Fire destroys iconic Brooksville eatery

Papa Joe's had been open for 32 years

Lindsey Carollo stood in the parking lot of Papa Joe's Itallian restaurant, staring in disbelief at the rubble that was once her place of employment for the last 18 years.  It was the only job she ever had, and she had never been out of work.

That was until fire tore through the single story building early Friday morning, leaving the structure a total loss.

"I was devastated.  I was in tears," Carollo said.  "It's horrible to see it like this.  I feel like this is my home away from home and it's hard to sit here and look at it," she said.

Remnants of ovens and cooking appliances could be seen inside the burned out windows where the kitchen once was.  Charred tables and chairs, along with melted bottles of wine were visible on the opposite side.

"I got chills up and down my spine," said Teri Hedgepath, a Brooksville resident of ten years who just held the reception for her mother's funeral at Papa Joe's a week earlier.

"We were just treated with the utmost respect," Hedgepath said.

Joseph "Papa Joe" Giarratana, 64, an Italian immigrant, founded the restaurant in 1981 with his wife Donna.  Originally just a small space with a couple of tables, Papa Joe bought up the adjoining spaces and expanded the restaurant to include the entire building.  

It was one of Brooksville's iconic Mom and Pop spots.

"Whenever people come into town you say 'Let's go meet at Papa Joe's,'" said Carla Ashburn, who's church members frequently held functions at the restaurant.  Ashburn was as much upset about the loss of the restaurant as she was about Papa Joe.

"He's always been a great man of faith.  And always there when we needed him," Ashburn said.

Now some customers are promising to give back, by helping Giarratana rebuild.  

John McCormick remembered when the restaurant was built, just a couple of years after he moved to Hernando County in the mid 1970's.  

"Had the best lasagna I've ever eaten outside of my sister," McCormick laughed.  "I've been coming here for years, and Joe is a great guy," he said.

Hernando County fire investigators said they are looking into some electrical wiring in the ceiling near the kitchen area as a possible cause.

Giarratana said he has no intention of letting the fire ruin his business.

"If we said level the building, let me pack the money, we do a disservice to the community," Giarratana said.

"I'm 64 years old and I don't think I'm done yet."

For people who have scheduled upcoming events at Papa Joe's, the owner is asking people to call his Tampa office at (813) 501-7272 or visit his website at




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