Rachel Chastain-Gross wasn’t sure her date was going to show up.
After meeting online, they made arrangements to meet at Leonardo’s By The Slice, but after waiting for 15 minutes she almost gave up on him. She is glad she didn’t.
Now, almost 10 years later, Chastain-Gross and her date are married with two daughters.The family dines there every few months and the couple visited the restaurant on the anniversary of their first date, Sept. 9, 2010, every year.
“We have two daughters now and it’s fun to take them there and think: ‘This is where we first met. Now we are here with our children,’” Chastain-Gross said.
Chastain-Gross and her husband are just one example of many people who have memories at Leonardo’s By The Slice, which has been located at 1245 W. University Ave. since 1973.
Ken Peng, more commonly known as Ken Eats Gainesville on Facebook, said the first time he went to Leonardo’s By The Slice as a UF freshman in 2004 when he walked with his friends from Beaty Towers.
“Its visibility and convenient location make it a good spot for a lot of students to visit in between classes, or for UF employees to visit on a short walk,” Peng said. “Not much has changed inside of it either, and its owners have been actively involved and committed for decades.”
Brian Johnson, an employee for 25 years and now co-owner of Leonardo’s By The Slice, can attest to the consistency of the restaurant.
“We’ve been pretty consistent as far as we run things,” Johnson said. “What’s changed is the landscape of Gainesville. We’ve been holding true to what we do as a local business, but what's changed is there are more corporate places.”
In August 2016, UF bought Leonardo’s By The Slice, leaving the future of the restaurant unknown. The university plans to build a new school of music where the restaurant is located. For now, Johnson and his employees are staying put because their lease was extended through June of 2020. They haven’t started looking but Johnson said he’d like to move to a smaller space.
Johnson said since UF purchased the restaurant, their property taxes have tripled.
Johnson added they are looking to do a combination of Leonardo’s By The Slice and Bistro 1245 possibly somewhere on the northeast side of Gainesville, near Satchel’s Pizza or Public and General.
In the meantime, Johnson said he is going to keep doing what he loves: making pizza.
Producing something people tell you they love, whether they’re regulars or first-time customers: “that’s the high,” said Johnson.
With the future of Leonardo’s up in the air, Johnson said he wants people to come in and experience the restaurant while they can.
“We’ve been here since 1973, we’d love to see you come in,” Johnson said. “Who knows what’s going to happen? Come in now because you don’t know what the future is going to hold for us. If you want a slice of awesome pizza, I’d say do it now and then hopefully keep coming back.”
After 46 years, Leonardo’s By The Slice is a staple of Gainesville culture.