Carmen Gio was relaxing, eating a meal with his three brothers at one of their three Florida-based Italian restaurants when he suddenly craved a favorite food from his childhood — one that was not currently on his plate.
“He was like, ‘Dude, I’d love to have a ripper right now,’” his twin brother, Anthony Gio, recalled him saying on that day in 2010.
A ripper is a deep-fried hot dog popularized on the East Coast, predominately in New Jersey, where the Gio brothers grew up. Its name stems from the so-called “ripping” of the casings that occurs when one bites into the meat.
What started as an impulse-driven idea became a reality for the quartet of brothers: John, Anthony, Carmen and Nick Gio in July 2013 in Ellenton, Florida. Now, as the first store nears its three-year anniversary, a second Rippers Roadstand is about to open for business 1,000 miles north. It will be situated just off Ohio State’s campus at 2036 N. High St., where the No.1 Chinese Restaurant formerly dwelled.
The brothers said they expect the restaurant to be open by the end of the month.
The nucleus for Rippers Roadstand’s menu, not surprisingly, is its namesake hot dog, The Ripper Dog, which costs $2.99. Five other hot dog options exist, including the Chili Dog for $3.75 and The Barking Pig Dog, which includes a topping of the stores’ own Jersey bacon kraut, listed for $3.95.
The brothers recognized that a love for hot dogs isn’t universal, so the menu includes hamburgers, too. In a way, the burgers have been as big of a hit as the ripper.
“There are some people that just come for them,” Anthony Gio said.
He added that beef for the patties is ground in-house daily, and customers can choose from either hamburgers, cheeseburgers, bacon burgers or bacon cheeseburgers. Each option can have either single or double patties. A few specialty burgers are also available.
Prices range from $3.99 for a hamburger to $7.65 for a double-bacon cheeseburger.
“Sometimes burgers are outselling our hot dogs by 2-1,” Nick Gio said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen here because Columbus is new to us. But we feel like a lot of people are really going to love the ripper hot dog because it’s got so much flavor.”
Fresh-cut french fries and onion rings fill out the menu on the food side. The store has a full-service liquor license, too, for patrons to wash down their meal.
On the surface, Columbus might seem like an odd choice for the Gio brothers to open their second installment of Rippers Roadstand. The reason, like the rest of the brothers’ food industry ventures, boils down to family.
The parents of John Gio’s wife have residencies in both Dayton, Ohio, and in Florida, and after his father-in-law, an OSU alumnus, visited Rippers, he was hooked, Nick Gio said.
“He knows our Italian restaurants, but after he ate at (Rippers), he said, ‘You guys have to do this at Ohio State University,’” Nick Gio said.
That recommendation was all it took for the brothers to begin scouting out places near campus to potentially develop a Rippers Roadstand.
While visiting the area two Christmases ago, John Gio and his wife stumbled upon the old No. 1 Chinese Restaurant. She was fond of the area, Nick Gio said, because of how much foot traffic it seemed to garner.
The pair contacted the landlord about leasing the space once the current agreement ended.
Fortunately for the Gio brothers, the landlords were planning on not renewing No. 1 Chinese’s lease when it ended in nine months, Nick Gio said. The seed for a second Rippers Roadstand was planted.
“We got really lucky (with this location),” he said.
Once the old tenants departed, the Gio brothers got to work renovating the space. And, literally, it was the brothers themselves doing the revamp.
When they first looked to open their own Italian restaurant, some 20 years ago, Nick Gio said the bank “laughed at us.” They were all in their 20s with little experience in the food business and nothing to pledge as collateral. Not surprisingly, their loan request was denied.
Instead of giving up, the Gio brothers learned “all the tricks of the trade” to save on cost in order to make their vision materialize, Anthony Gio said.
From menu design to laying the floors to installing new ventilation, almost every aspect of creating the restaurants is handled by the brothers.
Anthony Gio said they like it this way because the food they serve is personal to them. Being involved in selecting the ingredients to deciding whether or not to leave the wall’s brick exposed creates the personal investment that “mom and pop stores have,” he said.
This type of connection to each place serves them well, he said, and allows their restaurants to continue to prosper, regardless of if it’s hot dogs or finer Italian cuisine.
It especially is true, Nick Gio said, with Rippers Roadsteads because they “always wanted to do a hot dog place.”
Soon, they’ll be serving up the same New Jersey delicacy they grew up on in two different states.
“This is nostalgic for us,” Anthony Gio said.