James “Jim” Lemaster was born on February 8, 1938 in Catlettsburg, Kentucky. He grew up in Wheelersburg, Ohio and graduated from Wheelersburg High School in 1957. He met and married Nancy (Grant) Lemaster and spent time working at Westinghouse Corporation in Columbus followed by working midnights at Detroit Steel in New Boston, Ohio. Jim’s parents were bakers and had always concocted pizzas in the family kitchen.
At that time, there were few, if any, restaurants in southern Ohio that sold pizza. Seeing an opportunity, Jim and Nancy decided to open up a pizza parlor. “We just thought it might be a good thing”, Jim said. Jim and his family began working on recipes for both the sauce and the crust. He turned to an Italian friend who helped him come up with the name Giovanni’s, after they had decided that Lemaster’s just did not sound Italian enough.
Jim always had a love of restoring old cars and had been working to restore a 1930 Model A Ford at the time. He sold his beloved car to purchase a $300 pizza oven and Jim and Nancy then opened the first Giovanni’s Pizza restaurant in Wheelersburg in 1964. Jim would spend the days rolling out dough for the restaurant and then go to work operating a crane during the midnight shift at Detroit Steel.
Giovanni’s food became very popular but his volume was limited in the small town of Wheelersburg. Seeking higher sales, Jim sold his restaurant in Wheelersburg in 1967 to his brother Gerald Lemaster and moved to nearby Ashland, Kentucky. There, Jim and Nancy opened up another Giovanni’s Pizza restaurant and became only the second pizza place in Ashland.
For three years, Jim and Nancy operated the new Giovanni’s restaurant in Ashland with much success. The popularity of Giovanni’s food in the area grew tremendously, and often times, Jim would be asked by family members, friends, and customers seeing their success how they too could get started in the pizza business. Realizing yet another great opportunity, Jim started the process of helping these individuals open up other Giovanni’s restaurants through franchising. Jim would help those interested get started, eagerly showing them how to make the food and run the business while providing them with the recipes, supplies, and advice they needed to be successful. Jim continued to make Giovanni’s signature food and recipes for his restaurant, as well as for the other Giovanni’s franchises that opened. It wasn’t long before Jim realized he was selling much more food in bulk supplies to the new Giovanni’s franchises than he was using at his Ashland restaurant. At that time, there were no regular pizza suppliers in the area, so Jim sold his Ashland Giovanni’s location to his brother-in-law and opened up an Italian food wholesale to supply the new Giovanni’s Pizza stores as he began to focus on Giovanni’s franchising. “It wasn’t my intention to stay with just one restaurant. I wanted to do bigger things, see the business grow,” Jim said.
In just a matter of a few years, Giovanni’s had new franchises opening up across the region providing the area with the same great Italian recipes that Jim, Nancy, and his family had come up with years ago.
Throughout the last 50 years, people throughout the region have grown up with Giovanni’s and Giovanni’s has continued to grow at a steady pace to now include 110 stores in six states. Jim always knew that the key to success was taking care of people while continuing to focus on making great food. “We don’t have uniformity as far as building and décor, but we do have a good quality food,” he said.
Throughout the years, Jim never forgot where he came from, or the people that had helped him along the way. He realized his success would never have been if not for his customers. Jim’s focus on quality, community, and people has been instrumental in Giovanni’s continued success and are reflected today in our core values. Jim’s legacy continues as not just a pizza place, but as Giovanni’s Pizza; local-owned restaurants by great people achieving their dreams, serving one-of-a-kind quality food, and sharing Jim’s vision by becoming a vital part of their local communities.
Giovanni’s continues to help people achieve their dreams today with very hands-on and personalized approach to franchising, offering one of the lowest cost franchises available today, and always looking for local franchisees who are active both in their stores as well as in their local communities. Giovanni’s also remains true to Jim’s selfless values with a focus on serving quality food, providing great service, and community involvement. Perhaps there is no better way to speak of Jim’s selflessness and the values Giovanni’s was founded on than the inscription that was written on Jim’s casket that simply stated “May the work I’ve done speak for me.” That was Jim, a man that was able to reach his dreams by focusing on helping others achieve theirs.