Words by Justin Hunter | Images by Blakeney Clouse
Johnny Brusco’s is more than a pizzeria. It’s a new generation of entrepreneurs taking root in the city.
The business is owned by Janie Wilson and her daughter, Bethanne Wilson Hix. The Wilsons are a part of the business root system of Jasper. Janie’s husband, Jim, is the owner of S&W Powersports, a thriving business that is celebrating its eighth decade of existence. Her mother, Edith Ivey, opened Carol’s, the first women’s exclusive boutique in Jasper, in 1957. Mrs. Ivey was a businesswoman way before her time and instilled a work ethic in her daughters and granddaughters.
“We wanted to start a local, family-oriented restaurant,” Janie says. “We are thankful for our customers and love seeing smiling faces.”
Janie and Bethanne didn’t want Johnny Brusco’s to be another hole-in-the-wall pizza joint that sold only pizza, wings, and beer. The two expanded the original dinner menu to include more Italian dishes such as lasagna, spaghetti and meatballs, and other pasta dishes. Their innovative recipes have begun to shape the Johnny’s pizza menu nationally, with the corporate office even adopting some of Jasper’s dishes.
There is one unique dessert item that only the Jasper location carries—the White Chocolate Strawberry Shortcake—which is a tremendous hit with customers. Since the shortcake is a little time-consuming to make from scratch, the restaurant requires a 24-hour notice when ordering a whole cake.
Johnny Brusco’s is also the only restaurant in town that sells brick oven pizza. “Everything is fresh at Johnny Brusco’s,” Bethanne says. “We use only authentic ingredients, and nothing is prepackaged here. All of the pizzas are hot and fresh right out of the oven.”
Formerly in a hilltop storefront near Walmart, the restaurant, despite corporate’s hesitancy to move downtown, relocated to the old Woolworth’s building in 2016. Within six months of the move, however, the store was booming. The Jasper location is one the best pizzerias in the entire franchise.
“I truly felt this was going to be a good move,” Janie says. “I know my town. I know my people. We needed to go back and support downtown. I grew up down here, and I felt like the future is here. I know my heart is here.”
Janie and Bethanne incorporated relics of Jasper’s history into the décor of the new location. The hostess’ red door came from Elmore’s 5 & 10 Cent store, the promotional glasses were from Carlos’ Pool Hall, and the original pews occupying the waiting area are from Jasper’s First Baptist Church. These relics are symbolic of Jasper’s downtown revitalization, and the old roots are producing new fruit.
“It’s scary, but fun. It’s a lot of responsibility,” Bethanne admits, “but I love working with the people here. I couldn’t ask for a better staff, and they help out a lot. We work as a whole at Johnny Brusco’s, and everyone works together. I’m not just the owner or the boss.”
Janie says she has high hopes about the future of the store. “Our family has over 60 years of serving people here in Jasper. I’m hoping our community will support Johnny Brusco’s and Bethanne’s little family as they have always supported us.” 78