Restaurant is an investment for one family

Austin's Restaurant is more than just a place to grab something to eat.

It's a building that is constructing a future for a young boy and providing family entertainment to the community.

The combination restaurant/game room/alcohol-free karaoke center - located on U.S. 278 - is owned and operated by Joe Gioiosa and his wife, Debra.

Gioisa's 9-year-old grandson, Austin May, helps cook, clean, make change and wait on customers.

"I wanted to get something going for my grandson," said Gioiosa.

When May gets older and graduates from college, Gioiosa said the boy is welcome to take over the reins of the business.

May nods his head enthusiastically at the idea and said he "sure would like to" and "can't think of anything" he dislikes about the business one recent evening at the eatery.

The restaurant serves steaks, hamburgers, seafood and other fresh-made delectable delights and Gioiosa plans to expand the menu.

"I'm constantly trying to develop new food items for the menu to cater to everyone's taste," said Gioiosa.

Coming soon to the menu will be buffalo wings, a salad bar and stuffed crabs, he said.

"So many people want to go out and eat, but they need someone to watch their kids - here you can sit down and eat a meal and the children can play in the game room," said Gioiosa.

A family-owned business, Gioiosa also does everything he can to help pump dollars into the area.

"I buy all my meat from Reid's and my produce from Campbell's," he said. "I try to buy everything locally so the money stays in the county."

Austin's Restaurant first opened its doors February 2008 as a game room.

"Every Friday and Saturday I saw kids hanging around McDonald's with nothing to do," said Gioiosa. "I thought, ‘They're going to get in trouble,' so I opened the game room to help keep the kids off the street."

The game room has three pool tables, a foozball table and video games.

"My favorite game is eight ball, but I haven't got the hang of it yet," said May.

The game room soon morphed into a restaurant and karaoke center with an outdoor patio.

"We have some good singers in Barnwell," said Gioiosa, as a smoky rendition of Merle Haggard's "Silver Wings" drifts across the restaurant delivered by Elko resident Neal Richardson.

"It's not loud - you can talk over it," said Gioiosa. "People often come in to eat and stay after hearing the music."

He said about 40 to 45 "regulars" come to Austin's Restaurant every weekend to belt out songs ranging from country to rock to beach music.

And on some weekends, bands come to the place to provide live entertainment, said Gioiosa.

Shortly after Richardson is done singing, May walks into the kitchen as Gioiosa sizzles some hamburgers with an order for cheese sticks.

"Austin is learning the value of working," said Gioiosa.

Hard work is something Gioiosa has never avoided.

He has operated two restaurants before and he has a day job at B&B Ford in Barnwell as finance manager before he throws on the chef hat in the evening.

Twelve years ago, he had open-heart surgery and it didn't slow him down.

"The doctor said I could get disability, but I would probably die in six months (from inactivity), he told me to ‘just continue working.'"

Gioiosa said he is excited about the future of Austin's Restaurant and he individually talks to his customers so he can keep working at making diners' experiences better.

"Even if there is something wrong - I want to know so we can correct it," he said. "I plan on staying here for the long haul."

Austin's Restaurant is open Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday 6 - 10 p.m. and noon to 4 p.m. on Sundays. Karaoke is 8 p.m. - 12 a.m. on Friday and Saturday. It is also open for receptions and parties. Call (803)-686-0700 for information.