If you sit Mahmud "Moody" Ugur down for a conversation about how to build a successful restaurant on the Drag that runs by the University of Texas, be prepared for either an exasperated shrug of the shoulders or a dissertation.
"I could write a book," the founder of Mezze Me, one of Austin’s best fast-casual Mediterranean restaurants, told the me by phone recently.
I’ll give you the Cliff’s Notes version: "It’s really, really, really hard," said Ugur, repeating a line that likely resonates with those who came before him on the Drag.
Ugur then gave a list of reasons for the struggle: college students like traditional American fast food and promotional deals from national chains; the Drag is not a hub for anyone besides students, so if you’re not going to campus, you’re probably not taking Guadalupe Street; North Campus attracts one type of diner and South Campus another; and college kids are more "social media diners" than "actual diners." And some foreign-born students, or those who are the children of immigrants, might seek the kind of food Ugur serves at Mezze Me — from-scratch shawarma, hummus, seasonal dips, salads and spreads — but they also may be likely to cook that food in their own kitchen, or bring prepared foods back after visits home.
Whatever the reason or combination of reasons, the second location of Ugur’s Mezze Me, which he opened at 2530 Guadalupe St. last October, never took off like the original that he opened up the road at the Triangle in 2016.
And then the pandemic had its say.
After a slow February, Ugur closed Mezze Me on the Drag when the state mandated dining rooms temporarily closed on March 17, and he never reopened it. That would have been the end of his short struggle on the Drag, but Ugur said he had too much respect and affection for his landlord to just walk away from his lease.
So, the Turkish native, who attended the University of Texas, decided to give the students what he thought they wanted. He reopened his restaurant as Moody’s Kitchen + Bar in late September, serving burgers, pizza, wings, cocktails and beer. The casual restaurant and bar features a spacious back garden patio, TVs inside and outside and occasional live music.
"I am brokenhearted. I felt bad to close it," Ugur said of his second Mezze Me location. "We tried everything we could."
But Ugur chose practicality over pride and said he realizes pizzas, burgers and wings are better suited for takeout and pandemic-era dining.
And he insisted that the quality of his more traditional American fast-casual food is the same standard as Mezze Me. He made sure of it during weeks of testing his pizza dough.
"I’m a fat guy, and I love pizza crust. I gained 25 pounds," Ugur said.
Moody’s Kitchen + Bar is open 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday-Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday.
As for anyone who might attempt to follow in his footsteps on the notoriously difficult stretch of campus dining: "Advice? I’m too young to give advice," Ugur said with a laugh. "Be cautious. Understand the students. To be honest, I have no idea. It is super different."