala and the Rigatoni al Gorgonzola.

"It's decadent and also savory and earthy. It's very mushroom driven and a great choice for someone who wants to be adventurous and enjoy something familiar."

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Giardino is seen on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

The building is currently owned by Lawrence Mills and has been operated as 2503 Station Grill. Mills and Leonard are neighbors and met while Leonard was taking his child for a walk around the block. Over time, he learned that Mills was looking to get out of the business and the timing, and location, seemed right.

He noted that Sugar's Ribs is across the street and businesses like Charlie's BBQ and Yellow Racket Records on East Main are opening nearby.

"We live in the neighborhood and things are happening around here and we want to be the tip of the spear," Leonard said.

The two are in the process of buying the building outright and high on the to-do list has been to remodel the place that for many years was known to locals as a late-night, very private space where local officials and leaders gathered to party and gamble.

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Staff photo by Troy Stolt / Giardino is seen on Wednesday, June 30, 2021 in Chattanooga, Tenn.

"Yeah, I've heard," he said. "I met a woman who said she bartended there 40 years ago. She said she saw a lot of things there. We put three windows on the side of the building, and it was very obvious that it had intentionally been walled off."

The entire space has been redone and Leonard said he hopes to add curtains to one of the three rooms so it can be used for private events such as parties, but also for wine and food tastings.

"The renovations that we have done make the inside seem like a night and day difference."

The restaurant is currently only open for dinner in an effort to control quality while looking for staff who can match the standards Leonard and Ixcot want," Leonard said.

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

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