FARGO—He's kept the name and location out of respect for the 14-year history of the eatery, but the new owner of Grazies Italian Restaurant and Grill is putting his own twist on things, right down to the homemade sauces and bread he serves.
George Plaku recently bought the restaurant in Fargo's Multiband Tower, 2000 44th St. S., that opened in 2002 and closed in February 2016 under the ownership of Lexstar founder Robert Leslie.
After a soft opening last week, Plaku and a small staff officially opened April 17 with the goal of serving from-scratch Italian classics like pastas, soups and salads as well as wraps, pizzas, seafood and homemade desserts.
The Albanian-born restaurateur has been cooking since his childhood, making a name for himself as he owned and operated six restaurants in Nebraska. He most recently was behind Peter Mandy's in Hays, Kan., which he closed in late January when the lease was up.
Still, his move to Fargo wasn't exactly planned until recently.
"At the beginning, I thought it was a joke," he said about getting a phone call from one of Leslie's sons who was familiar with his former restaurant in Lincoln, Neb., and wanted to see if Plaku might want to take over Grazies.
He liked what he saw when he visited Fargo, and said he also saw potential in a city with plenty of chain restaurants but not as many of the mom-and-pop eateries Plaku has operated for years.
"You have to be passionate about it," he said.
For Plaku, that means being an active part of the behind-the-scenes kitchen work, whether it's making fresh pizza dough and bread, mixing up three kinds of soups each day or putting together a unique spread of homemade desserts that change daily.
He said he found his passion for cooking by watching his grandparents in the kitchen. Even after all these years, he said he learns something new every day.
"I'm proud of what I do," he said.
Plaku kept a couple of items from the former Grazies menu, but he said patrons can expect an entirely new set of lunch options, dinner entrees, seafood and desserts under his watch.
The restaurant also serves beer and wine for now, with plans to move up to a full slate of liquor in the coming weeks.
He also said he's willing to make food to order for customers, so if they don't see something on the menu or want to make sure they get gluten-free items, he can make it as long as he has the ingredients.
But don't worry about calling him Chef Plaku, even if he's in the kitchen seven days a week—he said he'd rather people care about the food and experiences his restaurant can provide than his title.
"I'm looking to impress folks with what I put here," he said, motioning to a table. "If I fail here, the title doesn't count."
What: Grazies Italian Restaurant and Grill
Where: Multiband Tower, 2000 44th St. S., Fargo
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday
Phone: (701) 492-5151