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RANGELY I Just because John Payne worked at a restaurant for almost 15 years before owning one himself doesn’t mean he knew what he was in for in Rangely.
“Running a restaurant in Rangely was different than running a restaurant in a bigger city,” said Payne, who has owned Giovanni’s Italian Grill with his wife, Sandy, for 10 years as last Friday. “I had to become more adaptable. I had to change directions from where I thought I was going and learn my clientele.”
Still, working his way up from being a dishwasher in 1970 to the manager of Garramone’s Pizzeria, a Lakewood Italian restaurant, throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, helped with what mattered most.
“As far as running a restaurant, I had the confidence that I knew what I was doing,” Payne said. “I may have lacked knowledge of how to run a business, but I’ve learned that as I’ve gone along.”
Providing a place where family and friends can gather for good food wasn’t always on the Paynes’ bucket list. By the mid-1980s, John and Sandy realized the restaurant business meant long, late hours that weren’t conducive to family life and that didn’t always gel with their newfound Christian faith.
By 1985, John had left restaurant work to spend more time with Sandy and their young children, Jennifer and Jason.
In 1991, after several years in door and hardware sales, John was given the opportunity to become part-owner of glass installation business SonLite Glass in Rio Blanco County. The business, owned by longtime friend and former Garramone’s employee Keith Fitzgibbons and his wife, Cindy, needed a branch in Rangely. So John, Sandy, Jennifer and Jason, then in 10th and seventh grades, respectively, headed west.
“We were excited to see what God had in store for us,” Sandy recalled. “We were nervous, especially for our kids, since they were teenagers. Plus, after we went home (to Lakewood), I didn’t recall seeing any trees here!”
While John developed the glass business in Rangely, Sandy took a job with Giant Step Daycare before earning her associate degree at Colorado Northwestern Community College. Eventually, she took on a full-time position with the college as a network specialist.
For a while, the routine was comfortable and the paychecks dependable. But after more than a decade in the glass business, the Fitzgibbonses and Paynes decided it was time for a change.
In 2002, an idea that the Paynes had toyed with for years began to take shape. Marvin and Alice Boleng were interested in selling Max’s Pizza, a restaurant that featured burgers, sub sandwiches and appetizers in addition to pizza.
At the time, Jennifer was married with children and Jason had just been graduated from Mesa State College. After weeks of thought and prayer, John and Sandy took the first steps to purchase the restaurant and building.
The process took time, but, in September 2003, John opened the restaurant as Giovanni’s, the Italian version of his name. Jason, who had graduated with his bachelor’s degree in marketing, joined his father to manage the restaurant while Sandy worked for CNCC for another year before she took over managing the business portion of the restaurant full time. Over the years, daughter Jenn and daughter-in-law Amy would help, too.
“We had always wanted to own our own restaurant,” Sandy said “We love the hospitality side of it; it was the idea of feeding people and making them happy. John loves getting to cook. So from that standpoint, I was really excited.”
But John’s vision of renovating the restaurant’s ambiance, menu, work space and exterior happened more incrementally than he had hoped. While the Paynes purchased two clay hearth ovens from longtime Rangely restaurant Magalino’s soon after Giovanni’s opened, other changes had to wait.
It was a year before the Paynes could remodel the dining room, followed by a kitchen remodel, exterior painting and stuccoing, then equipment upgrades in subsequent years.
One thing that changed almost immediately, however, was the menu. Jason helped add a mix of fresh Italian options, while other items were removed or replaced with Italian versions.
Now, 10 years later, Sandy said that a changing, varied menu helps keep diners coming back.
“It took people a while to do something other than hamburgers,” she said. “Slowly but surely, we’ve won them over.
“They love the strombolis and they love the pastas although the burgers still give the Italian dishes a run for their money,” she said. “We would be foolhardy to give them up.”
While Sandy enjoyed her stint at CNCC, she says the restaurant is the right place for her and John as together they’ve eased into the comfortable familiarity of knowing what each of them does best.
“Overall, we work together really well; our strengths and weaknesses kind of complement each other,” Sandy said. “When things are difficult or it’s been a tough day, we know we’re in it together. That’s part of what makes it special.”
Taking the journey together has also meant, over the years, finding ways to give together.
In the last decade, Giovanni’s has found dozens of ways to support local organizations, families and individuals. Donating 100 pizzas to the Rangely Moms Super Bowl fundraiser for several years running, providing meals to families with new babies and sponsoring this week’s Harvest Bowls Festival are just a few of the ways.
“From our world view, that’s what it means to be a Christian,” John said. “Matthew, (Chapter) Five (in the Bible) tells people to love your neighbor, so, yeah, we try to do that … We can’t do everything we’d like to, but we do what we can.”
On Friday, the Paynes thanked those who have supported them for the last decade.
Ten-dollar pies across the menu brought in about triple the average number of pizza orders for a Friday, Sandy said. Gift-card giveaways, trivia questions and coloring pages for kids to bring back for free pizza later rounded out the day.
The Paynes said that their staff and customers, along with help from their children and grandchildren, have helped make Giovanni’s what it is today.
“We usually get very good people, and many of them have been with us for years,” Sandy said. “That has really been a strength. And we’re so appreciative of our customers’ caring and support …It’s special to get to be here, involved with people’s lives, their celebrations and their difficulties. Being involved that way is pretty cool.”
But as the community joined to celebrate with the Paynes, plenty of people expresses thanks of their own to the Paynes.
“When Blake (her son) was so sick this year, we received a note from Sandy letting us know dinner would be on them one night when we got home,” Rangely resident Cheri Smith said. “Just knowing someone cared about our family meant so very much!”
People across the community have similar stories to share.
“As a past employee, I have seen (the Paynes) give away enormous amounts of food to those in need, to those celebrating a new baby or a birthday or for just being a good customer,” said Michelle Brown, who the Paynes supported during the loss of her nephew and father.
“John and Sandy have a passion for their restaurant that I have never seen before,” Brown said. “They want the best – the best food, the best service, the best employees, the cleanest restaurant – and they have made Giovanni’s all of that!”