In Memory of Mike Young, the Life of the Culinary Party

Co-founder of Chuy's, Hula Hut, and more helped make Austin food weird

Hula Hut (Photo by John Anderson)

Speaking with foundingAustin in 2016, Mike Young, the co-founder of Chuy's Tex-Mex, Shady Grove, and Hula Hut, said, “Make sure you’re passionate about what you do… After you’ve done your research and you really know what you want to do, jump in with both feet and don’t look back.”

Young certainly took his own advice, playing a significant role in the culinary culture of this once-sleepy college town that now boasts a robust food scene.

Young kicked off his career in hospitality at age 24 with his friend Charlie "Bud" Bates in a converted house they named Mike & Charlie’s in 1973. Opening as a boutique restaurant, it gave young Alan Lazarus his start as a burger flipper; he eventually helmed the South Congress classic, Vespaio. After selling Mike & Charlie’s, Young launched the beloved Los Tres Bobos with his friends John Thorson and Tom Stewart in 1977. It closed in 1985 after selling to Tres Amigos but lives on in its funky glory online. Los Tres Bobos was the proving ground for Young’s signature monstrous Tex-Mex concoctions and queso. Later, at age 30, Young opened Gianni’s, a northern Italian joint. Riding high on his success, he’d open Café Havana. Betting that their success could outweigh a lousy setup, Young and his team lost that bet and quickly closed the restaurant.

Humbled, Young partnered with John Zapp to open Chuy’s in 1982 by converting an abandoned barbecue restaurant into the zany and colorful Tex-Mex classic we love today. Fueled with inspiration from their friend Jose Cuervo, they designed what can best be described as “drunk uncle core” with hubcaps (and other funky art) adorning the walls and an Elvis shrine. Chuy’s became a gargantuan success, eventually expanding to more than 90 locations. Something that would continue with a unique take for all its locations in 17 states.

Into the 90s, Young took over the trailer park next door to the original Chuy’s and opened Shady Grove. Intentionally decorating the restaurant to feel like a gritty state park lodge with a trailer-park aesthetic, guests embraced the laid-back atmosphere. Hosting live concerts called Unplugged at the Grove on Thursday nights, Shady Grove was beloved in its own right until it shuttered in 2020.

But Young didn’t stop with Shady Grove, opening Hula Hut on Lake Austin Boulevard in 1993. There, he fused Tiki and Tex-Mex for a Polynesian take on what made Chuy’s successful. Hula Hut quickly became the go-to spot, where folks could sip large, strong cocktails overlooking a giant fiberglass fish sculpture in the lake.

Young died at age 74 on Friday, August 11, but his entrepreneurial spirit lives on as the Austin food scene continues to follow the explosive trajectory he helped launch half a century ago.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Mike Young, Chuy's, Mike & Charlie's, Hula Hut, Gianni's

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