From its roots in Austin, Texas, going back to 1982, Chuy’s restaurants have expanded across the nation bringing its “funky Tex-Mex” approach to nearly 100 locations in 19 states.
When Chuy’s Alpharetta opened in December 2017 adjacent to the Avalon complex on Old Milton Parkway, it became the third Chuy’s location in Georgia.
Although the franchise has expanded far and wide, much of the original look and feel of the first Austin restaurant is carried into every new location, including in Alpharetta.
Here, you will find hand-carved wooden fish "swimming" from the ceiling, hubcaps hanging above your booth and the Elvis shrine that started with founders Mike Young and John Zapp and which continues today.
The decision to open a restaurant in Alpharetta was a deliberate one, said general manager Joel Docking, and was based on the strong sense of community that already existed.
“General managers at each location ‘own’ their store and are encouraged to develop partnerships through strong connections and relationships,” said Docking. “With the way the Alpharetta community continues to grow, we knew that our values and culture would fit perfectly [here].”
While the company founders had a whimsical approach to the feel of the restaurant, they were committed to serious Tex-Mex food. Although the Tex-Mex definition covers a lot of ground, Chuy’s points to a menu composed of recipes and ingredients you’ll find across New Mexico, Mexican border towns, the Rio Grande Valley, deep South Texas, Austin and beyond.
“Tex-Mex is definitely a revolving door,” said Docking. “But it’s all about the types of cheese, fajitas, styles of burritos and enchiladas, which are really the main defining differences between authentic Mexican and Tex-Mex.”
He knows there are a multitude of Mexican-themed restaurants in the North Fulton-South Forsyth area, but believes Chuy’s Alpharetta offers a unique, and truly authentic, experience.
Everything starts fresh at Chuy’s Alpharetta; in fact, the small freezer on site holds only ice cream and French fries for the kids’ meals, noted Docking.
“The word ‘fresh’ is trending in the restaurant industry today,” he said. “And that’s made it harder for us to really emphasize that word. However, the moment that you step in our restaurant, you’ll realize what fresh really is.”
The experience includes hand-rolled tortillas made all day by the resident “tortilla expert,” green chilies from New Mexico found nowhere else in the world and the 10 signature sauces made each day, with flavors ranging from mild tomatillo to spicy Hatch green chile.
Chuy’s marketing manager Courtney Jade Pelly said the menu offers all the “must haves” of Mexican cuisine, including burritos, tacos, flautas, enchiladas and fajitas, and Chuy’s prides itself on giving the customer exactly what they want.
“Each entrée can be customized the way that you want it, which allows you to make it your own personal favorite,” said Pelly, who encourages new customers to ask for a sampling of all 10 signature sauces to find their favorite.
Pressed to name the fan favorites, Docking pointed to the chicken tortilla soup, the Chicka-Chicka Boom-Boom enchilada with freshly-roasted, hand-pulled chicken in Boom-Boom sauce and steak fajitas marinated in Shiner Bock beer.
Chuy’s founders also knew a successful restaurant is built not only on what happens inside the building, but outside as well - in the community. To that end, Chuy’s supports a “local store marketing” approach from day one.
“Our general managers at each location are encouraged to create partnerships and relationships in the community,” said Pelly. “We open our new locations with children’s charities, partner with local schools and truthfully just treat each guest as a VIP, [knowing] our best marketing efforts are by word of mouth.”
And although Chuy’s Alpharetta has been open for only a few months, Docking said plans are already in place to become a fixture in the community.
“Alpharetta continues to grow, and because of that, we will continue to grow,” said Docking. “We will be participating in many local events, so definitely keep an eye out for us.”