Men making a difference
Like many Italian lemonade fans, Gary Riley made the 10-mile mad dash from his Austin home to Mario’s Italian Lemonade on Taylor Street to quench his summer craving for the fruity frozen drink. But no more.
Riley, 42, parlayed his 30 years in the food service industry into opening his own Italian Lemonade joint right here in Austin. Jabro’s Italian Ice Corner, 5845 W. Chicago, opened June 14, and features a healthy version of this summertime favorite.
“We didn’t have anything going like this in the community,” said Riley, who visited the Taylor Street spot at least three times a week during the summer. “We didn’t have anything like what I’m doing in the community, so I decided to do something healthy.”
Riley hopes his new restaurant breaks the cycle of unhealthy food options in Austin, a community labeled a “food dessert” for its lack of full-service grocery stores. Most eateries, he contends, opening in the community serve unhealthy meals, like burgers or “fried this and fried that.”
“At least during the summer months this is a way for someone to come in and get fresh fruits in their system.” Riley said.
Without divulging recipe secretes, Riley said his Italian lemonade is different from the usual street fare. It’s made with 90 percent fruit and 10 percent ice, unlike a snow cone, which is syrup-flavored shaved ice or Italian ice-Riley calls it fruit-flavored ice. His menu offers eight flavors, including mango, raspberry, watermelon and peach-all made from those particular fruits.
“Which ever flavor you decide, that is what actual fruit you’re getting,” he said, hoping to lure some of Mario’s customers to his Austin shop. Ice cream lovers won’t be left out in the cold. They’ll also have their choice of eight, all natural ice creams made with less fat.
“You get the same flavor and taste without the added fat and sugar,” Riley said.
The shop owner is still tweaking his winter menu, but he said hot chocolate, soups, sandwiches and, even ramen noodles, are in the works. Future plans include adding seating and internet Wi-Fi service.
Riley always wanted to be a restaurateur after toiling in the industry for 30 years. He got his start in food service right out of high school as a line cook for Mr. Adam’s Restaurant in Northbrook. He even worked as a cook for nine years preparing airline food. But when the economy turned south, and he lost his job at a north side restaurant, Riley felt the time seemed right to strike out on his own. Riley wasn’t going to let a bad economy stop him.
He hosted a grand opening for the shop on June 12; Riley named his place after his 10-year-old, Garrett.
“I know I could do it. I know the business,” said Riley, who came up with the idea for the business a year ago. “Everything is about taking a chance and moving forward. The only way you are going to move forward is you have to put forth effort. You got to try.
“Everything is about taking a chance,” he said.