Tables inside North Augusta's Seven Gables restaurant Friday were set as if for dinner, its many fireplaces were lit, and the place was alive with people.
That's how its new owners hope it is going to stay.
The historic restaurant, forfeited to the federal government about two years ago, was auctioned off to one of the city's own, Cecil Barnes Sr. Mr. Barnes, his former wife Sherry Barnes, and Mr. Barnes' son Cecil Herbert Barnes Jr. won the famed restaurant with a bid of $400,000.
The Barnes trio said they were committed to restoring the mahogany-walled restaurant and keeping the name Seven Gables. Ms. Barnes said the family hopes to have the establishment running "within the next few weeks."
"We're going to operate it as a family-owned restaurant," said Ms. Barnes, an Augusta family and criminal law attorney. "We want everybody in Augusta and North Augusta to participate and be a part of it. It's a historical site. We feel like it's important to North Augusta to have it restored and have it available to the public."
A representative with EG&G Technical Services, a national government contractor conducting the auction, said 10 bidders participated in the 15-minute auction.
"It took a little longer than I anticipated," said public relations coordinator Britney Bartlett. "But that's what I would call competitive bidding."
Bidding started around $200,000 and quickly inched higher. It ended with the Barneses, although a backup bidder was also contacted in case of default.
The Barnes family - who own the Red Wing Rollerway on Washington Road, Red Wing Bingo in North Augusta and additional property in the area - have three days to pay EG&G 10 percent of the total purchase bid. That includes $25,000 submitted prior to the auction. The balance must be paid for within 30 days.
The family plans to contact the South Carolina Department of Archives and History next week in regards to restoration. A hotel adjacent to the restaurant will be torn down at the city's request, Ms. Barnes said.
The 5,890-square-foot restaurant has remained unchanged since its closure. It has a commercial kitchen, three dining areas, a bar and several fireplaces.
Seven Gables closed about two years ago, after U.S. Treasury officials seized it when owner Randy Salter was convicted in a Texas federal court of conspiring to distribute marijuana and money laundering. Mr. Salter forfeited the property in a plea agreement. He is serving a 10-year sentence in an undisclosed federal prison.
Proceeds from the auction go into the U.S. Treasury Asset Forfeiture Fund, according to Internal Revenue Service spokesman David Batista. Ten agencies, including North Augusta Public Safety and the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, have submitted requests for the money. Mr. Batista said proceeds are broken down and distributed by the amount of time each agency spent on the Randy Salter case.
Mr. Batista would not release the amount local agencies would receive.
Reach Josh Gelinas at (706) 823-3218.