Chuy's co-founder Mike Young dies at age 74

An entrepreneur who said he relied on Jose Cuervo for his design ideas, the lifetime Austin restaurateur also opened several independents in his hometown.
Each Chuy's has a distinct design, but it likely has an Elvis shrine inside. | Photo: Shutterstock

Mike Young, co-founder of the Chuy’s Tex-Mex casual-dining chain and the operator of several one-off restaurants in the Austin, Texas, area, has died at age 74.

Local media reported that he died from pancreatic cancer.

Young opened the first Chuy’s with business partner John Zapp in 1982 on Barton Springs Road in Austin. Short on money, they gave the place a funky look, using design elements like hub caps and painted wooden fish. Included was a shrine to Elvis Presley, now a standard feature of the brand.

The prototype featured “a women’s restroom the size of a broom closet and a men’s restroom that was, well, outside,” according to Chuy’s website.

Young and Zapp attributed the offbeat look to their “decorator,” Jose Cuervo, better known as the namesake of a popular tequila.

To distinguish the food, the pair used fresh ingredients and recipes they had come across at beach parties or in small Mexican border towns.

They would grow their operation to eight restaurants before selling Chuy’s to the private-equity company Goode Partners in 2006. The buyers exited their investment six years later with an initial public stock offering, with shares priced at $13 each.

Young maintained a consultative relationship with Chuy’s until 2017, when he stepped down from the board.

“There are so many things that Mike taught everyone who had the chance to work for him,” Chuy’s said in a statement. “The two most significant were treating everyone like family and giving back to our communities. His legacy will live on at Chuy's and we will forever hold him in our hearts.

Born into a family of innkeepers, Young learned the hospitality business as a child, working in his parents’ hotel. But by age 24, he was opening restaurants in the Austin area.

His better-known ventures outside of Chuy’s included Shady Grove and Hula Hut.

Today, Chuy’s operates 99 full-service restaurants in 16 states.

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