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Monday, August 27, 2007

Gary Malerba / Special to The Detroit News

Tony Gioutsos, 46, of Farmington Hills was an automotive air bag engineer when he decided to get back to his roots. Now he owns Pi restaurant and banquet hall, pictured here, and Il Posto in Southfield.

Career Makeover

Venture is new, fresh serving

With restaurants in his blood, leaving a stressful career was a natural step for Farmington Hills man.

Brian J. O'Connor / The Detroit News


Gary Malerba / Special to The Detroit News

Tony Gioutsos, 46, of Farmington Hills was an automotive air bag engineer when he decided to get back to his roots. Now he owns Pi restaurant and banquet hall, pictured here, and Il Posto in Southfield. See full image

Tony Gioutsos

Home: Farmington Hills, engaged with three children
Born: Highland Park, 1961
Education: Warren Mott High School 1979; University of Michigan, 1983; master's 1987
Old career: Automotive engineer for air bag systems
New career: Restaurant owner

Have you remade your career?

The Detroit News wants to hear from readers who've successfully remade their jobs, professions and careers for future stories. To tell your story, e-mail Personal Finance Editor Brian O'Connor at

Career tips

"Tony's career move back to his roots demonstrates a couple of signs that it is time to step back and take a look at your career," says career coach Prudence Cole of Grosse Pointe, co-author of the book "Finding Power, Passion and Joy Being at Work" and author of the Web site
"Check whether your career is still serving you and bringing you joy."
  • Not being engaged in your work: Is your job performance slipping? Are you bored, restless and uninspired? Are you being challenged to use your skills and talents every day? If the answer is a resounding no, then now is time.
  • An opportunity shows up: All your life you dreamed of doing something else. Out of the blue some job possibility or connection shows up and excites you more than you have been in a long time. Now is the time to consider other possibilities.
  • The writing is on the wall: Being realistic about the future of your industry or profession may be the trigger to get you into action. Careers have life cycles, both in the work being done and your interest in it. Being honest with yourself may propel you to consider your next big career adventure.


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    • Tony Gioutsos cooked up a career in the restaurant business -- and it's a recipe he knows by heart.

      The 46-year-old Farmington Hills man grew up living above his parents' restaurant in Madison Heights. And after a successful career engineering automotive air bags, he found himself going home in a sense.

      "It's a ton of work, but I grew up in it and I know that," Gioutsos says. "I've got a ton of relatives who own restaurants, because that's what you do when you're Greek or Macedonian."

    • Where he came from: Gioutsos grew up working in the family's restaurant, a drive-in called The Loop. Eventually, it became The Madison and then the Village Inn as it morphed from drive-in to diner to full restaurant.

      Gioutsos worked weekends and summers while getting his engineering degree from the University of Michigan. After adding a master's he worked on defense satellites, then moved to the auto industry, where he developed and patented air bag sensors.

      Gioutsos formed two companies, selling one, then going on to build another.

    • What changed: After several years, though, his air bag work felt stale, and the pressure had Gioutsos feeling burned out.

      "Working on airbag sensors is a lot of pressure, because you don't ever want to feel like you're responsible for killing someone because you didn't fire the air bag (when) you should, or did fire the air bag when you shouldn't," he says. "I had a lot of sleepless nights in those years."

    • Moment of truth: About five years ago, Gioutsos invested his money and some of the proceeds from the sale of his parents' restaurant in the Il Posto restaurant in Southfield and in a related banquet hall.

      About two years ago, though, the business wasn't doing well, and the investors -- including Gioutsos and his parents -- were concerned. Meanwhile, the pressures of the troubled auto industry added to the dissatisfaction Gioutsos had with work.

      "My parents' and my investment is sitting out there, plus I'm getting bored with the auto world, so I thought, 'OK, I'm going to take it over,' " Gioutsos says.

    • Stumbling blocks: In 2006 he took over managing Il Posto and what is now the nearby Pi restaurant and banquet hall. He maintains his air bag firm as a consulting business, but mostly has focused on maintaining Il Posto's four-diamond reputation and reorganizing the other restaurant and banquet hall.

      "You've got to put your own stamp on it," Gioutsos says.

      That's included completely renovating the banquet facility, changing the menu and pricing, and shuffling some of the staff.

      "I rarely get a day off," Gioutsos notes, adding that business at both locations has been slow but building. "It's finally at the point where I don't feel that I have to baby-sit things every minute."

      The state of the local economy hasn't made it easy, either, with most eateries reporting their business is off 20 percent to 30 percent, Gioutsos says, adding, "Opening a new restaurant is one difficult thing at this time."

    • Words of wisdom: Gioutsos warns that any big change in life is going to end up involving a lot more work and take a lot more time than anyone plans on.

      "It's a lot of fun to do something new," he says. "It's very exciting, but it's going to be way more work than you think."

      The key to making it through, he says, is patience.

      "Make sure you're patient or it's never going to work," he says. "I have some good investors, and they've been patient with me and that's a good thing."

      Now that he's made the move, Gioutsos says he's right at home.

      "I hadn't been in a restaurant kitchen for a while, and the first day we took over, I walked into the kitchen and I said, 'I recognize this,' " he says. "It feels like it's part of me."

      You can reach Brian J. O'Connor at (313) 222-2145 or

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