Judy Holmes always wanted to open a family restaurant. She knew the kind of place she wanted, and the quality of cuisine she would offer. She thought about it for 20 years while she worked in Italian eateries, learning her way around the business and the food.

In 2007, all of Judy’s dreaming lead to Zolo’s Italian Restaurant on Fifth Avenue North, a place in the heart of Downtown Franklin that serves lunch and dinner in its intimate, dimly lit dining room. She runs the business with her two sons, Brian and Tim Holmes—chef and sous chef, respectively. It’s literally a family affair.

“I’ve got the whole family working here!” Judy says . “One granddaughter is a hostess, and another is a server. My son-in-law helps in the kitchen and with maintenance, and my daughter does a little bit of everything.”

Zolo’s offers all the Roman staples – veal saltimbocca, sautéed picatta, five-layered tortelloni and creamy pastas. Judy’s a mainstay in the back-of-house, making “Mama’s Triple Chocolate”—a cinnamon butter fudge cake soaked in rum sauce—when customers are lucky, or helping whip up her ultra-cheesy lasagna recipe.

Though Brian and Tim man the kitchen, they say the entire family can run the gamut when it comes to restaurant duties.

“We all know the recipes, so we all get back there,” Brian says. “It’s unique, and we thrive off of it because we get to experiment.”

Judy waves the cup of soup she’s holding, a creamy new concoction Brian had been playing with a few minutes before.

“Like this. It needs more rice though, Brian,” she says. “Now Tim makes the best French onion soup I’ve ever had.”

“And Brian’s red sauce is to die for, a little on the sweet side,” Tim adds. “What about our eggplant? I’ll go make some.”

While Tim heats up the skillet, Judy explains how the signature dish draws more customers than anything else on the menu. The secret, she says, is to make sure it’s a little on the crispy side. Thick slices are covered in homemade seasoned breadcrumbs and deep-fried, smothered in provolone cheese and then seeped in Brian’s red sauce. Eccolo!

“We have couples from New York, Florida and Alabama who visit us when they’re in town for the eggplant. We’re the first place they stop,” Judy says. “I’ve never been anywhere that makes it like we do.”

Judy, Brian and Tim have all spent decades in the restaurant business; the Zolo’s menu is made up of dishes they’ve accumulated over the years.

“It’s just old recipes, like my grandmother’s meatballs,” Brian says. “It’s simple, good Italian food.”

Though the Holmeses say they don’t label Zolo’s as “fine dining,” the restaurant certainly exudes a certain date-night appeal. The dining room is cozy, the lighting is low, and the family brings in live music on the weekends.

“We support the local artists,” Judy says. “We had a harp player last weekend, and this weekend it’ll be a jazz artist.”

Though the Holmeses hail from Ohio, they have lived in the area for more than 20 years. They say the neighboring atmosphere extends from the business community to personal relationships.

“When people get here, it’s home,” Judy says. “No matter where you’re from. That’s how we felt, and that’s what we always hear.”

For information about Zolo’s, visit them at 119 5th Avenue North or on their website.