Downtown Visalia trades Italian food for Indian

(Rigo Moran)

New ownership purchases Little Italy business and property to replace it with Hungry Elephant Bar & Grill, an Indian eatery

VISALIA – A longtime restaurant is saying “arrivederci” to downtown Visalia to make way for a new taste of cuisine.

Little Italy owner Joe Vaccaro has sold his longtime Italian bar and restaurant to make way for a new eatery of a different flavor. The buyer is businessman Ashok Patel, who purchased both the property and the business to open Hungry Elephant Bar & Grill. The menu will be Indian food. Patel hopes to open his new place this summer.

The Italian eatery at 303 W. Main has been a fixture across from the Fox Theater since the mid-1990s. The interior was adorned with murals of Italy and was a traditional restaurant featuring pasta plates and wine.

The last five years have been difficult for the restaurant after it suffered water damage while firefighters worked to extinguish a fire that burned down three businesses on Christmas Day in 2018. Just as the restaurant was ready to return to normalcy, the pandemic shut it down for a year beginning in February 2020.

Patel’s business will be the latest addition in efforts to redevelop an important block in downtown Visalia. Work is already underway to replace the rubble of the two-story building located at 213-217 W. Main St. with five new restaurants. Dubbed “The Mix,” the ground floor will be a collection of marquee local eateries, including Main Street mainstay Quesadilla Gorilla, and two mobile businesses making their first go at brick and mortar locations, Bombshell Beans and Scoops Ice Cream.

The fourth space on the first floor has yet to be named. The second story was going to be a fine-dining experience of Fugazzis bistro overlooking Main Street, but owner Mike Fligor pulled out of the project in order to sell his flagship restaurant to longtime employees Gabriel and Silvia Diaz. Other Fugazzis in other cities were sold off to other employees.

Just up the street, House of JuJu opened its newest California location featuring gourmet burgers, salads as well as local craft beers on tap. Located at 114 W. Main St. #101, the new restaurant is next to Book Nook in the former Picnic Sandwich building – now transformed and owned by Family Healthcare Network with their corporate office upstairs.

The owners of the House of JuJu first opened in Clovis and now have a location in Morro Bay and in Idaho too. The name comes from owner Scott Glenn and wife Julie, whose nickname is JuJu.

“Today, with multiple locations, we are so grateful to have expanded our family, from our guests to our employees,” JuJu writes on the eatery’s website. “Our hearts desire has always been to make a difference in the lives of others, even if it’s just by simply spreading kindness. We’ve been blessed to have huge support from our local community, family, and friends along with fantastic teams of people. You are why House of JuJu exists!”

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