Lovoy’s honors its legacy at new SoHo location
For more than four decades, Lovoy’s Italian restaurant was a mainstay on Greensprings Highway in Homewood. Part of its enduring charm was that it remained almost completely unchanged all those years. Its familiar menu and staff, dark wood paneling and red-and-white checked tablecloths were comforting reminders to loyal regulars that it wasn’t about to change all willy-nilly. So when Lovoy’s current president, co-owner and fourth-generation family member Zac Lovoy, decided that it was time for a change, that decision wasn’t made lightly.
Since the 1980s, Lovoy had been thinking of moving the restaurant to swankier digs. “I felt like it was time to step it up,” he says. When Grey House Grille in SoHo closed in 2009, Lovoy knew he’d found the perfect location. The prime spot on the plaza of the popular Homewood development offered tall ceilings, a larger capacity dining room and coveted patio space for alfresco dining. With his family’s blessing, Lovoy put the plan into motion.
Despite the many positives of the move, Lovoy knew it risked upsetting the restaurant’s regulars. Some customers who had been eating at the restaurant for decades swore they’d never visit the new location. “Some people thought we were crazy,” co-owner and longtime family friend Jim Levinson says. “They said you’re tearing apart a good thing.”
Crazy or not, the move was made, and customer response has been overwhelmingly positive, according to Lovoy. “We’ve had customers say, ‘You’ve changed everything, yet changed nothing,’” he says. “The food hasn’t changed, the prices haven’t changed. We could have raised our wine prices, because this area can support a higher price, but we didn’t change that, either.” Lovoy admits that service is still a work in progress but adds that he’s upped the staff from 18 to 43. “We’re going through some growing pains,” he says. “But we’re working on getting it to the level of the old location.”
The black menu with the glossy red “L” on the cover still looks much the same on the inside as it always has. It still boasts “four generations of family recipes” with the baked shells–Lovoy’s grandmother’s Sunday dish recipe–being the top seller. Lunch now features a menu that Lovoy calls “light and bright,” with paninis, flatbread pizzas, salads and fruit plates.
Inside, the dining room features some of the memorabilia from the old location. Vintage maps and menus that Zac’s grandmother brought back from Italy have a place of honor on the walls, and the mantel above the fireplace is full of photos of all four generations of Lovoys. In the hallway to the kitchen, snapshots from the Greensprings location are a comfort to regulars and an interesting diversion for new diners.
Still, some of the old location’s best-known details didn’t make the transition. “It took 50 years to make that décor,” Lovoy says. “You can’t just buy it.” The new location has an elegant, neutral color scheme and dramatic red tablecloths with black linen napkins. Lovoy says he spent four weeks just making a decision on those tablecloths. “I just couldn’t decide between the checkered or the red and black,” he says with a laugh. “I kept going back and forth and was driving my wife crazy.”
Adding some homegrown art around the restaurant was an easier choice. Birmingham sculptor and Lovoy family friend Frank Fleming made the colorful spirit sticks that hang above the mantel. More local art graces the bar area: a dramatic copper panel by Royal Miree and small animal sculptures by Nelson Grice. On the walls of the dining room hang evocative photos of Italy taken by husband and wife photographers Brian and Lauren Philen of Homewood.
But the most eye-catching piece in the restaurant is the custom painting by Tracy McKay in the event room. The painting is a tribute to all four generations of Lovoys, complete with the family members’ names on the painting and symbols to represent family members who have passed away. On the left of the painting is a stylized depiction of the port of Palermo and the city’s seal–Palermo being where the Lovoy family originated. On the right of the painting, a replica of the handle to the front door of the original restaurant and the name “Imperial”–a nod to the Imperial stoves Lovoy’s uses–intertwine the family’s history with that of the family’s restaurant.
While some things have changed in the 50 years since Zac’s grandfather opened Lovoy’s, the determination to do what is best for the restaurant, even when it might seem ill-advised, has not. “When my grandfather moved the original Lovoy’s from downtown to Greensprings in 1964, there was nothing out there but semi-gravel roads and fields,” Lovoy says. “And everybody told him he was crazy, too.”
Lunch is served at Lovoy’s from 10:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Happy hour runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., with specials on high-gravity beers and select wines. Thomas Trussell plays music on the patio on Tuesdays and Thursdays. To learn more, call (205) 870-9811 or visit www.lovoys.com.
Tina Hatch is a freelance writer and editor who blogs at www.tinahatch.blogspot.com. She is also a frequent contributor to Birmingham Weekly.