I first met Mike in the summer of 1978. He was the general manager at the first Chili’s to locate outside of Texas in Cupertino, California. It was Chili’s unit #5 and it was a hit with Californian’s. Mike was the only one of the seven that started Chili’s that had been out of Texas, so he was elected…funny how democratic the Company was at the time.
Mike hired me as a bartender and line cook and we have been friends, colleagues and business partners since then.
Mike was a Texas native. He was a big guy with a big personality and a big booming voice that people loved. He was an amazing restaurateur, chain executive, operator and leader. Together with other industry all stars during the 1980’s and 1990’s, he helped invent the casual dining industry. What a legacy. First at Chili’s, then The Cheesecake Factory, BJ’s Restaurant, Max and Erma’s and finally, Kona Grill, as its interim CEO and Board member. When Mike asked me to partner with him on a new adventure called Austin Restaurant Partners, I didn’t hesitate. He wanted to advise small chains, mentor operators – pass along some of his wisdom and maybe buy one and grow a small chain…one more time. He came full circle back Austin, a city he loved and where his amazingly successful restaurant career actually began in the mid 1970’s.
Mike was also a great father and loving husband to Susan. I miss him and all the silly jokes and business idioms we created and heard. I’ll miss the adventures, the meetings and the dreams we shared. I’ll miss that booming “HOWDY” every Monday morning at 11 Central Time. He was an inspirational leader and my restaurant business mentor of 36 years. I was very lucky.
Mahalo and a hui hou.
Michael L. Atkinson