MEMPHIS, TN (abc24.com) — Memphis legendary restauranteur and Italian cook, Ronnie Grisanti, is joining forces with a controversial strip club owner, Steve Cooper. Grisanti is planning to open a restaurant inside Stella Marris. That’s the Cordova restaurant-club under controversy since owner Cooper opened it. There were persistent rumors Cooper wanted to turn the place into a strip club.
Ronnie Grisanti has won numerous awards for his food, but money woes may have pushed him to broaden his horizon.
"Yeah, I’m a little surprised. I’m surprised that a guy like Ronnie would want jump into bed like a guy like Steve Cooper,” said the Vice President of the Cordova Leadership Council, Brian Stephens. The group has been keeping a close eye on the Stella Marris establishment.
Cooper fought for months to get a permit to allow scantily clad women to dance at his restaurant/nightclub Stella Marris. He finally got it, but women can't be topless.
"The problem is Steve Cooper doesn't own restaurants. He owns strip joints and every single time he's owned a restaurant he's turned into a strip joint,” said Stephens.
Now Stella Marris will have a new addition: Ronnie Grisanti, the man whose family is known for their Tuscan cuisine. They've had restaurants in these parts for more than 100 years.
"I think Ronnie's got a great reputation. He's a fantastic cook. I worry how long he'll actually be there. You can't forget that Steve Cooper already hired an Italian restaurant guy and let him go after a few months because he switched to a seafood restaurant,” said Stephens.
Despite numerous awards, the Italian businessman isn't doing well financially. He filed for bankruptcy in April 2010. Records also show he foreclosed on a home he owned in 2009. On top of that, he doesn't own "Ronnie Grisanti and Sons" on Poplar anymore. It'll shut down next week. ABC 24 News went to Grisanti's home in Germantown to find out if this new partnership with Cooper was indeed to help him financially but no one was home. Whether this strange partnership will last, remains to be seen.
"I hope that partnership works well. I would like to see Ronnie be successful. I just don't have a lot of faith in his partner,” Stephens told abc24 news.
The new "Ronnie Grisanti's at Stella Marris" is scheduled to open January 30th for dinner. Several messages were left with Grisanti but our calls haven't been returned.