Down-Home for His Hometown
Alexander counts himself lucky to have worked a couple of years with legendary Night Hawk founder Harry Akin, famous as the man who desegregated Austin restaurants. "We had so much respect for him because of that. You know, his motto was always, 'There's nothing accidental about quality,' and that's something I've never forgotten." Akin wasn't Hoover's only influence during the Night Hawk days. He recalls pulling many a shift with the fabled local barbecue wizard C-Boy Parks and working side by side with the venerable black chef "Mr. Leon," a man who kept many of the Night Hawk's undocumented recipe secrets in his head. Eventually, the older chef shared those secrets with his young protege and, Alexander says with pride, "I remember thinking I'd really accomplished something when I was able to cover for Mr. Leon while he took a two-week vacation."
"I probably wouldn't have taken a back-of-the-house job with anyone else at that particular time," Alexander recalls now, "but the Night Hawk folks were like family." During his second tenure with the Night Hawks, Hoover made friends with a co-worker named Vernon O'Rourke, little knowing where that friendship would ultimately lead. The rebuilt Night Hawk never caught on with the rapidly changing Austin public, and in early 1988 Alexander was offered a general manager position with Good Eats Cafes. For a time, his buddy O'Rourke was there, too, before leaving for an investment opportunity with the K-Bobs Steakhouse chain. In 1990, Hoover was made managing partner and director of operations for Good Eats Cafes, a position he held until 1996. During those years, the articulate, charismatic former student of the UT Communications Department became both the voice and the face of Good Eats Cafes through a memorable series of radio and TV spots. Though he now tactfully describes his departure from Good Eats as "a messy business divorce," Alexander is quick to credit the company for the invaluable public profile he was able to develop there.
The menu at Hoover's Cooking features many of the family recipes for which Alexander's mother is famous among her siblings. "My mother's family were the first people to teach me about good food. We'd spend the summers at the farm in Utley where she grew up, eating fresh vegetables, her great pies, her yeast rolls. Those are the flavors I want for this place," he says.
Today, Hoover Alexander presides happily over a bustling restaurant not far from the East Austin neighborhood where he grew up. He has the dependable support and assistance of a good partner. His customers include the restaurant's neighbors, a loyal contingent from his mom's church nearby, a sprinkling of UT faculty, students, and staff, and old Night Hawk regulars who have known the chef since he was a teenager, plus assorted businessmen, media types, and politicians who remember him from Toulouse. They come often and they bring their friends. Hoover greets them all heartily. He's well aware that his restaurant is one of the few places in Austin where you're apt to find black and white folks working and eating together, and he hopes his former employer Harry Akin would be proud of what he's accomplished. "I feel so blessed when I look around this room. This is just what I wanted."