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Up-scale Italian focus of new Castle Heights restaurant

Jared Felkins jfelkins@lebanondemocrat.com • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:00 PM

Those who have missed the dining experience at the former Castle Heights Chop House or Rademacher’s before it are in for a treat in the coming months.

And even though steak will appear on the menu at the new Sonny’s on Castle Heights, owner Nick Audino is quick to point out the theme will be up-scale Italian.

“They are going to see some familiar Italian dishes, along with some things they may not be familiar with. My suggestion is to try everything,” Audino said. "… One thing I couldn’t get here was Italian food the way I wanted. We want things that are made fresh.

“You’ll be able to walk into the restaurant and order a steak. You’ll be able to get American choices as much as Italian choices.”

The new restaurant, tentatively set to open in early April in the former Castle Heights Chop House location next to City Hall in Lebanon, is a labor of love for Audino and his wife, Peggy. A self-proclaimed newcomer to the restaurant business, Audino said it wasn’t until an as yet unnamed “family member” came into the picture when he decided to move forward with the venture.

“My experience in the restaurant business is being a patron,” Audino said. “What we arrived at was that we basically had to have someone who could run it because we are so busy. It’s not that my life revolves around the restaurant business. The only other connection I have besides the family member is my grandparents who ran a restaurant.

“I think Lebanon needs something that’s locally owned. It will be business casual. We don’t want to serve food that you can go buy anywhere. We want things to be more house made. Some of the ingredients might be fresh or top-shelf pastas.”

Audino moved to Hermitage in 1991 and immediately relocated to Wilson County. Among a few other business ventures, he owns Superior Coach Interiors, a company known for luxury recreational and touring vehicles. He said former clients include John Madden and B.B. King, among others. The plant originally opened in Mt. Juliet and can be found on Babb Drive at the site of the former Johnson’s Dairy since 2002.

“I have a lot of customers. I don’t have a business education. I just rolled up my sleeves and went to work,” Audino said. “I built the business as we went. I certainly had a vision, but I didn’t calculate things.”

One thing Audino enjoyed in his spare time was frequenting the former Rademacher’s Chop House in the location where his new restaurant will open in about two months.

“When they closed Rademacher’s it put a damper on my going out,” Audino said. “Then they opened the Chop House. It was a business casual and quaint. Then it closed. I just feel like when it closed, we lost something in town.”

Audino said he’d talked with the property owner about opening a restaurant there but had basically scrapped the idea until recently when he realized he could make it work with some family help.

“This is going to be a family owned restaurant,” Audino said. “There’s no chain or corporation behind it. We want something in town that we have to go to Nashville to get right now.

“Early on, I had some reservations, but at this point I’m all in. I’m not a quitter. I think it will do really well here. I think it will come down to if we make a good product, the service is on point and the community will support it.”

As for what could be expected on the menu at Sonny’s, well Audino is keeping his cards close to his vest. He said patrons could expect fresh food made in house with a business casual atmosphere.

“We are using a local supplier for a lot of our stuff, and we are not using pre-cooked things that come out of a bag. We want the experience to be unique,” Audino said. “Things like sauces and things like that…we could get it out of a can. But we want to make it. We really want something unique.

“We want to offer a casual atmosphere, but an upscale restaurant like the restaurants that were in there. That’s what I like.

“We want to do business with local people, and, in turn, want local people to do business with us.”

As for a grand opening, Sonny’s on Castle Heights will have one in Lebanon. But Audino isn’t sure of the exact date. He’s eyeing sometime in April at this point.

“We are working on that target, but we’re not going to open it prematurely,” Audino said. “This is something I want to do, and I want to do it right. I want to get everything done and then open.”

As for the name, Sonny’s on Castle Heights, Audino said he couldn’t think of a better one for his first restaurant venture.

“I named it after my dad, which was my wife’s suggestion. He certainly would have enjoyed seeing it,” he said. 

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