Chuck Ballas Sr., the former proprietor of Luigi’s – downtown Augusta’s oldest continuously operating restaurant – died Monday of complications from kidney surgery. He was 91.
Ballas and his wife, Penny, ran the restaurant from 1954 until their retirement in 1989, when their son Chuck Jr. took over.
Ballas’ daughter, Cynthia Moorehead, said her father loved three things: his Greek Orthodox church, his family and golf.
“Sometimes he put golf in front of family,” she said half-jokingly, adding that her father was one of two lifetime honorary members of Aiken’s Palmetto Golf Club, the other being amateur Robert Winthrop “Bobby” Knowles Jr.
Costas “Chuck” Nicholas Ballas was born in Gloucester, Mass., in 1926. His son-in-law Dennis Moorehead said he landed in Normandy on D-Day with the 28th Infantry Division and fought all the way to Germany.
“He got frostbite during the Battle of the Bulge,” Moorehead said. “It affected him his whole life.”
After the war, Ballas attended Northwestern University and earned a degree in mechanical engineering. At age 29, Ballas moved his family to Augusta in 1954 to take over the Italian restaurant from his father, Nick.
“Nobody back then knew what Greek was,” Mrs. Ballas said during a 1999 interview in The Augusta Chronicle.
Ballas was a member of the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church on Telfair Street and was an original organizer of the annual Greek Festival. He served on the Board of Governors of the Augusta chapter of the American Hellenic Educational Progressive Association.
Luigi’s has been a popular dining destination for locals and celebrities for decades.
In a 2011 Chronicle interview, Penny Ballas said golfers have been visiting the restaurant during the Masters Tournament since 1954.
Ben Crenshaw has dined at the restaurant for more than 25 years, and other notable guests have included Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Fred Couples and retired NFL players Dan Marino and Morten Andersen.
Ballas Sr. was known for taking names at the front door and personally entertaining his guests with his stories.
Cynthia Moorehead recalled her father as being a consummate gentleman.
“Even up to the very end with his walker, he would always walk to the other side of the car to open her door,” she said, referring to his wife. “That’s how much he loved Mother.”
Survivors include his wife of 70 years; two daughters, Cynthia and Deborah; his son, Chuck; 12 grandchildren and 26 great-grandchildren.