Sizzlin' Once Again
Iconic Austin restaurant plans to spice things up after bankruptcy
Randy Cohen, founder and CEO of Austin-based ticket brokerage TicketCity, and Austin real estate investor Michael Stone are aiming to spice up the once-beleaguered Z’Tejas Southwestern Grill, following two back-to-back bankruptcies.
Cohen tells CultureMap that he and Stone, both of whom were investors in the former Austin-based parent company of Z’Tejas, finalized the purchase of four Z’Tejas restaurants — two in Austin and two in the Phoenix area — in late August. Cohen and Stone teamed up with their co-investor, restaurant veteran Dunny Wanstrath of Austin, to restructure the business and buy it out of bankruptcy.
Stone, CEO of Z’Tejas, and Wanstrath, chief operating officer, say they and the rest of their team are committed to beefing up the quality of the food and service at the Southwest-style eateries. Stone acknowledges that in the face of competitive pressures, Z’Tejas had “lost a little luster” after taking its “eye off the ball” in terms of food and service.
With the second bankruptcy in the rearview mirror, Wanstrath says Z’Tejas — founded in Austin in 1989 — is seeking to re-create the “spirit of Z” by reviving classic menu items but also catering to modern tastes by adding lighter fare, such as a broader selection of salads.
“We’re a cult brand. That’s what we want to be,” Wanstrath tells CultureMap. “We’re not a chain.”
“We’re selling an experience at this restaurant,” Stone adds. “This experience just happens to come with great food and great beverages.”
At the two Austin locations (on West Sixth Street and in the Arboretum area), Cohen wants to promote a “light and bright” vibe, complete with murals of notable Austin spots like the Pennybacker Bridge on Loop 360.
Austin-based Cornbread Ventures, the former owner of Z’Tejas, filed for bankruptcy protection in October 2017 and shuttered four restaurants, including the Avery Ranch location of Z’Tejas. Two years earlier, Cornbread Ventures had been set up to buy Z’Tejas after the restaurant group sought bankruptcy protection the first time around. Stone was a general partner in Cornbread Ventures, and Cohen was an investor and board member.
Through the United States Bankruptcy Court in Phoenix, newly formed Red Fox Lending LLC of Austin worked with Cornbread Ventures’ creditors and its primary lender, JPMorgan Chase, to buy the assets of Cornbread Ventures.
Cohen says he had taken a “hands-off, silent-partner approach” when Z’Tejas was controlled by Cornbread Ventures. But now, under the Red Fox umbrella, Cohen says he’s becoming more involved in order “to add incredible value and turn this iconic brand back to where it should be.”
Between now and the first quarter of next year, the new owners of Z’Tejas “will take a closer look” at expanding the concept, Cohen says.
“We will have amazing food, great service, and a spectacular brand image,” Cohen says. “We have already made significant … changes to the drink and food menus during the last few months, and we are going to continue to improve … to achieve our goals.”