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Mon, Sept. 23

Zito building new life as restaurant owner

Tuscan Kitchen Owner Johvonn Zito and Chef-manager Doug Mattheis show off a pizza.<br>
Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier

Tuscan Kitchen Owner Johvonn Zito and Chef-manager Doug Mattheis show off a pizza.<br> Photo courtesy Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier

Johvonn Zito began driving from Chino Valley 10 years ago to enjoy Italian food at Giovanni's Pizzeria in part because the owners had the same last name (but were not related).

Giovanni and Johanna Zito later moved to Albuquerque, and the restaurant went through two new owners.

Johvonn Zito, who worked in his family's restaurants in Elmira, N.Y., and briefly owned a catering business in Chino Valley, said owning a restaurant of his own "has been a passion."

He continued, "I think this area needs a good, home-cooked authentic Italian meal."

He seized an opportunity after Tony and Billie Caputo closed Giovanni's a year ago. He opened Tuscan Kitchen in January at the same location.

Zito, a builder since 1979, applied his skills of the trade by remodeling the restaurant. He said he removed the glass door to expand the entry to provide more room for patrons to wait for a table.

"We did a remodel, and we did a facelift on the inside of the building, along with expanding that entry," Zito said.

Zito acknowledged a challenge that has existed ever since a restaurant opened on a street that generates largely commercial traffic: location.

However, Zito said former customers of Giovanni's are returning to patronize Tuscan Kitchen, adding he draws a diverse crowd that includes families, seniors, business people, high school students and a baseball team.

Tuscan Kitchen also is bringing in groups for luncheons as well as birthday parties, Zito said.

He said he also supplies meals to area hotels, and delivers all entrees as far away as the Prescott Gateway Mall.

Zito said he enjoys receiving compliments from patrons. Some customers have asked to meet the chef, so Doug Mattheis comes out of the kitchen to greet them.

The menu

The cuisine is more northern than southern Italian, Mattheis said.

"It's not spicy," Mattheis explained. "It's fresh tomatoes, basils, garlic. It's simple food."

And it is cooked to order, Mattheis said.

Zito said, "We have a big pot, boiling water all day long."

Tuscan Kitchen has a lunch menu from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and dinner menu from 3 to 9 p.m. However, customers may order items from lunch and dinner during business hours, Mattheis said.

The lunch menu consists of sandwiches, salads, pastas, burgers and side dishes. Sandwiches range in price from $7 for smoked ham to $9 for Italian and veggie submarines. Salad items cost anywhere from $3 for Italian coleslaw to $7.99 for soup, salad and a soft drink.

The price range for lunch pastas is $5 for macaroni and cheese to $9.99 for lasagna.

Burgers and steamed hot dogs cost $6.50.

Appetizers with dinner cost anywhere from $3 for a side of homemade fresh-cut fries to $7 for Italian sausage with marinara sauce.

The dinner menu contains a wide selection of pastas and pizzas. Pastas range in price from $9 for fettuccine alfredo, spaghetti marinara and penne with marinara to $15.99 for seafood mare.

Pizzas range in size from 12 to 16 inches, peaking in price at $17 for a 16-inch white pizza.

Customers may order gluten-free pastas and pizzas.

Pizzas, chicken parmesan, fettuccine alfredo and lasagna are popular dishes, Mattheis said.

"I think people are familiar with those items."

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