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Total makeover Featured

5:24am EDT July 19, 2002

Paula Boykin is infuriated if she finds a burned-out light bulb in a restaurant. To understand her thinking, you need to look at it from her perspective -- the bulb is her nemesis.

Boykin, president of Spectrum Design Services, makes her living turning restaurants from simply passable into models of perfection. Her most recent project was Giovanni's Ristorante, one of a select group of four-diamond restaurants in Ohio and one of a very few that offers true Tuscan cuisine. Since she completed the Giovanni makeover, business is up 60 percent, says owner Carl Quagliata.

So what does it take to turn a restaurant around?

Continuous maintenance

Just because a restaurant looks great today doesn't mean owners should assume regular cleaning will keep it spotless. Boykin suggests an extensive wall-to-ceiling cleaning every six to 10 years, depending on traffic and competition.

High traffic adds to the amount of soil that can build up on seating upholstery (from spillage), on walls and ceilings (from smoke and fragrance), on carpeting (scuffs) and on tables (scratches). More business means that wear occurs faster, and old, worn tables and carpets aren't going to bring customers back.

Competition can factor in when a restaurant needs to update, as was the case at Giovanni's. Quagliata says sales had leveled off, so Boykin changed the restaurant's dark, basement-like ambiance to one that is light and warm.

Keep up with trends

Boykin warns that falling behind the competition by losing touch with current trends is a sure way to let sales drop off.

"We wanted to get rid of that 1970s look and lighten it up," says Boykin about Giovanni's outmoded look. "We used warm cherry woods, classic Corinthian columns and a color palette of golden rod mixed with the fresh colors of basil and sage to create an air of elegance that is both inviting and sophisticated."

She also added one private dining area -- complete with a fireplace -- that is closed off from the dining room. Another room, nestled between the main dining room and the kitchen, can be closed off with drapes.

Boykin used space in the foyer to house the restaurant's wine reserves, building wine racks right into the walls around the entryway to make good use of space.

Downtime is lost business

To ensure that customers didn't think the storied restaurant was going under, Quagliata had Boykin work on the main dining room for the first three weeks and kept the bar room open. Then, he shut the restaurant completely for three weeks to finish the work.

That, he says, resulted in a smooth transition for his customers, who were waiting when Giovanni's reopened its doors. It also helped protect Quagliata's half-million-dollar investment in the renovation while minimizing the risk of losing customers.

Boykin considers the project as success. And, there's one detail she's proud to share -- you won't find a single burned-out light bulb in Giovanni's.

She'll stake her reputation on it. How to reach: Spectrum Design Services, (216) 241-8450; Giovanni's Ristorante, (216) 831-8625

Courie Weston (cweston@sbnnet.com) is a reporter at SBN Magazine.