Joe Belcher: Cooking up some big plans for local restaurant | CraigDailyPress.com

Joe Belcher: Cooking up some big plans for local restaurant

New Gino's owner loves Craig atmosphere

Joe Belcher displays the mock wine grapes and the painting of the Venetian canals that make up the decor of Gino's Neighborhood Pizzeria & Grill. Belcher is a trained culinary expert with years of experience in the restaurant industry who bought the establishment earlier this year and plans to bring it back as a lively place to be.

Since the age of 15, Joe Belcher has had a love for the kitchen, and after working in capacities like waiting tables and tending bar, his career in food is now at a new level.

Three months ago, Belcher purchased Gino's Neighborhood Pizzeria & Grill from Steamboat Springs restaurateur Jeff Hubler, and ever since then, he has been determined to put the Italian eatery back on the local map.

Earlier this year, the business suffered from a diminished clientele when its liquor license lapsed, an issue that was one of the first the new owner rectified.

Bringing back the spot for someone new to the area was made easier by the fact that Gino's was already well established.

"We've just got to get the word out again that we're back with good food, with beer, wine and drinks," he said.

The menu is largely the same, but Belcher has made some adjustments, such as his own recipes for marinara sauce, foccacia bread and Caesar dressing, as well as adding "homey" entrees like meatloaf and chicken fried steak, a blend of his own personality and dishes that are almost universally beloved.

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"You've got to keep everybody happy, and keep it simple with only the finest and freshest ingredients," he said.

Belcher has an associate's degree in restaurant management from Ferris State University and chef certification from American Culinary Federation, but most of his education has been on the job, ranging from being a butcher to an apprentice role as sous-chef.

The food and drink element is only part of having a successful restaurant, and Belcher plans to bring back popular features like Thunder Thursday, complete with live music.

Gino's employees have responded well to the change in ownership, especially Belcher's dedication.

"He's here all the time, and he really cares," staff member Justin Bingham said.

At first commuting from Steamboat, Belcher moved to Craig in October, and he said already he feels welcome.

The city reminds him of his hometown, Big Rapids, Michigan.

"I'm used to all the ins and outs of small town life," he said. "To me, that's America."

Contact Andy Bockelman at 970-875-1793 or abockelman@CraigDailyPress.com.