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The Red Pepper is a family business in more ways than one

November 14, 2018

When siblings Susie Zionkowski and John Stanley became co-owners of The Red Pepper, they began with a small lunch restaurant that occasionally served dinner.

“We completely transformed it,” said Zionkowski.

Zionkowski and Stanley had two priorities when they purchased the restaurant. They wanted to add a a patio for outdoor dining and party rooms for private events.

Fast forward eight years to the present day, and the siblings have accomplished both those goals. The Red Pepper has a large outdoor dining area, a party room that seats up to 40 people, a bar, and general seating.

An aspect of being in the restaurant business that Zionkowski said took her by surprise is the family that comes along with it.

“This whole place is about family, so a lot of our regulars will bring their family and friends in,” Zionkowksi said. ”... You can’t help but get sucked into people’s lives for the good, the bad, or the other. People come here to celebrate when they’re happy, or when they’re sad.”

The siblings have had relatives of their customers come to the restaurant to let them know when their regulars have passed away. Zionkowski and Stanley have even sat with people they met through the restaurant in the hospital.

“It gets to where people come to us when they’ve lost a loved one, or they’re going through cancer, or for some of our people they’re going through something where they’re kind of at the end of their days,” Zionkowski said. “We’ve been to people’s birthdays and people’s funerals. We’ve had a wedding here. You can’t help it. Their family becomes your family.”

Zionkowski said the restaurant does a lot of private events like parties and rehearsal dinners. They often have live music from local bands.

“We can be as fine dining as you want us to be, but casual,” Zionkowski said. “We can be as intimate as you want to be if you need a quiet place, or if you just need a bar to hang out at for happy hour, we’ve got that, too.”

The Red Pepper has a new chef, James Darby. As a chef, Darby said he likes working at The Red Pepper because he has creative freedom and can experiment with different flavors.

One of the items Darby has worked on redeveloping on the menu is the shrimp and grits. Brody said he likes spicier cajun flavors with the dish, which would set it apart from the cheesy variations popular in other restaurants.

In spite of sustaining some damage from Hurricane Michael (which took down The Red Pepper’s outdoor television and a good part of a fence), the patio has been repaired and is ready for business.

Zionkowski said an upcoming event at The Red Pepper that she is excited about is Black Friday Unplugged. The day after Thanksgiving, people often come to the restaurant with visiting relatives, or they’ll show up looking for a place to unwind after a hectic day of Black Friday shopping.

Black Friday Unplugged is a “relaxed” event, according to Zionkowski. The Red Pepper will have fire pits and acoustic music from Anybody’s Guess starting at 8 p.m.

The Red Pepper is located at 752 Silver Bluff Road. For more information, call 803-649-9915 or visit redpepperaiken.com.

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