IBJNews

INSIDE DISH: Italian eatery tables expansion amid downturn

Back to TopCommentsE-mailPrintBookmark and Share
Inside Dish

Welcome back to IBJ’s video feature “Inside Dish: The Business of Running Restaurants.”

Our subject this week is Augustino’s Italian Restaurant, the south-side eatery that earned a second lease on life in 2006 when new operators bought the struggling spot and quickly increased sales. The new owners had grand plans to expand, but the shaky economy and slumping receipts have put them in a defensive posture, hoping to simply solidify operations at the current locale.



“The plan for the next 12 months really is just staying par for the course,” said Aaron O’Mara, co-owner and executive chef. “We have kind of maxed our growth in this economy and where this economy is growing.  I just want to be safe. I want to make sure that we’re taking care of every guest, maximizing every dollar, and really just keeping Augustino’s healthy.”

The restaurant was founded in 2003 by Gus Mascari Sr., whose family has deep roots in the Italian food business. His great-grandfather founded the grocery J. Bova Conti’s Italian Foods in the late 1920s at 960 S. East St., which is now part of the Eli Lilly and Co. campus. Mascari populated Augustino’s with dozens of black-and-white family photographs, depicting life in Indianapolis’ Italian neighborhoods on the south side.

Although Augustino’s was a labor of love, Mascari didn’t possess the nuts-and-bolts expertise in the restaurant business to sustain the eatery. He also was surprised by the intense demands of running a restaurant.

“It takes all your time and energy,” said Mascari, 57. “I couldn’t get it over the hump to where it was feasibly profitable enough.”

Mascari sold the restaurant to a group headed by O’Mara, the scion of a family of restaurateurs who had spent almost two decades working as a chef in kitchens across the country. He was looking for an opportunity to own a locale, and Indianapolis-based family members alerted him to Mascari’s intention to exit the business.

O’Mara and his wife, Erin, relocated from San Diego to take over Augustino’s in 2006. They partnered with O’Mara’s brother Michael, a pharmaceutical sales rep, to buy the restaurant from Mascari for about $180,000.

Although Augustino’s was ensconced at the far end of a strip mall at 8028 S. Emerson Ave., O’Mara liked its across-the-street proximity to Franciscan St. Francis Health—Indianapolis hospital that now is in the midst of a major expansion. A new 221-bed tower is slated to open in early 2012.

“That was one of the things that sold us very quickly,” O’Mara said. “On a daily basis, I would say that 50 to 60 percent of our lunch business comes directly from that hospital or the office parks associated with that neighborhood.”

In the first year of operation under the new owners, the restaurant began developing catering clients, which helped increase gross sales by an astonishing 50 percent. In turn, the catering acted as advertising for the restaurant, and sales continued to climb in the dining room.

The three owners initially hoped to open several locales, but the economic downturn scuttled those plans. Annual gross sales continued to grow through 2009 to $586,000, but then dipped about 7 percent to $547,000 in 2010.

“The holiday season is what hit us the hardest,” O’Mara said. “We were getting the same clientele, doing the same caterings and the same in-house parties, but they had less money to spend.”

In the last year, catering has slipped from about 35 percent of gross sales to about 20 percent, O’Mara said. Conspicuously cutting back are pharmaceutical sales people, who would cater lunch-and-learn events with local doctors. “That industry changed a lot; they don’t have the money to spend anymore,” O’Mara said.

He also is spooked by volatility in food costs, and how spikes in gas prices seem to scare away customers. He anticipates raising menu prices in the near future, generally in the range of 10 percent to 15 percent. Augustino’s also will introduce new menu items with better profit margins, and O'Mara will retool some existing dishes to reduce sticker shock for regular guests.

The restaurant remains profitable in the range of about 6 percent to 9 percent of sales, O’Mara said, but expansion is off the table for the time being.

“There’s no plan for growth,” O’Mara said. “And until I see stability in the gas market, in the housing market, in the food markets, I’m not comfortable moving in that direction.”

In the video at top, O'Mara discusses the surge in sales after the restaurant changed hands in 2006, and then how the economic downturn has affected the top line and changed his attitude toward expansion.
 

x
x
x
Augustino's Italian Restaurant
x
8028 S. Emerson Ave.
x
(317) 865-1099
x
x
www.augustinosindy.com
x
x
x
Concept: Affordable, neighborhood-style Italian restaurant with a combination of traditional favorites and more adventurous items.
x
Founded: September 2003
x
Owners: Husband-and-wife Aaron and Erin O'Mara, and Aaron's brother, Michael. They purchased the restaurant from its original owner, Gus Mascari Sr., in 2006.
x
Purchase price: About $180,000.
x
Gross sales: $586,000 (2009); $547,000 (2010).
x
Employees: 20
x
Seating: 92
x
Goals: To put expansion plans on hold while continuing to improve operations at the current locale.
x
Good to know: Mascari's great-grandfather founded the grocery J. Bova Conti’s Italian Foods in the late 1920s at 960 S. East St., which is now part of the Eli Lilly and Co. campus. His family also founded the Mascari Cleaners chain in the Beech Grove area.
x
x
x
ADVERTISEMENT

  • Best Italian in Town
    This place has the best Italian food in town and the atmosphere and "family" feel is very relaxing and makes the meal even better. I would love to see them have a place downtown for lunch, and hopefully someday soon that will happen.
  • leave your comfort zone bigjer!
    bigjer, there is a wealth of living to be done in urban Indy, restaurants, shopping and just feeling the energy of the city. I have several friends from Carmel, Fishers, etc., and the commonality they share is that Urban Indy is their loss is certainly my gain when it comes to experiencing Indianapolis!!!
  • awesome place
    I take family and friends there quite often. It is an awesome place! Great food and great service.
  • Best Restaurant in Town
    Augustino's is absolutely the best in town, and not just among Italian eateries. While I am a Southsider, unfortunately they are tucked away so that probably not even many SS know they exist. I would love to see a downtown location for lunch, but I'm always concerned when I go in whether they have enough business to sustain the existing location. Thanks for sticking it out guys and hope you become a permanent part of the Indy landscape.
  • nice place
    We went here once and liked it but we live in Carmel and get down to that area almost never. To bad they are expanding. Would love to see one on the Northside.

    Post a comment to this story

    COMMENTS POLICY
    We reserve the right to remove any post that we feel is obscene, profane, vulgar, racist, sexually explicit, abusive, or hateful.
     
    You are legally responsible for what you post and your anonymity is not guaranteed.
     
    Posts that insult, defame, threaten, harass or abuse other readers or people mentioned in IBJ editorial content are also subject to removal. Please respect the privacy of individuals and refrain from posting personal information.
     
    No solicitations, spamming or advertisements are allowed. Readers may post links to other informational websites that are relevant to the topic at hand, but please do not link to objectionable material.
     
    We may remove messages that are unrelated to the topic, encourage illegal activity, use all capital letters or are unreadable.
     

    Messages that are flagged by readers as objectionable will be reviewed and may or may not be removed. Please do not flag a post simply because you disagree with it.

    Sponsored by
    ADVERTISEMENT

    facebook - twitter on Facebook & Twitter

    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ on Facebook:
    Follow on TwitterFollow IBJ's Tweets on these topics:
     
    Subscribe to IBJ
    1. The Affordable Care Act is not the reason for the slow recovery and lack of high paying jobs for low skill workers. This is a trend that has been going since the early 80's. The recovery is real in the sense that GDP has been growing steadily at a rate of roughly 2.5% since the recession ended in late 2009 (newsflash, the stimulus worked) and the unemployment has been steadily dropping. The reason issue we are facing deals with a skills gap (not enough workers with the right credentials / experience) and wage stagnation due to corporate America being focused solely on maximizing profits for shareholders and not caring about the American middle class. Why should they? Multi-billion dollar mutlinational companies keep offshoring their profits in order to avoid paying taxes (which makes our deficit worse) they convince Americans to fight amongst themselves. If you want to create jobs and reduce the deficit, raise the minimum wage and change corporate tax laws. Of course, if you want to continue to belive that tax cuts for wealthy create jobs (which they don't) and allow corporations and the wealthy to continue to make you cover more and more of the costs of maintaining infrastructure, funding the military and other government services, then keep voting Republican. Hopefully someday you wake up and realize what's been going on since Reagan took office.

    2. Helloooooo, my name is Kate. I am so joyous to share this wonderful testimony about what Dr. Osoijiakhena, a great spell caster, did for me and my family. I wedded a year and 6 months ago, we were very happy during this whole period, i really love my husband so so much. I started noticing changes when he started coming home late at night, he stop paying attention to me, i later found out that he was having an affair with another lady, i dont know what she did to get to him but she really got a hold on him. He started spending weekends with her, and threaten for divorce. I was so heart broken and devastated, i spent many night thinking on how to get my husband back. A friend took it upon herself to to introduce me to one Dr. Osoijiakhena, a great spell caster, who once helped her with a spell that reunited her family and helped her husband secure a very prolific job. Though i had my doubts and never believed, but i decided to give it a try because i was helpless. I contacted Dr. Osoijiakhena, the Spell caster, to help me reunite my family by bringing back my husband from that other woman and break whatever hold she had on him. He only just told me that it's a minor issue, once i provide and do everything he will ask me to do, then i will have my family back again. I did everything he required. And he did it!!!!! My husband returned back to me and pleaded for forgiveness, and i also secured a well paid job in a big company, just as the great spell caster, Dr. Osoijiakhena said. I am so so happy to share my testimony on this wall. I am using this medium to tell every one that has same or similar problem to try the great Dr. Osoijiakhena through his mail: drosoijiakhenaspell@gmail.com......he is so real!!!!! He can also help you with: (1) IF YOU WANT YOUR EX GIRL/BOYFRIEND TO RETURN BACK TO YOU (2) IF YOU WANT YOUR HUSBAND/WIFE BACK (3) IF YOU WANT TO BE PROMOTED IN YOUR OFFICE (4) IF YOU WANT YOUR MAN OR WOMAN TO LOVE YOU (5) IF YOU WANT A CHILD (BARREN) (6) IF YOU WANT TO BE RICH/WEALTHY (7) IF YOU WANT YOUR HUSBAND/WIFE TO BE YOURS FOREVER (8) IF YOU'VE BEEN SCAMMED AND WANT YOUR MONEY BACK (9) IF YOU ARE HAVING DELAY IN GETTING MARRIED (10) IF YOU HAVE A COURT CASE AND WANT TO WIN (11) IF YOU'RE A DRUG ADDICT AND YOU WANT TO REALLY STOP (12) IF YOU CANNOT IMPREGNATE A WOMAN (STERILE) (13) ALL TYPES OF DISEASES I advise you to contact the great Dr. Osoijiakhena, the spiritualist for solutions via his email: drosoijiakhenaspell@gmail.com

    3. Sergeant McNally is buried in Cathcart Cemetery on a hill known as McNally%u2019 Hill. The Cemetery is in a natural bushland setting and is very well maintained.The emergency department at Ararat Hospital is known as the John McNally Emergency Department. Cathcart is approx. 4.6 km from Ararat and is approx. 345 m above sea level.

    4. My spring chicken of a Mom is turning 75 years young. She is a big fan of Frankie and I think she would get a big kick out of the film. I wanted to take her to the Broadway play but am priced out. Thanks for your time and consideration. Oh yea, Wildwood! Joie

    5. I thought this company would go bankrupt in 2013/2014. I predicted that four years ago. I was wrong. It will take another couple of years, but they will get there.

    ADVERTISEMENT