In Austin, we’re loyal to our locally owned restaurants, but it’s the family-owned joints that really stick in our hearts. A good mom-and-pop restaurant does something beyond feeding you delicious food; it makes you feel like you’re a member of the family.
The stories weaved into the history of our favorites spots only make us like them more. Here, the folks behind seven Austin restaurants share what it's like to work with family — and the love that goes into every meal.
After Justin and Lakana Trubiana moved back to the U.S. from Thailand, they were homesick for the food from Lakana’s hometown, Roi Et. Lakana had been cooking since she was a kid, and Justin loved it, but thought he was a little biased. “It wasn't until she started cooking for [other] Thais that [the idea for a food truck] really began to dawn on me,” Justin says.
Since opening in March 2016, Dee Dee has become one of Austin's best Thai spots, and the Trubianas show no sign of stopping. What’s the best part of running a business together? “Simple,” he says. “We get to be together.”
The Flying Carpet
Abderrahim “Abdu” Souktouri and his wife, Maria, have been dishing up Moroccan cuisine to their loyal patrons since 2010. While Maria is of Mexican descent, Abdu moved to the States from Morocco in the ‘90s after winning a visa lottery. He went to work at Dell, but he and Maria were always cooking for their friends. “It seemed to merge our personalities and cultures very well as a couple,” says Maria. “When we saw the burgeoning food truck culture … we decided we wanted to be part of the action.”
They've been part of that action for the past eight years. From their trailer in South Austin, the Souktouris have achieved cult status, serving up an ever-changing menu of Moroccan dishes, sourced from organic and local farms whenever possible.
Habanero Mexican Cafe
Arturo and Evelyn Ibarra have been running Habanero Mexican Cafe together for more than 20 years, but their Austin roots run even deeper. Arturo is the son (and nephew) of the two brothers who ran Dos Hermanos Mexican Foods, a bygone Austin staple remembered fondly by Capital City’s old-timers.
After the brothers retired, Arturo and Evelyn took over and, while the name is different, the recipes are the same ones their family has been using for generations. Today, the Oltorf Street shop is a destination for a new generation of Austinites, thanks to a menu of approachable dishes like enchiladas, caldos, and tacos.
Amelis Paz-Kerlin and her husband, Bill Kerlin, have spent their lives in restaurants. After Bill opened his eponymous barbecue truck on East Cesar Chavez Street, Amelis quit her job at Sway to come help run it.
Originally from Venezuela, Amelis has spent the better part of a year coming up with the perfect kolache dough recipe which they stuff with, among other things, brisket and cheddar cheese. After enjoying a few of those, feast on Bill’s pork ribs, among the best around.
When Nahika and Travis Hillery moved to Austin from Boston, they immediately noticed a Caribbean-sized gap in Austin's ever-expanding palate. Nahika, the chef in the family, is of Hatian descent. She came up with the menu for Kreyol Korner, and Travis devised the business plan. Today, the colorful food trailer sits at 805 Stark St., just between the Brentwood and North Loop neighborhoods.
While working together can be a challenge sometimes (“I don’t want an upset wife!” Travis says), the rewards always shine through. “We are a true team,” he says, “able to share ideas easily on our vision … to bring quality Caribbean flavor to Austin.”
LeAnn Mueller grew up in Taylor, Texas, the granddaughter of Louie Mueller, among the most famous names in Texas barbecue. She started dating her wife, Alison Clem, when she took over her first barbecue truck. Representing the next chapter in a storied family legacy, Mueller and Clem have gone on to rack up an impressive number of accolades, creating what some have called the best barbecue in Texas.
Mueller's name may be synonymous with barbecue, but the couple have made La Barbecue their own. “She is my best friend,” LeAnn says of her wife, Alison. “Can’t think of anyone else I would want to share this journey with.”
Mehmet “Nuri” Davarci and his chef/wife, Gungor Davarci, opened their Turkish restaurant behind a gas station off Anderson Lane and Mesa Drive in 2014. Over the past four years, Troy has remained a hidden gem of sorts, filled with devoted patrons who return again and again.
Using ancestral recipes that go back generations, the couple's goal is to bring a little bit of their Mediterranean Turkish home to Austin diners. Diners who spend time at Troy can expect to be treated like family, and maybe learn a little Turkish while feasting on their signature beef Iskender.