Romano's construction expected to take about four months

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 13, 2012

By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Nick Georgiou sighed when the roof of Romano’s, his burned-out Italian restaurant, finally came down this week so rebuilding can begin.
“When I saw the roof coming off, all the stress came off of my shoulders too,” Georgiou said. “Until now, it has only been on the page. Now, I see the reality.”
Georgiou said he’s not sure why it’s taken so long to get the project up and running. A Dec. 7 electrical fire gutted the popular Italian eatery on West Innes Street.
The new Romano’s will feature an expanded kitchen, larger bathrooms, more spacious waiting area and new interior layout. Architect Jon Palmer will retain the exterior brick walls, reminiscent of the building’s history as a Pizza Hut.
Demolition should be complete within a few days, and construction will take about four months once plans are approved, said Neal Hiatt, vice president of general contractor Restoration Plus Services Inc.
A Duke Energy worker on Thursday scaled a pole to disconnect power to the remaining burned section, which needs to come down before construction can start. The brick walls still stand, and Restoration Plus will clean the soot from the interior exposed brick.
“We could have knocked it down completely, but we thought it was architecturally interesting enough to keep it,” developer Victor Wallace said.
The Wallace family runs the company that owns the Romano’s property, Merritt-Innes, named for the nearby intersection. Wallace serves as chairman of the board.
Wallace said it would have been cheaper to raze the building and start over, but the brick walls and trapezoid windows give the place the nostalgic look of an Italian-American restaurant from the 1960s or ’70s.
Insurance will cover replacement costs, and Merritt-Innes will pay to expand the building and for all permanent fixtures inside the restaurant. Georgiou will foot the bill for upfitting the eatery, including booths and equipment, Wallace said.
The total project should run about $500,000, he said.
Owners will make additional improvements to the landscaping and parking lot, connecting it with Castaways behind Romano’s. Merritt-Innes owns both properties.
Restoration Plus will construct a new gable roof on Romano’s, different from the original hip roof.
“We are excited about the opportunity to take care of somebody that has obviously taken care of people and run a good business here,” Hiatt said.
Georgiou, who also owns The Palms and Capriano’s, said most Romano’s employees found work at his other restaurants and will return to Romano’s when it reopens.
When Dumpsters arrived on site, Georgiou said former customers sought him out to say they are excited to eat at the new Romano’s.
The feeling is mutual.
“I miss my customers,” he said. “I can’t wait.”
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.