Penelope Ballas-Stewart loves her family. But enough is enough already. “I’m tired of cooking for my family,” Ballas-Stewart said, chuckling. “Staying home seven nights a week now, I’m cooking dinner all the time. I’m ready to get back to work.”
That is good news for fans of Luigi’s, the Greek and Italian restaurant open on Broad Street in downtown Augusta since 1949. When the restaurant closed temporarily, “We didn’t know what to expect,” Ballas-Stewart said. “We certainly didn’t believe it would be this long before reopening.”
“The restaurant is like home for our family. It would be like not having your mother’s cooking for six months. That’s how we feel.”
Luigi’s was open for two weekends in October as a soft opening, testing the waters.
The restaurant is already on the small side, and Ballas-Stewart said they are only able to take advantage of roughly a third of the available seats.
The high-backed booths form natural barriers, so they are using all twelve. If someone wants a table, they seat the table next to the booth and just don’t seat the booth. “It’s kind of like a jigsaw puzzle,” Ballas-Stewart said. “Unless they change guidelines, we’re looking at possibly putting in plexiglass so we can seat a few of the round tables.”
“You know, everybody asks us about how to make the Greek chicken at home. Really and truly the trick is the pizza oven. If someone wants to put a brick oven in their kitchen, that is the key. We can’t even recreate it at our home. Brick bottom oven, that is the key. Obviously we know all the ingredients, we come close at home, but it is the high temperatures.“Penelope Ballas-Stewart
“My dad still goes down every day and checks on things, makes sure the equipment is still functioning, we keep the air on. It’s a really old building, so if we completely shut it down, things would probably start to fall apart. We just kept maintaining and tried to wait it out.”
Ballas-Stewart said the family feels fortunate they own their building. “We’ve been established for over seventy years, we just don’t have the overhead a lot of the new restaurants have.”
A number of staff members have been checking in weekly, wanting to know when they are going to get back to work. “It’s not even due to financial needs because we’ve been making sure everyone is taken care of, but they are ready to get back to life as usual,” Ballas-Stewart said.
The menu will be limited to pizza, baked spaghetti, lasagna and Greek chicken. “We tried to get the main staples. As long as we have to limit seating and we’re open for just three days a week, we want to make sure everything is fresh,” Ballas-Stewart said.
“Sandy next door at the Sports Center got us a shared curbside parking space between the two businesses, so if someone doesn’t feel comfortable getting out of the car, we’ll walk it out,” Ballas-Stewart said. “I’ll say probably 40% of the business the last two weeks was takeout.”
It seems people are always interested in knowing if Luigi’s will ever move.
“We’re always looking, especially over the last six months. The shutdown has given us time to really examine and evaluate.” Ballas-Stewart continued, “We’ve looked around some, we’re always going to do what is best for the future of the business.”
The tricky part is the ambiance is so much a part of the experience. “Family, food and ambiance,” is how Ballas-Stewart describes the business.
“The jukeboxes, all of that would have to, if we ever did move, we would definitely try to recreate that feel. I don’t know if we would necessarily try to recreate everything because you could miss the mark possibly, but little hat tips here and there. But as per right now, we’re just focused on getting going again,” Ballas-Stewart said.
“So we are looking at a few things, but you know nothing is firm yet, so I can’t make any real promises or announcements either way at this time.”
But she was clear, if the family did ever choose to move the restaurant, they would not stray too far. “I don’t want to be disloyal to the people, Richmond County has supported us for so many years. I would always try to stay somewhere where we wouldn’t be out of reach to the customers who have been loyal to us,” Ballas-Stewart said.
Luigi’s will be re-opening Thursday, November 5th. Reservations available for parties of five or more.
590 Broad St., Augusta