BROOKSVILLE — When Joe Giarratana discusses what ignites his passion, you can’t miss the emotion in his eyes. An Italian-born immigrant, Giarratana stepped onto American soil in New York as a 17-year-old with broad aspirations and undaunted ambition. He grounded his roots with a foundation rich in Italian culture and spiritual values.

Nearly 50 years have passed since that historic moment in his life. Now Joe and his wife, Donna, prepare to celebrate 39 years catering to Hernando County through their popular eatery, Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant.

Those who have followed the couple and their success excitedly await the annual 99-cent spaghetti dinner, a 39-year tradition, set for Oct. 5. From 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., patrons can enjoy the famous 99-cent spaghetti in a drive-thru fashion.

Plans for the event are currently in the works and will include raffle drawings with prizes. All proceeds from the annual event will support PACE Girls of Hernando County.

“We started out selling pizza and sandwiches,” Giarratana said of the restaurant’s early beginnings.

It later expanded, both in physical space and in menu options, becoming a full sit-down restaurant with a diverse menu selection of mainly Italian-inspired dishes.

Located just 6 miles east of Brooksville, Papa Joe’s is a hometown favorite among residents and visitors to the area. The food is prepared fresh and from scratch each day. Giarratana creates the recipes and delegates much of the preparation to his staff. Most dishes are Italian-inspired, of course.

“It is different flavors with an Italian twist,” Giarratana said.

Interestingly, Giarratana’s skills in the kitchen came more from his time spent in New York than from his childhood in Italy. His first job, he said, was working as a temp, rolling meatballs.

His passion, after 39 years, is communitywide. Papa Joe’s is a huge supporter of local organizations and charities. So it was fitting that when the restaurant suffered a catastrophic fire in late January 2014, the community came together to support the rebuilding of Papa Joe’s, which was completed in 2015.

Interestingly, after the fire, the restaurant still treated patrons to the annual 99-cent spaghetti feast. It was a drive-thru that year, also, since the facility was nearly gutted.

While the restaurant is still operating at 50% capacity in its dining room, its ability to serve the large numbers who support the annual event could not have been possible under CDC guidelines.

Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant is open Tuesday through Sunday, with 50% seating capacity. All employees are also adhering safety guidelines by wearing masks.

This anniversary event takes place on a Monday when the restaurant is typically closed.

Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant is at 6244 Spring Lake Highway, Brooksville. For more information or to remain updated on plans for the 39th anniversary, visit the restaurant’s Facebook event page or call 352-799-3904.

Photos by KIM DAME

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Papa Joe’s Italian Restaurant has been serving Hernando County for 39 years. It will celebrate its 39th anniversary with a traditional 99-cent Spaghetti Feast on Oct. 5. This year, the event will be a drive-thru in an effort to service the huge number of patrons expected while still maintaining CDC guidelines for COVID-19. The dining room will remain closed. The restaurant traditionally supports a local organization or charity by donating all proceeds of their annual event. This year the beneficiary will be PACE Girls of Hernando County.