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Relationships are the key to a successful restaurant for Mohamed “Mo” Soliman.

“I like it in a small town,” Soliman, 37, said. “You can have a relationship. You can establish that personal connection. You know the customer. They know you. They feel like family.”

For Soliman, it has been a long journey to becoming a successful restaurateur in Eastern Tennessee. Born and raised in Egypt, he worked as a diesel mechanic on ships as a young man and traveled throughout Europe, the Middle East and North Africa repairing them.

“For my work, I would go to other countries,” Soliman said.

He had visited the United States with a friend in 1997 and made a decision to immigrate to the country.

“[I moved] for freedom,” Soliman said. “I wanted a better life. Isn’t that what everyone is looking for?”
He initially moved to New York but did not enjoy the major metropolitan city. Soliman had a friend in Marion, Va., so he moved to rural Virginia, where his friend got him a job at an Italian restaurant.

He learned the restaurant business, in particular, an Italian restaurant. He did everything from clean the dishes to cook and wait on customers. Soliman enjoyed the work and liked the customers he met. He also had an entrepreneurial streak. Soliman had learned how to run a successful Italian restaurant and wanted to open his own. He opened the first Giovanni’s in 2005 in Blountville and Boone’s Creek in 2007.

He said he enjoys opening restaurants in small communities because it’s easier to establish relationships and loyal customers. “I love to live here,” he said. “I like the area. I love to live in a small town. People know you. … You know the customers, and they know you.” Soliman married a local girl from Clinchco, Va. The couple has three kids.

He considers his establishment fine dining because they do not offer delivery. The menu is a mixture of pizzas, calzones, burgers and sandwiches. He has kept the menu basically the same at all the restaurants.

“I love what I do,” Soliman said. “I love my job.”