Constantine V. "Gus" Vayas, who operated G/M Steakhouses in Austin and elsewhere, died Wednesday at age 86.


A singular public figure behind the counter of his diners, Vayas became friends with University of Texas football coaches Darrell Royal and Fred Akers, Longhorn icon Earl Campbell, guitar hero Stevie Ray Vaughan, club owner Clifford Antone and Lt. Gov. Bob Bullock.


"My dad was a very special man, and I loved working at his restaurants when I was in high school, because all the coolest people in Austin came in and knew him like he was their best friend," his son Christopher Vayas said Friday. "When I went off to college in San Marcos, my buddies always wanted to go visit my dad. We’d go to Donn’s Depot or Ego’s or the Tavern, which is where my dad went after getting off from work."


G/M Steakhouse was open every day, including Christmas, and was one of the last eateries in town that allowed smoking inside. Even those who did not frequent his diners remember Vayas as the "Cranky Cook" from Richard Linklater’s 1990 breakout movie about pre-boom Austin, "Slacker."


Vayas was born on March 20, 1934, in Greece. He immigrated to the U.S. in 1951 and stayed with family before joining the U.S. Army and being deployed to Korea.


In 1959, he met Eunice Jensen of Cozad, Neb., and they were married May 21, 1960, in Gothenburg, Neb. They had six children: Athena, Timothy, Thomas, Christopher, Billy and Connie.


In the 1960s, the couple came to Austin to learn the restaurant business. They opened several restaurants in Colorado and Texas. They operated the G/M Steakhouse at 626 N. Lamar Blvd. until Gus’ retirement in 2005.


Vayas showed up in humor columns written by the late John Kelso for the American-Statesman.


"On Wednesday, while eating a Spanish omelette and a side of hash browns at the G/M, I asked for another fork because the one I'd been given had a tiny piece of grunge at the end of one tine," Kelso wrote in 2001. " ‘You got a clean one by mistake?’ Gus joked when I handed him the fork. You're not going to get this kind of service at the Four Seasons.


"Gus serves his sirloin steak with a side order of abuse. Two guys who work on cell phone towers sat at the counter and ordered chopped steak and eggs. ‘No wonder we have trouble with all the cell phones,’ joked Gus, who spends most of the day with a half-smoked cigar stuck in his lips."


Bullock, himself a colorful character, was a regular at the G/M Steakhouse on North Lamar, as Vayas confirmed to the Statesman after Bullock died in 1999.


"He was a great Texan and my friend,'' Vayas said. "Bacon and eggs, extra bacon, three eggs over easy and coffee. He had the same thing every time. I started it when I saw his car drive up."


Vayas leaves behind his wife of 60 years and five surviving children. He is preceded in death by his son Thomas.


"He had the unique ability to treat everyone the same and with kindness no matter their social status or background or race," Eunice Vayas said Friday. "He could wear any hat socially and people felt comfortable around him."