Barry Dyngles Finds Queen of Hearts Quite a Draw

AUSTINTOWN, Ohio – With an estimated $300,000 on the line, people just can’t seem to get enough of Barry Dyngles’ barbecue, 1601 S. Raccoon Road.

Of course, not everyone who buys a ticket for the weekly Queen of Hearts drawing stops in for a bite to eat, but enough have to cause a boom for the barbecue stand.

“Our business has doubled, sometimes tripled,” says the general manager of the restaurant, Doug Duganne. “Our lunches have exploded and Monday and Tuesday nights are like weekends in here.”

The huge crowds – Duganne is expecting about 3,000 people to pack the restaurant for the next drawing Wednesday – began about five weeks ago, he says, once the game was down to about 15 cards left.

Last week’s jackpot was $214,000. This week’s jackpot is expected to be as high as $300,000. It’s one winner take all provided they are there to claim the prize; if not, they get half and the remainder stakes the next Queen of Hearts game.

The rules of the game are simple. Players buy tickets, as many as they want, for $1 each and fill in their names, phone numbers and the number, 1 to 54, of the card (or joker) they want flipped. Every week, one and only one ticket is drawn and the card – one of 54 – is taped to a board with the corresponding number flipped over.

If it’s the queen of hearts, the owner of the ticket wins the pot. If not, the money stays in and the process starts all over again the next week.

Eleven cards remain on the board at Barry Dyngles, with some 75,000 tickets expected to be sold for tomorrow night’s drawing. That makes the odds of a single ticket winning 850,000 to 1.

When the contest started, Duganne drew the card out of a small cage that holds the tickets. Along the way, he had to move up to a five-gallon bucket, then a large plastic storage bin and, the last few weeks, a 40-gallon garbage bin.

It’s easy to see impact it’s had on business.

“We’ve had to bring on a lot of staff,” Duganne said Monday. “At our lunches now, we have to have four cooks, five servers, two dishwashers, a bartender, a hostess and someone just selling tickets.”

At this time last year, he related, he needed only a bartender, cook and server to handle the lunch crowd.

On the nights the drawings are held, a refrigerated beer truck had to be brought in to keep up with demand, Duganne said.

There have been some costs to the restaurant for holding the Queen of Hearts game. In following state law, the restaurant must pay 100% of the jackpot to the winner.

“We can’t take anything out of it to buy the boards or buy tickets or anything. That all has to come out of our pockets,” Duganne said. “The total investment is probably $1,000 in supplies. But the business we’ve brought in has taken care of that.”

Supplies for the game were bought from Nannicola Bingo Supply in Youngstown, which has sold the game to other taverns in the area, including some near Dyngles. But none has had the luck of the draw for the jackpots to grow so big.

Businesses nearby are also seeing an increase in traffic. A few places along Raccoon Road, tired of having their parking lots filled with Barry Dyngles’ customers, have begun charging parking fees, some as much as $10.

Across the road, Fernando’s Wedgewood Pizza says its Wednesday night business is between 10% and 15% higher.

“Our Wednesdays are pretty good days in general. But the last few weeks, because the crowds there have reached proportions you can’t even imagine, we’ve gotten more people,” co-owner Filomena Riccioni said. “It’s because they can’t get in there to eat so they come to us.”

The biggest issue for Wedgewood has been people parking and crossing the road to Barry Dyngles.

“We don’t tell them they can’t park here, but we ask them to park off to the side,” Riccioni said. “But lately a few of them have come back here to eat.”

With the jackpot so large, customers are excited and come from well beyond Austintown to get in on the action. Many have lined up before the restaurant opens at 11 a.m. to buy their tickets for the week.

“I didn’t know about it until a couple weeks ago,” says Mike Infante. “I usually eat lunch up here once a week, so I come up for that and I saw everybody buying tickets. So I started buying them too.”

Some customers have even traveled from well outside the region, like Sue Mitcha from Charlotte, N.C., who was eating lunch with her friends.

“I didn’t come up just for this,” she said. “But they told me about it and I said, ‘Let’s go get some lunch and buy some tickets while we’re at it.’ ”

Even regulars at the restaurant said they’ve never seen anything quite like it.

“It is bizarre,” declared Karen Nochta of Canfield, who’s been buying tickets for several months. “There are so many people here that I just can’t believe it. We stand outside to wait for it. I see a lot of people that we know every week.”

A first time ticket-buyer, Ruth Sassano from Girard, said she doesn’t expect to win, but knows what she would do with the winnings.

“I’ll probably pay off bills when I get over having the heart attack,” she said with a laugh.

At Wedgewood, Riccioni said she’s bought tickets since the contest began 10 months ago.

“My father, who co-owns this with us, thinks we’re all crazy for it,” she said. “We had been going there to eat, too, but with the crowds we had to stop. It’s like a street festival out there some nights.”

Eventually, once the last drawing is made, business will slow, Duganne said. But with the throngs of people who fill the restaurant and bar weekly, he expects that more than a few will remain repeat customers.

And, he added, getting people from surrounding areas through the doors has to be good for business.

“We know that there are three things people will travel for,” he says. “Good seafood, good burgers and barbecue. We’ve got that right here. It’s like our slogan says, ‘Funny name. Fabulous food.’ ”

Without a doubt, Duganne said, Barry Dyngles will be hosting more Queen of Hearts games once this one wraps up.

“I sat at home one night and shuffled a deck just to draw until I got the queen of hearts,” he said. “One time it was the 18th. Another was the 36th. Another was the 12th. That’s the fun of it. It’s never the same twice.”

Pictured: Doug Duganne, general manager of Barry Dyngles, holds the Queen of Hearts board. Tomorrow’s drawing could have a jackpot of nearly $300,000.

Copyright 2024 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.