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Hospitality and Tourism

Sports restaurant chain partners with Dabo Swinney to open Clemson location

Hospitality and Tourism
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Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux, and neighbor The Junkyard, are the first businesses to operate at the site since the Astro III movie theater closes about 15 years ago. (Photo/Ross Norton)A sports restaurant has opened its doors in an iconic Clemson landmark.

Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux, a sports restaurant that cultivates an “underdog” culture, Louisiana-inspired menu and family-friendly atmosphere, announced in March that two-time National Championship football Coach Dabo Swinney would become its newest franchisee as part of a multi-restaurant development agreement in the Carolinas. Swinney is part of the Pavilion Group — affiliated with Pavilion Development Co. — which is a real estate investment and development company based in Charlotte, led by its president, Rich Davies, as well as retired Wells Fargo executive Kendall Alley.

The restaurant is located in the former Astro III theater building at 403 College Ave. in Clemson.

The location was chosen by Davies and Jason Sadowski, CEO of Carolina Eats and operating partner of Walk-On’s Clemson, following Swinney’s initial request for its inception, said Davies.

“Dabo is a partner of ours, and he initiated the entire concept,” Davies added. “After his suggestion, I reached out to Jason to start the process. Dabo has always been a champion of those with special needs, stemming from his football days at Alabama. Given what we are doing at the Sheperd Hotel, Walk-On’s was an easy decision for Jason and me to make while continuing our efforts to support the ClemsonLIFE program.”

Davies, who is one of the franchise’s investors, was also part of opening the Shepherd Hotel, which empowers students of the ClemsonLIFE program to pursue their dream jobs in hospitality.

Sadowski said the franchise presented a $6,100 check to ClemsonLIFE during the grand opening as part of the franchise’s partnership program. The funds were the proceeds from training nights with the staff, 75% of which is students.

The ClemsonLIFE program at Clemson University offers a collegiate experience that prepares young men and women with intellectual disabilities for competitive employment and independent living through a combination of academic coursework and career exploration. The program is designed for students who desire a post-secondary experience on a college campus. The program incorporates functional academics, independent living, employment and social/leisure skills in a public university setting with the goal of producing self-sufficient young adults.

Erica Walters, ClemsonLIFE program director, said Walk-On’s has been a great addition to the Clemson community, especially with hiring ClemsonLIFE students through internships and regular paid positions.

“We are honored to partner with them to meet our goals,” said Walters. “As time goes by, we believe that number of our students hired will grow. Ultimately, for me as a community member and as director of ClemsonLIFE, we are thankful for the opportunity they have provided to our students and to show the community exactly what our ClemsonLIFE students can do as contributing members of the community.”

Walters said it’s special and exciting to watch people come into town and see their students demonstrate their employment skills, because it changes a misperception people may have about those with intellectual disabilities.

“They can see the abilities of these incredible individuals as they bring joy and new skill sets to their workplace,” Walters added. “The reality is we can’t do it all on our own, so having partners like Walk-On’s is helping change the world with our vision.”

This Walk-On’s location is an iconic location that has been a part of the Clemson community for decades, said Davies.

“It’s near and dear to many who went to Clemson as well as those who are a part of this community,” he added. “By revitalizing this location with a vibrant sports bar while keeping the original look of the theater, people can enjoy it once again and make new memories. It’s a place that will bring people together in downtown Clemson.”

The old Astro is also where Davies and his wife of 35 years went on their first date nearly 40 years ago.

“The structure and the form are the same,” he said. “From a design standpoint, it’s very similar now to what was there before. I am excited to see new memories formed here in this building that has been responsible for a lot of good memories over the years.”

Sadowski said when Davies and he started their partnership nearly two years ago, Davies shared the history of the location along with his personal story.

“I love it, and with a lot of student housing going up it makes sense for this underserved community when it comes to the social scene to receive this unique location that fits our niche,” said Sadowski.

The location is between the core of downtown Clemson and Highway 123 with on-site parking and easy access to the highway, which shows a massive traffic count, said Davies.

“It’s a great location for people who live around Clemson, and it’s close to campus, so students and faculty can have easy access to the restaurant by simply walking over but also caters to anyone driving along Highway 123,” he added.

The restaurant opening will also provide approximately 100 jobs, Sadowski said.

“This … opening weekend was a huge success, and we look forward to hosting more people to come,” he added.

One other thing that attracted Davies to investing in Walk-On’s, besides good food and atmosphere, is a spirit of over-achievement and the continuity of striving to do and be better.

"Being part of a great sports experience such as Walk-On's was a no brainer for me as I believe in their core values and their connection to the community," said Dabo Swinney in a March press release. "Brandon Landry and the story behind Walk-On's is something I resonate with as a former walk-on wide receiver. I am excited to join the Walk-On's team and help bring that Louisiana flavor and hospitality to more markets across the Carolinas."

All partners of Walk-On’s — except Alley, who still embodies the spirit of a Walk-On’s in wanting to overachieve — were all walk-ons themselves, said Davies.

"With a two-time national championship head coach, a developer with years of experience building restaurants and a franchise operator with multiple Walk-On's already in business joining forces, I'd call this the dream team," said Landry, Walk-On’s founder and CEO, in a March press release. "We're excited to see the brand grow in the Carolinas and bring more of the taste of Louisiana to the East Coast."

As of March, Walk-On’s was named in by ESPN the “No.1 Best Sports Bar.”

Walk-On's already calls the Carolinas home with restaurants in Myrtle Beach and Fayetteville and Wilmington, N.C.

Based in Baton Rouge, Walk-On's Sports Bistreaux was founded in 2003 by Landry, who is a former LSU walk-on basketball player. 

Reach Krys at 864-640-4418.

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