Grassa Gramma will greet diners with a Gothic feel when it opens in early January. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Kevin Grangier had a vision for an extraordinary Italian restaurant. That vision is about to be unveiled to the public.

And when customers first walk through the doors of Grassa Gramma sometime during the first week in January (a hard grand opening date hasn’t been announced yet), those people might think they’ve stumbled through a time portal and into a castle somewhere near Milan.

The restaurant, located in the Holiday Manor Shopping Center, has been built out with stone and dark wood accents, peppered with antiques that give the place a Gothic feel.

A centerpiece fountain in the main dining room makes one feel like they’re in a Medieval courtyard, while a stairway up to balcony seating hints at a theater.

The huge entryway features a 25-foot-tall ceiling. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

When you walk through the heavy wood doors for the first time, you’re met with a 14-by-37 foyer of sorts with a 25-foot-high ceiling, a huge, wood hostess station and iron gates leading into the dining room.

A second dining room, which will be available for private events, is situated to the right, while a bar is immediately to the left of the entrance.

The focal point of the bar is an 18th-century altar that overlooks a thick mahogany bar lined with “barstools” that more closely resemble thrones.

Grangier says restaurant is the culmination of months spent traveling to auctions and to distances in about two dozen states, collecting the artifacts necessary to make the vision come alive.

He says he feels his vision has been achieved, as the 7,000-square-foot space that long was home to Emperor of China restaurant is completely transformed.

“Most everything in there is antique or period — the art, a lot of the furniture, most all the dining chairs, the tapestries, the bar,” says Grangier, who also owns L’Moo Fine Steakhouse, The Village Anchor and The Sea Hag Pub, and Kevin’s Picnic.

The bar features an 18th-century altar. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Grangier explains the restaurant, from start to finish, took about a year and a half to make a reality. But the inspiration happened almost instantly when he saw the space, which is open and slopes downward like a theater.

“I knew my next concept was going to be Italian,” he says. “When I first saw it, what immediately came to mind is the opera. The vision of what I wanted happened very, very fast. Over the past year, what I’ve been doing is just executing and making it as close as possible to my original vision. And it is.”

Grangier mentions the word “Gothic” as part of his vision, and adds that he considers the restaurant to be “sort of Godfather Italian — it’s very dark and very castle-y.”

He says the name roughly translates to “plump grandmother,” which reflects what the dining experience will be like: “When you think of the Italian grandma, you envision sort of a plump grandma who throws tons of food in front of you.”

Grangier says the main kitchen is downstairs, while upstairs there’s a bakery kitchen that also has space for chef’s table service. He says entrees will average roughly in the $18-$30 range, and the menu is loaded with antipasti, salads, wood-fired pizzas, spaghetti and other pasta dishes, plus a variety of entrees. Pizzas start at $15, while the high end of the menu is a halibut brodetto for $48.

The space was formerly home to Emperor of China restaurant. | Photo by Kevin Gibson

Back in May, Gramma Grassa hired former Wolfgang Puck Chef Robert Rice as the executive chef to develop the menu, bringing with him some of his own grandmother’s creations in the process.

Grangier worked with architects Doug Schmitt and Dana Zeusch on the design, while Mark Campisano served as lead contractor on the project.

From the moment guests take a look around the massive entryway, they will know they’ve landed someplace quite different than most Italian restaurants.

“My goal, as with all my restaurants, is to set expectations when you walk in the door,” Grangier says. “It was important to me that when you walk in, you know you are in for something very, very special.”

A soft open will happen as soon as this weekend, and Grangier indicated that a grand opening announcement will come soon. Reservations for the opening week will be available on OpenTable.com.

Grassa Gramma is located at 2210 Holiday Manor Center.

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Kevin Gibson
Kevin Gibson tackles the 3Rs — retail, restaurants, real estate — plus, economic development. He loves bacon, loathes cucumbers and once interviewed Yoko Ono. Check out his books, “Louisville Beer: Derby City History on Draft” and “100 Things to do in Louisville Before You Die.” He has won numerous awards for his work but doesn’t know where most of them are now. In his spare time, he plays in a band called the Uncommon Houseflies.Email Kevin at [email protected]