Cape Girardeau's Queen of Cuisine: Real estate agent carves out niche in restaurant properties

Monday, August 16, 2010
Cynthia Austin (Fred Lynch)

It was Cynthia Austin's uncle, a broker, who first told her she would be good at real estate. She paid off the last of her student loans with her first commission check, working in a field that has little to do with her degrees in pre-med and pschology. "It is not that the education I received has not been valuable. Still, it proves your elders know you best," she says.

Austin moved to Jackson in 1986, when she transferred from Patricia Stevens College in St. Louis to Southeast Missouri State University. At the time, she was working for international designer Aleda Phillips, who later referred Austin's first real estate client. She has a bachelor's degree in pre-med and psychology from Southeast, and also finished a secondary degree in English at Imperial College at the University of London, England.

Her relationship with husband and real estate partner Ross Austin is, she says, a fairytale. "He followed me to London and whisked me away to our beloved Genoa, Italy where we were married in the Palacio Doria," Austin says. "Ross brought me back to Cape County and it has been our home ever since."

Travel also has played an important role in Austin's personal and business life. "You learn so much from experiencing different cultures firsthand. The comfort level with peoples of all backgrounds, languages and nationalities has certainly been a great asset in my career as a commercial real estate broker," says Austin. "The very first real estate transaction I had involved a French Foreign National. The fact that the sale was in excess of a $1 million probably also contributed to my being hooked on real estate."

Like most realtors, Austin says she listed and sold whatever and whereever she could. "One year, I sold the most expensive home that had ever been sold (to) date in our MLS and in the same year, a home for $8,000, the least one in the MLS," she says. In 1999, restaurant chain Shoney's did a regional shutdown in the Southeast Missouri area. Austin listed and sold three of those locations, paving the way for her specialization in the restaurant market.

She has been involved in the sale or lease of The Pasta House, three Shoney's, multiple El Acapulco, Dexter BBQ, Culver's, Saffron, The Branding Iron BBQ, Krieger's, Jimmy's, Casa Mexicana, El Tapitio, La Vilentta, Denny's(twice), Texas Roadhouse and most recently The Royal N'Orleans.

The restaurant niche, says Austin, has a huge impact on the commercial real estate market. "Think about it. What is most commonly situated on the most highly visible and, therefore, some of the most expensive real estate," she says. "When a restaurant thrives it contributes to the success of everything around it, when one sits empty people are very troubled by it. I cannot tell you how many calls I have had from simply concerned citizens when I have an empty property on the market," she says. "The congratulations are equally forthcoming when one sells. After all, we all love to eat out!"

For Austin, the client diversity ranks high among the benefits of the restaurant niche. "If a call came into the office and the person answering could not quite understand the caller, they would say, 'It's for Cynthia!' And I loved that," she says. She's worked with clients from Albania, Lebanon, Mexico, South America, Canada, China, Thailand, Italy, France, England, Turkey, India and such strange places as California, New York and Dexter.

"The most exciting offer I have had, but declined, was to sell the Chateau Vitry le Ville and to be involved with the reformation of real estate in France," she says. "This career can certainly open doors, big ones and small ones alike."

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