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‘It’s real, it’s not fake’: Giovanni's makes customers 'part of the family'

Pictured is the lobster ravioli at Giovanni’s in Malibu, which features Sicilian-style, handmade lobster ravioli topped with a sauce a zesty pink sauce. Photo by Chris Bashaw/22nd Century Media
Ashleigh Fryer, Senior Editor
10:36 am PST February 18, 2014

Pappardelle in a homemade roasted marinara sauce is what Giovanni serves Italian transplants or tourists who have come stateside to explore Malibu but are hungry for the tastes of home. 

“We serve what your grandma — if you had an Italian grandma — would make,” eight-year veteran employee of Giovanni’s Damien Moody said. “You walk into this place and you feel like you’re at home.”

The care the Palermo-native and owner, founder, chef and namesake of restaurant, Giovanni Mazzola, puts into crafting every aspect of the dish, from the handmade pappardelle pasta to the slow roasted garlic and basil infused chunky marinara sauce, exemplifies the idea behind the wooden sign hanging in the dining room which he points to when asked about the atmosphere of his establishment. “Welcome Friends,” the sign reads.

“Everyone is kind of like family here,” Moody said. “I’m not even Giovanni’s son but he calls me junior. Half the people who come here think we’re related.”

Mazzola’s commitment to family and food has been his life’s work. He learned his craft from his father during his youth in Italy. 

Mazzola’s family moved to Brooklyn, NY when he was 17 and he’s “been working ever since,” as he puts it.

Mazzola moved to Malibu in 1984 and opened Vitorrio, an Italian restaurant in the Pacific Palisades. 

But, when the cozy space on Pacific Coast Highway in Malibu where Giovanni’s has now stood for nine years, became vacant, Giovanni capitalized on the opportunity and has now become the longest running restaurant to occupy that location in decades. 

That success can be attributed to a multitude of things, according to Moody. 

“This isn’t the kind of place where if you drop a piece of silverware on the floor we’re going to think you have no class; we’re always building relationships with and between the customers,” Moody said. “People tend to come to us because we’re not ever-evolving. The quality is going to be the same every time you come.”

Despite “traditional and old-school” roots, though, Moody said Mazzola is not afraid to take chances with his cuisine. Mazzola’s Southern Italian beginnings appear throughout the menu in subtle and intriguing ways taking
the form of seafood specialities and interesting cheese blends in certain dishes. 

“He brings a certain flair to the restaurant,” Moody said. 

“But people will never come in here worrying about quality, quantity or breaking the bank.”

But, more than anything, it is the genuine demeanor of the staff, paired with the genuine quality of the menu that makes a Giovanni’s experience valuable, according to Moody.

“People are always coming in here wanting to see [Giovanni]; he’s a character,” Moody said. “It’s real, it’s not fake.”

Other dishes not to miss...

• Lobster ravioli in a pink sauce — This dish features Sicilian-style, handmade lobster ravioli topped with a zesty pink sauce.