Bologna has a first name: Joe


By Connor Evanoff

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Joe Bologna’s has been serving homemade Italian food to the Bluegrass since the 1970s.

Founder and owner Joe Bologna began cooking at the age of 15 and carried his talent into the Air Force during the Vietnam War. A general was so impressed by Bologna’s cooking for 3,000 men that he promised to help Bologna open a restaurant once the general retired.

After the Air Force, Joe and his wife, Anne, traveled to Kentucky for a wedding. Anne suggested calling the general to find out whether his investment offer still stood.

“Anne says, ‘Why don’t we look up the general and see if he’s still interested,’ so we called him up and went over to his house,” Bologna said. “Anne and I talked it over and gave a month’s notice for our jobs and just came down.”

Once the Bolognas arrived in Lexington, it became clear that the general had cold feet about opening a restaurant, leaving the couple seemingly stranded.

The original restaurant vision was to run a steak and seafood restaurant, but the Bolognas received praise for some of Anne’s homemade pizza dough during a dinner with neighbors.

“I went around trying all the pizza places in town and everything was frozen and poor quality and I thought, ‘I might go ahead and give this a shot’,” Bologna said.

With a loan he acquired through his father and his last $800, Bologna was able to put money down on a space for their new restaurant.

In 1989, years of growing success enabled Bologna to move the pizzeria into the infamous current location, a former Jewish synagogue on West Maxwell Street.

Boasting stained glass windows and original hardwood floors, this sanctuary provides a historic setting to kick back and enjoy the flavors of “Joe B’s” famous Italian dishes.

“Growing up Italian, my grandmother was a fantastic cook and she had 11 kids,” Bologna said. “It was the biggest treat for us going over on Sunday because all your cousins were there and if you didn’t eat two plates she thought you were sick.”

According to Bologna, the restaurant prides itself on is the use of fresh, high quality ingredients in every dish — from the California-grown tomatoes for the marinara sauce, to the 100 percent ground chuck hamburger.

Though everything on the menu at Joe Bologna’s is popular, one item has been the bread and butter of the business (literally) for over 30 years — the fresh-baked garlic-buttered breadsticks.

After one week of business, Bologna’s brother visited Lexington and mentioned a delicious snack he had seen at an Italian festival in Detroit and Bologna took the inspiration for his own restaurant.

“Joe B’s” business has evolved over the years from a small college hangout to an established, family-friendly restaurant, but Bologna assures customers the food quality will never change.

“I couldn’t change it if I could,” Bologna said. “Everybody is worried about high carb, but that’s what I am.”

No matter if it’s a quick lunch on a college budget, or a date night on the town, Joe Bologna’s is sure to deliver some of the best food in town with an atmosphere to match.

“Whether you’re the poorest student or the wealthiest person, we take care of everybody the same,” said Bologna.