Thursday, 20 June 2024 14:19

Augie Vitiello’s “Old-Fashioned Red Sauce Joint” Still Going Strong

Augie Vitiello poses with a halibut in the Augie’s Family Style Italian Restaurant kitchen. Photo via the restaurant’s Facebook page. Augie Vitiello poses with a halibut in the Augie’s Family Style Italian Restaurant kitchen. Photo via the restaurant’s Facebook page.

BALLSTON SPA — When he was a kid growing up in the Bronx, Augie Vitiello was surrounded by homemade food cooked by his “100%” Italian family. Now, decades later, that same atmosphere survives at Augie’s Family Style Italian Restaurant in Ballston Spa, which celebrated its twentieth anniversary earlier this month.

“The core of what we do is an old-fashioned red sauce joint,” Vitiello said. “I didn’t want to be this highfalutin, snobby restaurant.”

Vitiello officially got started in the restaurant business at age 13, when he started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to peeling potatoes and cutting vegetables. But his cooking education really began at home.

Vitiello still has potent memories of the dishes his Italian-born relatives would prepare: eggplant parm, roasted chicken, pickled vegetables from the garden, even homemade wine.

“Every day there was something on the fire cooking, from the Sunday sauce to a simple stew,” Vitiello said. “You couldn’t run away from it.”

By the time he was 17, Vitiello was roasting prime ribs and whipping up shrimp scampi. He spent one semester in college, but knew right away that the only kind of education he wanted was culinary. So he enrolled in the New York Restaurant School in Manhattan.

“It was all focused towards opening up my own business,” Vitiello said. “That was always in the forefront.”

When he turned 24, an opportunity to open an eatery presented itself. “I was young, I was dumb. I knew how to cook but I didn’t know how to run a business,” Vitiello said. 

Despite his inexperience, Vitiello plowed forward and made a career for himself. He ran his own restaurant in Larchmont, New York for 13 years before deciding to relocate to the Capital Region. “As much as we knew the Saratoga area was a special place, it far exceeded our wildest dreams,” he said.

In June 2004, Augie’s Family Style Italian Restaurant first opened its doors in Ballston Spa. In 2017, Vitiello opened a second “to-go” location across from the East Side Recreation Park in Saratoga Springs. Both businesses are still going strong. 

“I’ve been very fortunate and very blessed to have the energy and the enthusiasm to still want to do it,” Vitiello said. “But without my employees, there’d be nothing. That’s the most important thing.”

A lifetime surrounded by Italian food hasn’t lessened Vitiello’s enthusiasm for it. He said his favorite meal is a simple chicken parmesan with a side of penne alla vodka. “To me, that’s a marriage made in heaven,” he said.

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