WKU alumnus buys former Mariah’s restaurant

WKU alumnus Dale Augenstein stands on the front porch of the historic Mariah Moore House at 801 State St. on Wednesday, Feb. 11. Augenstein is finalizing the purchase of the property, where he plans to locate a second Steamer Seafood, a restaurant he owns in Hilton Head, South Carolina. Photo by William Kolb/ HERALD

Tyler Prochazka

While his presence is already well known in Bowling Green, Dale Augenstein is about to have another foothold in the community.

The 1981 WKU graduate is purchasing the former Mariah’s restaurant building on State Street. Over the next several months, Augenstein will work to convert the building into a second location for his Steamer Seafood restaurant.

Augenstein has become “reattached” to WKU and Bowling Green, where he has many friends and family in the surrounding area. 


“I thought, if I’m going to be in Bowling Green this often, I might as well start a business,” Augenstein said.

While Augenstein started the first Steamer Seafood in Hilton Head, South Carolina in the early ‘90s, the opening of the Bowling Green restaurant won’t be the first time that Augenstein’s brand of seafood has been served in town. For the past three years, Augenstein has been serving his food in the Big Red tent at basketball games. 

“Once we started serving our concession food, people were asking when we would start a restaurant here,” Augenstein said.

Over several years, Augenstein began a search for the ideal location to house his restaurant. Finally, once the former Mariah’s restaurant building was put up for sale, his idea became much more feasible.

“When the Mariah’s facility became available, that piqued my interest tremendously,” Augenstein said.

Mariah’s success in that location, over the past three decades, has provided “a wonderful opportunity to showcase our product,” he said. After completing an interior redesign and construction, Augenstein hopes to open the Bowling Green Steamer Seafood on Sept. 1, 2015. 

At the Hilton Head restaurant, Augenstein said they focus on serving the freshest food possible while providing an “fun-filled” atmosphere, including acoustic entertainment. He said they will attempt to replicate as much as they can for the Bowling Green location.

Even though it is located in South Carolina, many WKU students are still familiar with Steamer Seafood. Every summer when tourism is the busiest in Hilton Head, Augenstein invites over 20 students from Kentucky to work at the restaurant. Most are from WKU or the University of Kentucky.

Erika Waronsky, the general manager at Steamer Seafood, said students who spend the summer working at Steamer Seafood “end up being kind of like a family.”

“They believe in what we believe in the philosophy of our business,” she said.

As a student, Waronsky came from West Virginia and worked at Steamer Seafood. What was originally supposed to be a one-summer commitment turned into a 15-year career.

Adam Burden, a 2006 WKU graduate, originally met Augenstein in 2004, through Augenstein’s involvement with his fraternity, Sigma Alpha Epsilon. 

Burden worked at Steamer Seafood for two summers and said it was “the two most fun summers of my life.”

“We worked very hard and had some great experiences outside of work,” Burden said in an email interview. “The restaurant is a staple on the island, and work was a blast every single night.”

The manager position at Steamer Seafood has been Waronsky’s only job, and she said this is because working there has been “the most fun job I could ever imagine having.”

One of the reasons she enjoys her job so much is because of Augenstein’s treatment of her and the other employees. 

“He is a fabulous person to work for, and he teaches you something new every day,” Waronsky said.

Burden also said that Augenstein is always “thinking outside the box” and has been an important mentor for his career.

“Dale has taught myself and all the former workers in his restaurant the value of customer service and has created a business that ensures that every customer that steps foot in his doors feels like they are the most important person in the place,” Burden said.

In addition to seafood, the Bowling Green Steamer Seafood will serve everything from chicken and steak to pasta and ribs. Waronsky said they do not serve anything pre-made or frozen, which is one of the reasons why she thinks Steamer Seafood will be successful in Bowling Green.

“I think people are really going to receive it well,” she said.

After all these years, Augenstein said his passion for WKU and Bowling Green has not waned. Augenstein credited President Gary Ransdell for modernizing the campus, but said one thing about campus has not changed.

“There has always been this loyal understanding that when you come to WKU, you leave as family,” he said. “It always has that friendly family environment. You really do feel a part of that for life.”