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Two restaurant chains with Austin roots rank among country's tops in revenue

Matthew Odam
Chuy's first proved itself in Austin before spreading beyond the Texas borders. [Ricardo B. Brazziell AMERICAN-STATESMAN]

We certainly like to keep it weird when it comes to business in Austin, placing such an emphasis on shopping local that it has become the de facto city motto. That certainly holds true when it comes to Austin restaurants. All of the Top 50 restaurants in our 2018 Dining Guide were locally owned operations.

While the land of keeping it weird may be associated with smaller restaurants, the city has birthed a couple restaurant chains that rank among the tops in  the country in terms of revenue. Industry publication Nation's Restaurant News recently released its list of the Top 200 restaurant chains in the country, using total sales as its measure, and  a couple of Austin-born brands are on that list.

Chuy’s, the Elvis-loving Tex-Mex chain that started on a shoestring budget on Barton Springs Road in 1980, went public in 2012. While the company’s stock has been on a bit of a roller coaster in recent years, shooting as high as $34 a share and as low as $17 just in the past year, the company did $398.3 million in sales last year, earning the 113th spot on the list.

Schlotzky’s got its start in Austin in 1971, though the company was purchased by Focus Brands, an affiliate of private equity firm Roark Capital Group, parent company of Cinnabon and Auntie Anne's, more than a decade ago. The restaurant, now based in Georgia, has made continual efforts to reposition itself in the marketplace over the last decade. The chain, which recently introduced the brand Schlotzky's Austin Eatery, comes in at No. 130 on the list, with sales of $336.8 million at its almost 400 locations. 

Not surprisingly, the Texas-owned chains that ranked highest on the list are the ones with the most visibility. Chili’s Grill & Bar, which started in Dallas, is No. 22, with $3.49 billion in sales; Whataburger, which was recently purchased by an investment group in Chicago, did $2.42 billion in sales, earning the No. 33 spot; Beaumont-based Jason’s Deli earned $654 million and landed at No. 77 on the list; and the early-bird specialists at Houston-based Luby’s raked in $226.1 million for the 168th ranking.

Given the size of the Lone Star State, it’s not surprising to see smaller Texas brands represented on the list, as well. Salt Grass Steakhouse, which opened its first location in Houston almost 30 years ago and is now owned by Landry’s Inc., a corporation owned by Houston Rockets owner Tillman Fertitta, is No. 121 on the list, with sales of $354.9 million. El Pollo Tropical (No. 117), which in recent years has shuttered locations across Texas, is owned by the Texas-based Fiesta Restaurant Group, which also owns Taco Cabana.

Proving the power of the Texas brand, the Top 200 even has a couple of members that sound like they’re from Texas but aren’t: the Florida-based Longhorn Steakhouse (No. 38) and the Kentucky-based Texas Roadhouse (No. 29).

The top of the national list is headlined by the usual suspects, listed here in order from one to five: McDonald’s ($38.52 billion), Starbucks Coffee ($20.49 billion), Chick-fil-A ($10.46 billion), Subway ($10.41 billion) and Taco Bell ($10.36 billion). View the complete list at