Clement Joseph “Joe” Milanzi was born in Milan, Italy in 1974. He grew up in Sicily and his earliest memories about cooking were of times he spent with his grandmother Rebecca. Joe immigrated to the United States in 1996 and he began working in the restaurant industry shortly after that, with the goal of someday owning his own Italian restaurant.
Joe went to work for Macaroni Grill in Montgomery, Alabama in 1999, where he began as a Sous Chef, then quickly advanced to become their Executive Chef. In 2002 he became Executive Chef for Olive Garden, also in Montgomery. In 2003, Joe moved to the Knoxville area, where he became Executive Chef for Carrabas. In 2007, Joe and his wife Munaa Bawazir began selling fast food at the Sweetwater TN Flea Market. They had a very limited kitchen there, but they were getting closer to owning their own restaurant.
In 2009, the first “Joe’s Italian Cuisine” opened in Athens, TN. After a very successful first year, tragedy struck. A fire in the office area caused sufficient smoke damage to effectively close the restaurant. It was at this point that Joe’s friendship with “Mr. Barry” began to blossom. Barry & Monica Cochran had eaten at Joe’s and had begun a friendship, but the circumstances surrounding the fire were destined to strengthen that friendship.
It was also during this time period that Joe and his wife Munaa became official US Citizens, with the ceremony being held in Chattanooga, TN in 2010.Joe needed a place to temporarily store his restaurant equipment until he could relocate. The Cochrans were attending the “Warehouse Church” in Etowah, who graciously offered to allow Joe to use some of their unused warehouse space. Within months, Joe had relocated to the old Zesto’s Ice Cream Shop in Athens, and by early 2011 the new location was successfully in operation.
Joe and Munaa ran their Athens location through 2018, when a new location was opened in Lenoir City. A larger and more elegant Joe’s, the Lenoir City location prospered and grew quickly. In late 2018, the decision was made to close the Athens location and focus exclusively on business in Lenoir City. Then, in early 2021 a new location was added in Maryville.
Anyone who has eaten at Joe’s Italian Cuisine knows that the best thing about eating there…is Joe! Joe is a people person and tries to visit with each customer personally whenever he can. Joe speaks five languages including his native Italian, Arabic, Swahili, limited Spanish and of course…English!
Joe says that his own personal favorite from his offerings is “Pasta Joe,” which comes from one of his grandmother Rebecca’s own recipes. I agree with Joe, “Pasta Joe” is my own personal favorite as well!