When Jesus Medrano bought Gina's Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria in October, he wanted to change the direction of the restaurant. After three months as the new owner, Medrano has developed a new vision for the Friendswood eatery that fuses traditional Italian cuisine with a hint of French technique.
"We play a little bit with the menu," he said. "We have [extensive] experience, and we take chances with anything in Italian and continental food."
The restaurant opened its doors in 2012. However, Gina's struggled after two years and Medrano was called in to consult with the previous owners in March and April of 2014.
He said he was offered ownership of the restaurant in September and saw its potential. Although Medrano said he was initially apprehensive about taking ownership of the restaurant, if he waited any longer the business would have folded.
"I saw the potential in the business, and when I had the offer—and the offer was good—I jumped all over it," Medrano said. "I still see the potential we have ahead of us. We are going in the right direction, but my expectations are not there yet."
In reinventing Gina's Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria, Medrano took a family approach and constructed a New York-style restaurant with an open kitchen for customers to watch cooks prepare each dish from scratch. A 20-person private room—known as the Wine Room—is also available for customers to reserve for special occasions.
Medrano said there are no extra fees for reserving the private room, which can be reserved over the phone.
More than 20 years of experience in the restaurant industry has helped Medrano rework Gina's menu to include traditional Italian mainstays in addition to in-house recipes.
Weekly specials are introduced on the menu as Medrano and his chefs continue to experiment with certain dishes.
"We have all of the regular Italian seasoning that has to go [in our dishes] even if we serve a beef Wellington," Medrano said. "We can use the French style and have some Italian seasoning to blend it in."
Medrano's blend of Italian and French styles has created a list of customer favorites, including lasagna, chicken Mediterranean pasta and the Mike and Jen pasta. Medrano said he is meeting with his chefs to further expand the menu to feature new weekly specials and to introduce brunch dishes.
As Medrano continues to rebuild the restaurant, he is also rebuilding the image of Gina's Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria within the Friendswood community.
"When you see a lot of changes in a place it is not good for the business," he said. "Right now, since [Friendswood] sees we are serious about the business and we are here to please them, and we are here to keep our consistency, that is what makes a good business. Now the Friendswood community is coming back to see what we are doing."
Medrano said he is working with various groups within the Friendswood community, including Friendswood High School, the Friendswood Fire Department and the Friendswood Chamber of Commerce as well as local charities to strengthen the restaurant's name.
"My goal is to make [Gina's Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria] the place to go," he said. "If I'm going to Gina's, I'm going to have a great time. I want people to come here and have a great meal."
Although Medrano said there are no immediate plans for expansion or opening another location, he is always thinking of avenues to continue to grow the eatery's customer base.
Medrano said he is working to attain a full liquor license to expand the drink options beyond beer and wine.
"There is always a future for growth," he said. "Right now, we want to make [the restaurant] a model for anything we do in the future."
Gina's Italian Kitchen & Pizzeria
129 W. Parkwood Ave.
Hours: Mon.–Thu. 11 a.m.–9 p.m., Fri.–Sat. 11 a.m.–10 p.m., Sun. 11 a.m.–9 p.m.