More than 2 years later, pizza restaurant poised to open in Dubuque

The long-awaited arrival of a new Dubuque eatery is right around the corner, underscoring the broader sense of momentum in both the building and neighborhood in which it resides.

Bob Johnson, co-owner of Novelty Iron Works Building in the Millwork District, said Gino’s East will open within the next two weeks, adding that a specific date should be announced by the end of this week.

The pizza eatery already has hosted multiple “pre-opening” events, during which employees honed their skills by serving invited customers, which only has added to the buzz about the new food option.

“From the moment they first announced (Gino’s East was going to open here), there was a sense of excitement,” Johnson said. “It is an iconic Chicago brand, and many people here are excited to have that deep-dish experience in Dubuque.”

For excited local residents, however, the project has tested their patience.

Officials with Novelty Iron Works initially announced plans to bring Gino’s East to Dubuque in January 2019, a plan that never fully materialized. A new ownership group recently took the reins of the project, giving it new life.

Even so, bringing the restaurant to life during a pandemic — and with related labor issues — has been anything but easy.

Johnson said finding employees has served as the largest hurdle but noted that the restaurant recently made significant strides in that respect. Gino’s has hired about 35 people, and Johnson said its ultimate staffing goal is 45 to 50 employees.

These staffers collectively hope to serve up a distinctive culinary experience to area diners.

Gino’s operating partner and General Manager Harry Maglaris emphasized that deep-dish pizza won’t be the only highlight of the menu, noting that the meatball sandwich and Italian beef are also among the restaurant’s favorites.

“We are a scratch kitchen,” Maglaris said. “We make everything back in the kitchen from scratch. Everything is fresh.”

Upon opening, Gino’s only will serve dinner to dine-in customers seven nights per week. Soon thereafter, it will begin serving lunch and offering carryout and delivery services.

Maglaris said Gino’s also will serve customers at The Comedy Bar and Gary Dolphin’s Iron Bar, a pair of other establishments that also reside in the Novelty Iron Works building.

Gary Dolphin, part-owner of the bar that bears his name, believes Gino’s will be a hit among his customers.

“I think it is a fantastic continuation of the positive renaissance of that building and, in the bigger picture, the entire neighborhood,” Dolphin said.

Dolphin’s bar, which opened in the fall of 2020, is just one example of the continuing progress within the facility, located at 333 E. Tenth St.

The Novelty Iron Works building is on the precipice of another transformative project, Johnson noted.

Officials from a Minnesota-based development firm announced last year that they plan to create a 103-room hotel within the building. The original timeline called for the beginning of construction in early 2021 and the opening of the hotel by the end of the year.

Johnson acknowledged these timetables have shifted but said the project still is proceeding.

He said the pandemic disrupted supply chains and contributed to volatile material costs, which has complicated construction efforts. On top of that, a winter spike in COVID-19 cases coincided with the planned construction start date and prompted officials to delay the work.

“We are now anticipating the start of construction in September and the hotel opening in mid-2022,” he said.

Novelty Iron Works also is undergoing a phased transition that ultimately will turn its 76 apartment rental units into owner-occupied units, Johnson noted.

The facility is honoring all existing tenant leases but so far has already sold 20 units to owners.

“Within two to three years, that will be 100% owner-occupied,” he said.