It was purely by accident that the owner of the area’s newest restaurant found Hillsville. Judging by the food offered at Juliano’s Italian Grill on Main Street, perhaps it was divine intervention for the people of Hillsville.
Ayman Anwar opened the town’s new eatery about a month ago in the same location where Mile High Burger operated previously. While Juliano’s will continue to offer the same burgers that Mile High’s customers came to love, he has also added gourmet pastas, gourmet salads and 30 varieties of gourmet pizza to the menu.
Anwar’s pizzas were so loved in Northern Virginia, his Italian pies were voted the best pizza in the upscale Leesburg area after just 10 months in the business. Ironically, he was looking for a new location when he happened upon Hillsville by mistake.
“It’s funny. After I sold my business in Loudon County and Fairfax, I was looking on my iPhone to buy another business on Craigslist. I went to Craigslist and I hit North Carolina instead of Northern Virginia and my finger rolled across Southwest Virginia,” Ayman said. “I looked for businesses and found businesses in Hillsville. I called a gentleman and got the address and thought it was maybe an hour away. I found myself driving two hours, three hours, four hours and five hours and I said, ‘Wow.’ But I came here and loved the place.”
After spending two days in Hillsville, Ayman came to the realization that Hillsville was just begging to have a high-quality Italian restaurant. He also wanted to bring something new that people liked, but without expensive prices.
“Mr. Craig (Teller) called me and said you have to drive many miles to get Italian food. He saw my menu online and he said you are going to make it,”Anwar said. “He gave me a big push and they are happy about it.”
Currently, Juliano’s offers such Italian entrees as chicken parmigiana, chicken rosa, balsamic glazed chicken, chicken limone, parmesan crusted chicken, chicken and broccoli alfredo, veal parmigiana, manicotti, lasagna and eggplant parmigiana. A wide offering of gourmet pizzas range from steak, white, New York Daily, and Pesto Lovers’ pizza, to Florentina, Alfredo Pomodoro and BBQ Hawaiian pizza, among others.
“I think we scared our customers when we opened with 22 pizzas, but we love our job, so we expanded to 30 pizzas,” said Anwar with a laugh as hearty as his menu. “And we have very good pasta, too. At first we were still selling many burgers, but now we are selling more Italian food than burgers.”
Juliano’s will even deliver within a five-mile radius for a delivery charge of $1.50. Speaking honestly, Meeks said she didn’t think Italian food would do well in Hillsville. But after people got over the shock of the atmosphere change inside (going from a sports-themed restaurant to a more upscale look with a multitude of historic photos of Hillsville), customers love the new offerings.
“Everybody that comes in says they love Italian food,” Meeks said. “We don’t sell hardly any burgers now. And the prices are still reasonable. On average, a couple can have dinner for $25, and that is including the drinks.”
Ayman said he is also extremely proud of the customer service at Juliano’s. At one point during the interview, he got up from his seat to welcome a family into his restaurant, further proving his point. Without good customer service, nobody will want to come back, regardless of how good the food might be, Ayman said.
“We have the same staff from Mile High. They volunteered to work with me and I really appreciate it,” Ayman said. “The service here is so good. I am so proud of them.”
The inside of the restaurant is full of historic photos of Hillsville from years ago. An old Nuckoll’s Drug Soda Foundation sign hangs on the wall near the front entrance as well. Meeks said customers have enjoyed the historical aspect, something the restaurant hopes will bring tourists inside. Ayman said he originally wanted to decorate with Italian centerpieces, but fell in love with the old photos.
“It really worked. People love it and they feel at home,” he said. “We want to be a part of the town and embrace its history. It’s a nice town. The people are very nice and unique, they are family people.”
Anwar wants to make his restaurant available for birthday parties and meetings. Pizza that was voted number one in its area of Northern Virginia would certainly make for a good party.
“The pizza is never greasy,” Meeks said. “The crust is perfect. People say they don’t know how he does it.”
Fresh food is very important to Anwar.
“Everything must be fresh,” he said. “Frozen is bad because you don’t know how much time has passed from the freezer until the time it reaches your plate.”
So far, Anwar’s customers seem to agree. Deanna Higgins brought her daughter and granddaughter from California into the restaurant Thursday. For Higgins, it was her third time to Juliano’s since its recent opening.
“I enjoy the food. I missed the Hardware and I don’t like hamburgers all the time,” Higgins said. “This is good food.”
Added Higgin’s daughter Dedra Bennett, “The atmosphere is warm and inviting. I didn’t expect this before I walked in.”
Radio station 103.5 Thunder Country will be broadcasting live in front of Juliano’s on Jan. 4. The restaurant will be giving away balloons and $10 off gift certificates that day.
“We are so excited to have Ayman open Juliano’s. We were very impressed with his concept and most of all his food – it is some of the best Italian American food I have tasted,” said Sonny McIver, who partners with Craig Teller in leasing the building to Anwar. “The pizza will be a hit. He owned a similar restaurant in Leesburg, which was a local’s favorite. I think this is exactly the kind of restaurant that will bring people into downtown Hillsville – great, homemade Italian and American food in a warm friendly atmosphere. I hope people will give it a try – I think they won’t be disappointed.”