By Ariel Yong
Chuy’s, the Texas-based restaurant chain is opening its first location in Northern Virginia late next month. And what’s on the menu? A free nacho bar in the trunk of an old car.
“We take the back end of a classic car and convert it into a build-your-own nacho bar,” says Kainne Hilburn, Chuy’s marketing manager for the southeast region. “It’s totally free from Monday through Friday, 4 to 7 p.m. It includes chips, sirloin, our queso and salsa fresca. It’s a good little treat that compliments happy hour.”
There is no minimum purchase required to partake in the free nacho bar. Hilburn says people can make themselves a plate of nachos to eat in the lobby while they’re waiting for their table.
So what prevents people from eating free nachos and leaving without paying for a meal?
“It happens less than you think it would,” Hilburn says. “We feel like it’s an investment in our customers. And people walk into the restaurant hungry, and when we’re hungry, we have bad attitudes so it helps people perk up and get ready for dinner.”
In 1982, Chuy’s opened its first location in Austin. The 55 locations are primarily located in Texas and the southeast, but the chain can also be found in Indiana and Ohio. Hilburn described Chuy’s as “more rock-and-roll than mariachi,” as apparent with each Chuy’s owning a unique Elvis Presley shrine in honor of the restaurant’s patron saint. It started when co-founders Mike Young and John Zapp didn’t have a lot of money to decorate the original place so they purchased cheap Elvis paintings from “the guy on the corner.” Customers quickly got on board with the theme and dubbed the nacho bar, the “Elvis Memorial Happy Hour,” donating their own Elvis memorabilia to the restaurant.
On the other hand, Chuy’s bar is dog-themed. Customers can bring a framed photo of their dog to “La Chihuahua Bar” and receive a free appetizer. The framed dog pictures are hung on the wall permanently, “so they’re going to be up there forever,” says Hilburn.
Since April of last year, Chuy’s opened two locations in the Richmond area, but Hilburn said there was a need for Tex-Mex in Fairfax. “There’s not really anyone else doing fresh Tex-Mex in Virginia. We make everything from scratch every day using raw ingredients. Our tortillas start out as a bag of four in the morning. Our rancheros start off with a bag of tomatoes and serrano peppers. People aren’t used that level of freshness from a Mexican joint. Tex-Mex is an American version of Mexican food so it’s just really approachable for the average person.” / Opening in August: Chuy’s, 11219 Lee Highway in Fairfax