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Remembering Jeffrey Weinberger, who helped change the course of Austin dining

Matthew Odam
Austin 360
Ron Weiss, left, and Jeffrey Weinberger outside of Jeffrey's, the restaurant they opened with Ron's wife, Peggy, in 1975.

Jeffrey Weinberger, a prolific and gracious restaurateur who helped change the face of Austin dining as co-founder of Jeffrey’s and Shoreline Grill, died Sept. 22 following a lengthy illness. He was 74. 

A native of Dallas and graduate of Thomas Jefferson High School, Weinberger’s life changed forever when he attended the University of Texas beginning in the late 1960s. It was there that he met his future business partners, Ron and Peggy Weiss, née Porter. 

The three all went their separate directions following college, with Weinberger embarking on a three-year sojourn to Europe, where he studied the culinary arts before returning to open casual European fine dining restaurant Blooms in Dallas. But the friends reunited when Weinberger came back to Austin, and the trio opened Jeffrey’s in 1975 at 1204 W. Lynn St. in Clarksville. 

In a town populated with restaurants serving Tex-Mex, barbecue, hamburgers and chicken fried steak, Jeffrey's stood out for its imaginative and creative fare inspired by the California cuisine of Chez Panisse in Berkeley, Calif., and the nouvelle menu at New York City’s Quilted Giraffe.  

Jeffrey's staffers are seen here circa the early 1980s.  “We were just trying to do something that was different," said Ron Weiss of the eatery he co-founded with his wife, Peggy, and Jeffrey Weinberger.

The restaurant — where you might find power brokers sitting next to birthday parties or glistening wine-sippers fresh from a game of tennis — took an approach of refined elegance in both its ambiance and menu. In a town where fried chicken cost $1.75, Jeffrey’s set itself apart with chalkboard menus listing a $3.75 chicken and a $5.95 filet mignon. 

“There was nothing like that around,” Ron Weiss told the American-Statesman. “We were just trying to do something that was different. I think that it spawned similar kinds of restaurants. People that worked there with us went on to become chefs and managers and sommeliers and open their own restaurants.”

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Weiss, who said he was as close to his friend of more than 50 years as he is to any of his own brothers, credited Weinberger's success and lengthy career to the passion he had for food and for a friendliness that made him beloved by customers and staff alike. 

Jeffrey's, seen here in 2002, stood out in Austin when it opened for its imaginative and creative fare.

After helping to establish the groundbreaker Jeffrey’s, Weinberger embarked on an almost 50-year career in the Austin restaurant world, opening Tortugas and Wiley's, and partnering again with the Weisses on Clarksville Cafe, Cipollina and Shoreline Grill, the seafood and steakhouse on the shores of Lady Bird Lake. 

Dave Bair, who served as the opening executive chef at Shoreline, said he had never met a restaurant operator like Weinberger during his hospitality career. 

“All he cared about was the character and the depth of the person that was applying,” Bair said of Weinberger’s approach to hiring staff to open Shoreline. Bair said the restaurateur believed you could teach the skills needed to work at a restaurant, so Weinberger was simply interesting in hiring “the best people.”

While some restaurant owners may work the room, touching tables, shaking hands and basking in their minor celebrity, Bair said Weinberger, whom he called a tireless worker that was “good to the core,” preferred to stay behind the scenes. When Shoreline was slammed with customers, Weinberger could most often be found in the kitchen asking how he could help. 

Jeffrey Weinberger's almost half-century in the Austin dining world included opening the lakeside eatery Shoreline Grill, seen here in 1995.

“He was so good at melding creativity and the entertainment side of the restaurant, but he just cared about people so much that he wasn’t one of these guys who was splashy about it,” Bair said. “He never wanted the publicity for himself. He set the pace for everybody who worked with him. You had to have humility and be looking out for what the customer wanted, because that’s what Jeff portrayed. He and Ron both.”

Lenoir owner Todd Duplechan was working at the Four Seasons Austin next door to Shoreline when he met Weinbeger in 2007. Despite their age difference, the two quickly became friends, engaging in long conversations about the restaurant business. 

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Though Weinberger would spend his entire career opening and running restaurants, he was anything but jaded, Duplechan said, unlike many restaurant owners who look at businesses and see how they won’t work and assume people are just going to disappoint them.

“He saw things differently,” Duplechan said. “Jeff Weinberger is one of the nicest, most giving souls on the planet. He saw the good in people. He worked with people forever. He really takes care of people. He’s very nice. He’s just unassuming. That’s why so many people gravitate to his orbit. He had zero ego; he had good ideas; and he’s just a nice guy.”

Todd Duplechan, from left, Jeff Haber and Jeffrey Weinberger rebooted the historic Youngblood's Fried Chicken brand in 2015.

Weinberger’s enthusiasm and his love for “old things” led Duplechan to partner with Weinberger (and former Trio at Four Seasons general manager Jeff Haber) on one of the restaurateur’s lifelong passions.  

Youngblood’s Fried Chicken had been a huge part of Weinberger’s childhood. He collected menus, furniture and artifacts from the family-friendly restaurant chain that had locations dotting the state in the middle of the 20th century. So, when Weinberger finally got the chance to reboot the dormant brand, a passion the Lenoir owner described as his friend’s “chasing down of his white whale,” Duplechan partnered with him. 

Though the restaurant located at the Mueller development lasted only about three years, Duplechan stayed in regular communication with Weinberger, whom Duplechan said knew the business backward and forward. Following the Youngblood’s closure, Weinberger continued to consult on other projects and study the industry he loved, despite his declining health, about which he never complained. 

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“People talk about and humble-brag about all the things they’re involved with, and he never talked about that kind of stuff,” Dupechan said. “I am honored to have known him. It’s a big loss in general for Austin.”

Weinberger is survived by his wife of 31 years, Tina; sons Sam and Steve; brother Allan Weinberger; sister Tina and her husband, Michael Heffernan; and nephews Scott Heffernan and Isaac Weinberger.

There will be a larger celebration of life in the spring. Donations in Weinberger's memory may be made to National Liver Foundation, Magen David Adom or Community Assistance for Refugees-Austin (CARE-Austin). Condolences and fond memories are welcome on a tribute page at

Today, as we publish the 2021 Austin360 Dining Guide, we're also remembering one of the pioneers of Austin's fine dining scene. Look for the Dining Guide inside today's newspaper and at