Cheer Up Charlies Owners Take Over Rio Rita

Tamara Hoover and Maggie Lea plan to re-open the East Austin bar by 2020

Over the summer, patrons of cafe and bar Rio Rita on 12th and Chicon found an actual “Gone Fishin’” sign taped to the door. The posting from owners Donya and Randall Stockton elaborated: “Just kidding. Closed for some repairs and remodeling. Be Back ASAP.” The unexpected months-long closure will finally come to a close under new ownership.

Chicon St. bar and cafe Rio Rita in 2017 (Photo by John Anderson)

Tamara Hoover and Maggie Lea, owners of Red River club Cheer Up Charlies, signed a lease on the business last week. They plan to reopen in late December, keeping with the casual cocktail lounge’s name and concept. The couple were big fans of Rio Rita’s first location on East Sixth, opened in 2007 and later a neighbor to the original Cheer Up Charlies space.

“I have such amazing memories there,” Lea says. “A lot of my best friendships were cultivated on their old patio and at the vinyl nights. It was such a creative space for me, and I hope we can create that again.”

The business duo plan to spruce up the indoor cafe and outdoor patio pace, as well as expand coffee and tea offerings. Down the line, they hope to reinstate occasional nightly events and add a food truck. Lea hopes for the new project to provide a “fresh start” following her chemotherapy treatment for breast cancer, completed this week.

The difficult diagnosis came after the couple already began negotiations on Rio Rita in February. Hoover says they’ve long been interested in opening a second business. “It was one of those once in a lifetime experiences in the bar industry,” she adds.

“To bring Rio Rita back to life is really exciting.”

According to the Stocktons, negotiations took longer than expected with landlord Jim Daywood – also owner of former venue Holy Mountain, now Scratchouse. Rio Rita is leased as a single property with the neighboring retail strip including Laced with Romance, Vibe Collective, and King Bee Lounge. Similar to the prior arrangement, Hoover and Lea will act as sublessors for the surrounding businesses.

“We’re very glad we landed on Tamara and Maggie,” adds Randall. “I feel much better about them than some of the other people we were talking to.”

Cheer Up Charlies owners Maggie Lea (l) and Tamara Hoover in 2012 (Photo by John Anderson)

While the Stocktons attempted to sell the bar throughout 2019, including lengthy discussions with other buyers, many Rio Rita employees quit. Donya returned to Austin from their current home in Mexico to manage the understaffed bar in May, but eventually decided to shut it down until a new owner was finalized.

Her visit corresponded with the employee strike at Beerland, which the Stocktons founded and later sold to Richard Lynn in late 2017. Donya oversaw successful online fundraising for unpaid wages. The sale of Rio Rita marks the Stockton’s very last business in Austin – aside from a stake in King Bee, run by Randall’s half-brother Billy Hankey.

The Stocktons helped start the East Sixth bar explosion in founding Rio Rita, a name carried over from a taqueria at the original locale. The influential couple’s local business involvement has touched the Aristocrat Lounge, the Grackle, Legendary White Swan, the Liberty, Live Oak Barbe­cue, Shangri-La, and Sputnik. They’ve slowly sold off their interests for a new life in Oaxaca, where Randall hosts mezcal tours and Donya plans to launch her own mezcal brand with women producers.

“We have different goals now than when we were young and ambitious,” explains Randall. “I prefer being old and not ambitious. This is the end: The Stocktons have left the building.”

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Rio Rita, Cheer Up Charlies

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