Joseph Gardella couldn’t stay out of the game.

In the weeks and months after shutting down his Little Italy restaurant Joe Benny’s, he began doing catering events and pop-ups, selling meatballs at The Dive in Canton.

“I was always itching to get back in” to the restaurant industry, he said. “The past year has been the most difficult of my life,” he added, as he took a step back from the kitchen in an effort to heal his ongoing back issues. “I love doing this shit. ... I have to do it or I’m not happy.”

Germano's Piattini and Cabaret, which shut down during the pandemic, was acquired by Little Italy resident Ben Sudano. (Christina Tkacik)

But following a recent surgery, he said Little Italy resident Ben Sudano reached out to him about opening a new restaurant in the space formerly occupied by Germano’s Piattini and Cabaret at 300 S. High St. The restaurant will be called “Benny’s,” a reference both to Sudano, whose nickname is Benny, and to Gardella’s former eatery.

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When it opens sometime in June, customers can look forward to a combination of Joe Benny’s signature classics, like focaccia pizza, as well as other Southern Italian and particularly Sicilian dishes. “It’s like Joe Benny’s, but all grown up,” Gardella said. Both he and Sudano are Sicilian by ancestry, and Gardella recently returned from a trip to the island. “We’ve got some stuff up our sleeves,” he said.

Gardella said he’s begun reaching out to former staffers at Joe Benny’s to offer them jobs, but says “unfortunately some of those folks have moved on.” The restaurant’s chef will be Vern Smith, who has Southern Italian roots. That means Gardella will spend less time in the kitchen and more time dealing with customers. “My true thing is the front of the house,” he said. “I’ll be able to not stress myself out.” His goal is to “try to heal and do it a little differently this time.”

The new restaurant should be a shot in the arm for the neighborhood, which has seen a decline in the number of eateries. Sudano, the CEO of Sudano’s Produce, also purchased Aldo’s Ristorante Italiano, which closed during the pandemic.

“I can’t sit back and be part of the decline,” Gardella said. “The neighborhood is part of me.”

Christina Tkacik is the food reporter for The Baltimore Banner.

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