🍴5 groups own 40 Austin restaurants. Could those empires be built today?
- 5 min read

🍴5 groups own 40 Austin restaurants. Could those empires be built today?

Plus, a contract is pending on UT coach Steve Sarkisian's $6M home.


On this page

β˜€οΈ Hello, Austin.

Morning musings to start your day ... if our fair city had a leap-year birthday, it would technically only be 46 years old instead of 184.

Today, we're digging into Austin’s five biggest restaurant groups β€” and how different the scene is now than when they broke through years ago.

Plus, a contract pending on UT head coach Steve Sarkisian's house and what ERCOT's top boss said about connecting Texas to other grids.

Making sense of Austin's restaurant monopolies

Does anyone else feel flabbergasted when they discover that two seemingly unrelated Austin restaurants are sisters?

Take Pool Burger and Jeffrey's, for instance. One offers $12 frozen hurricanes in plastic cups and sun-filled vibes, the other is a nationally-renowned steakhouse in a prime (pun intended) Clarksville locale.

Both are owned by MML Hospitality. 

In fact, all said and done, the group β€” run by Austin native Larry McGuire and San Antonio native Tom Moorman β€” owns 18 of the city's most popular restaurants. 

MLL is just one of a handful of Austin restaurant "monopolies" that, combined, operate dozens of our most talked-about and Instagrammable spots in the city.

All were established between 1989 and 2015 β€” a lifetime ago when you consider our growth. 

Would these groups be as dominant if they were entering the scene today?

Austin Daily

'It's just gotten harder'

Hai Hospitality is a small-but-mighty presence on this list. The group owns Loro and the hallowed trio of Austin's premier sushi spots: Uchiko, Uchiba and Uchi. The latter was founded in an understated red house near Barton Springs in 2003 and now offers, arguably, the city's best sushi. It helped put Austin's culinary scene on the map, and now Uchi has expanded outside of Texas. 

"As a city, we should be so incredibly proud of how many homegrown concepts that we have here," says Madison Gessner, executive director of the Central South region at the Texas Restaurant Association. "How many brands that started as little neighborhood restaurants and grew into larger groups across the city."

Alas, a city growing this fast (with costs growing, too) makes homegrown success stories just a little harder to come by.

"I can’t imagine trying to do it for the first time today," Stephen Shallcross, who owns 10-year-old Sawyer & Co. and 4-year-old De Nada, told us.

Bigger restaurant groups have far more resources, he said. Rising food and labor costs, spiked commercial rent and other unexpected factors can be a death knell for independent restaurateurs. 

Shallcross is opening a new restaurant on E. Cesar Chavez called Lil Easy, and he said the process has been … a lil hard.

"Every time we do it, it's just gotten harder, and the costs have stratospherically escalated," he said. 

Which is a bummer for the Mom and Pop joints. After all, today's mega groups started somewhere. 

So what do restaurateurs need to make it in our hyper competitive and costly city? 

"Tenacity," Shallcross said, "is definitely one of my attributes."

β€” Katie Canales, Editor 

Temperature: 54 degrees Sun: Tucked away behind a blanket of clouds What to Expect: Spotty showers

As much as I would like to forecast a gorgeous day, unfortunately, it will be cool with highs in the 50s. However, Mother Nature will gift Austin its first rain chance in weeks, which will help our spring blooms flourish.

Mary’s Tip: Find someone born on Leap Day and wish them a super special HBD.

Someone's buying Sarkisian's $6 million-dollar house

Bryce Williams

University of Texas at Austin head football coach Steve Sarkisian and his wife, Loreal, are on the verge of selling their sleek, five-bedroom, 5,331-square-foot contemporary-style house in Rollingwood after trying to sell it for 17 months β€” most recently seeking $5.88 million.

And on Feb. 22, the Sarkisians accepted a buyer's offer for the house.

The Longhorns' field boss isn't leaving town. Sarkisian, who joined UT-Austin in 2021, and his wife bought the home in April 2021 for likely close to its $5.95 million asking price. Not long after buying it, they had second thoughts. Their listing agent said in 2022 that they wanted a different house better suited to their need to entertain and host players and alumni.

So, the Sarkisians in July 2022 bought a newly built, 6,250-square-foot contemporary-style house in Westlake for likely close to its $7.49 million pricetag. They then listed the Rollingwood home.

The coach's commute will be about 5 minutes longer to the Longhorns' stadium than it was from Rollingwood, but he'll be fine β€” this is Westlake we're talking about.

β€” Bob Goldsborough, Contributing Reporter

Big talk at a Texas grid gathering

U.S. Rep. Greg Casar and ERCOT boss Pablo Vegas sounded off on all things grid at a meeting of the minds Tuesday. Rep. Caser last week introduced the Connect the Grid Act. Vegas said those pushing for that haven't given enough thought to the economic impacts of overhauling Texas' go-it-alone approach.

"It's really a question as to whether it would be the most economical way to improve reliability and resiliency ... or would the dollars spent be better served and give us better reliability if we were to invest inside of Texas?" β€” ERCOT CEO Pablo Vegas

"I'm happy to save my Texas pride for football and for our barbecue and not have Texas pride in having an island of a grid that you never know if the lights are going to turn on or not." β€” U.S. Rep. Greg Casar

If you've emotionally recovered from Winter Storm Uri's impact on Austin pipes and power, read Hearst reporter Sara DiNatale's full story on how grid connectivity would work.

Reader hot take: Don't wait in line for BBQ

Ya'll aren't skimping on the heat with these hot takes! New Austin Daily reader Mike M. (7th generation Texan; been here since 1981) sent the gem below to our inbox. As always, reply to this email with yours.

β€œDon't wait in a line for trendy BBQ. There is plenty of excellent BBQ around, just down the street where there is no line.”

We’re so glad you found us. Find our bios and contact info here, or reach out at hello@austindaily.com. Behind today’s send: Katie Canales, Mary Wasson and Bob Goldsborough.