Michael A. Nahkunst (“Mike”), age 63, passed away peacefully on Friday, May 16, 2014 in Austin, Texas. He was born August 6, 1950, in Dallas, Texas, to Tony and Sue Nahkunst. Mike graduated in 1969 from Richardson High School and then graduated from The University of Texas in Austin in 1972 with a degree in Business. Mike married Susan Hensarling in 1994 and together they shared a life adventure raising and blending together their four wonderful children calling themselves “The Nahkunst Bunch” in Highland Park, Dallas, Texas.
Mike had a natural ability to reach people in a deep and positive way as a leader, team builder, mentor and as a good friend. As one of the all stars that helped create the multi-billion dollar casual dining sector, Mike impacted thousands of people that work in the restaurant industry; from hourly employees through CEO’s at many of the leading national restaurant chains. Starting with his first restaurant job in 1972 at Pelican’s Wharf in Austin, Mike enjoyed a very successful career in the restaurant industry. Most notably, as one of the first seven employees of Chili’s Restaurants. From the first restaurant in Dallas, Mike rose from Store Management to Senior Vice President of Chili’s over a 17-year career with Dallas-based Brinker International. After leaving Brinker International in 1994, he accepted the Chief Operating Officer position at The Cheesecake Factory in Calabasas, California moving his ” Nahkunst Bunch” with him. A few years later he accepted the position as the Chief Operating Officer at BJ’s Restaurant Inc. in Huntington Beach continuing to build strong restaurant teams for the industry. In 2011, Mike accepted the top spot as CEO of Kona Grill, Inc based in Scottsdale, AZ before returning to Austin to found Austin Restaurant Partners, closing the loop from where he started in the restaurant business.
While Mike was a hard working restaurateur and executive, he also loved life with an Aloha spirit. Mike loved visiting Hawaii, sharing vacation time with his family and even marrying his best friend and wife, Susan, on the beach in Maui. Mike visited the Grand Wailea hotel so frequently in the 1980’s, staff members welcomed him with a “welcome home Mr. Nahkunst” greeting each visit. Mike was a true leader and restaurant business visionary.
He is survived by his wife, Susan Hensarling Nahkunst; his children, Brooke Allen, Brad Nahkunst, Alison Allen, Chris Nahkunst; his sister, Carol Nahkunst; his sister- in- law and brother- in-law, Georgia and Beyrl Armstrong and his mother- in- law, Doris Middleton.