The Austin Chronicle

Austin-Based Restaurant Chains

By Mick Vann, June 3, 2011, Food

Austin has proven to be an ideal nursery for developing restaurant concepts which, over time and growth, develop into legitimate chains. We've shown ourselves to be very receptive to the idea of creative quality food served in a friendly, relaxed manner, and at fair prices. Several of our local chains have developed further into legitimate regional or national franchises. Other local chains – Mama Fu, Rudy's, Fuddrucker's – got their start elsewhere but got sucked into the Austin vortex when it came time to establish a chain headquarters. Space doesn't allow a comprehensive list, but here are several prime examples of homegrown chain restaurants.

County Line Bar-B-Q

Randy Goss, Ed Norton, Skeeter Miller, and Bruce Walcutt (Walcutt had been a president with Pelican's Wharf, a popular steak-and-seafood chain from years before) formed County Line Bar-B-Q in 1975, wanting to start a restaurant that served high quality barbecue and sides with modern ambience and full bar service at reasonable prices. Their first location was an old speakeasy out in the cedar breaks off of Bee Caves Road. Their success has spawned eight barbecue locations plus a Side Door Liquor Store at the El Paso location, Cannoli Joe's Italian buffet, the Air Ribs barbecue shipping arm of County Line, and soon, Barrio, on the Riverwalk in San Antonio.


Mike Young and John Zapp were both at Gianni's (an Italian restaurant that preceded Carmelo's) when in 1982 they combined their talents and the love of Tejano and Tex-Mex food that Young grew up with in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, to open Chuy's Comida Deluxe. Austin's favorite Elvis-kitsch shrine and temple of Tex-Mex and margaritas now has 24 locations (including Alabama, Tennessee, Kentucky, and Indiana) with four more set to join soon. Young and Zapp sold the chain to a larger development group, but both remain on the board and retain interest in all current and future Chuy's. They also opened the very popular Shady Grove right down the street from the first Chuy's – a music, burger, beer, and booze homage to Austin's simpler hippie days and the famous trailer park that once stood in that location.

Kerbey Lane

Co-owners/co-founders Patricia Atkinson and David Ayer had a simple goal of starting a nice cozy little restaurant that offered healthy local food at a good price when the first Kerbey Lane opened in May 1980. Over the years, they've expanded their menu, locked into the locavore movement, and added four more restaurants with a much bigger customer base, a commissary, a bakery, and a line of gourmet pancake mixes sold on grocery shelves.


Joe Draker went in to rent a small house from the owner of the original Maudie's Cafe, a short-order dive at Exposition and Lake Austin Boulevard. By the time he left, he had made a deal to buy that dive and turn it into a mini Tex-Mex empire. From that original, Draker has expanded into six busy locations.

Amy's Ice Cream

Amy Simmons learned her craft at Steve's Ice Cream in Boston, and then moved to Austin, found a spot, wrote a hot check to get the first Amy's Ice Cream open, completely dominated the local ice cream scene, and now has (almost) 13 Austin locations, plus one each in Houston and San Antonio. A new addition to the Amy's family is Phil's Icehouse, a franchise-ready Allandale burger joint adjacent to the Amy's production facility.

Eddie V's

Larry Foles and Guy Villavaso, who founded and then sold their interest in Z'Tejas, based their Eddie V's concept on the great American seafood houses in San Fran­cisco, Boston, and New Orleans, and now there are seven Eddie V's, with two in Austin. Roaring Fork is their wood-fired grill, Old-West-meets-New-American concept, with four locations (two in Austin). Foles and Villavaso recently teamed up with Chuck Smith and Larry Perdido of Saba (now closed) and Moon­shine Grill fame to open Hopdoddy Burger Bar, which seems destined for a franchise lifespan.


In 1991, Mark Paul and Dave Greenberg were freshmen at UT craving food at 2am, and there were no wing joints that delivered. They decided then and there that they would open one, spent the next four years looking for money and testing recipes, and in 1995, the first Plucker's was born, for a price tag of $13,000. Now they have 11 locations (five in Austin), an office overlooking Town Lake, and Greenberg's brother Sean has joined the corporate fold.

Thundercloud Subs

ThunderCloud was started in 1975 by John Meddaugh and Andy Cotton, who wanted to start a neighborhood sub shop offering fresh, quality ingredients at great prices, served by unique folks who loved their jobs. Obviously that concept struck gold, with 24 locations just in the Austin area alone. Meddaugh and Cotton share 17 of them, while co-owner/franchisor Mike Haggerty has 13 units.

Frisco Shop

No mention of local Austin chains can ignore the impact of Harry Akin's Night Hawk restaurants, considered the granddaddy of the concept locally. Akin started with a burger stand in the Depression year of 1932 at South Congress and Riverside, with late hours, 15-cent hamburgers, and a good cup of coffee. That cafe grew into an empire of seven restaurants, with Akin raising and butchering his own cattle, using the trimmings to make the famed "Top Chop't" steak, which he developed into a major frozen-food line during the Fifties. Akin died in 1976, and by 1980, due to mismanagement and other factors, four of the seven restaurants had folded. The frozen food division was sold in 1994 (and is still doing well in Buda), and the last remaining beacon of the old chain is the Frisco Shop at 6801 Burnet Rd.

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