Chipotle to open atop ashes of Papa Joe’s in Brooksville

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By Frank Fencil | frank.fencil@springhillcourier.com

BROOKSVILLE — Gourmet burrito chain Chipotle announced today that it will build its first restaurant in Hernando County on the site of Papa Joe’s, the Italian restaurant that burned down earlier this year when a chef left a toaster plugged in.

Chipotle regional manager Derek Woolery said replacing an institution like Papa Joe’s, which opened in 1919, would be difficult but that he hoped the Mexican grill would eventually become a cornerstone of the community in its own right.

“So many in Hernando County are upset every time a Mexican moves in and replaces a nice Italian family in their neighborhood, but we think they’ll enjoy this swap,” Woolery said. “We think this is going to be an integral part of Brooksville and Hernando County for years. We estimate as many as 12 percent of all local teenagers will at one time or another work for us, so we’ll be touching a lot of lives.”

Woolery said Chipotle executives first heard of Hernando County and its insatiable desire for one of its restaurants by reading the Facebook comments at the end of news stories about other new businesses coming to the area.

The original Papa Joe opened the Italian restaurant when he was 14 years old, just three days after emigrating from Italy. At 109, he is the county’s oldest resident and, along with ice cream magnate Papa Clyde, one of just two remaining living members of the Hernando’s Six Papa Mafia, which ruthlessly ruled the local dining scene for decades.

Because of Papa Joe’s failing health, several family members said they had decided not to tell him of his restaurants demise or Chipotle’s plans to build atop its ashes.

“He would have so much to know those things,” said Anthony Gillardi, one of Papa Joe’s 29 grandchildren. “If he found out, it would only make him stronger, and we’re all just pulling for a painless passing right now. We don’t need him trying to fight people again.”

Frank Fencil

Frank Fencil is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades' experience. He has uncovered government corruption, toppled dirty police forces and covered two foreign wars as an international correspondent. He chose to return to his native Spring Hill in hopes of giving his hometown the quality watchdog journalism it deserves.

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