The "chihuahua" bar inside Chuy's in Rockville. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
If you’re into Elvis, classic cars, margaritas, pictures of dogs, wooden fish and enchiladas, you’re probably going to like Chuy’s.
The Tex-Mex restaurant that has more than 80 locations across the country has generated somewhat of a cult-like following for its made-from-scratch food and bevy of sauces including creamy jalapeno sauce.
The chain will open its first Maryland location in Rockville on Tuesday at Federal Plaza on Rockville Pike. The new 6,000-square-foot restaurant fills the former Ruby Tuesday location at the shopping center. It’s across from the Silver Diner.
The host stand and Elvis memorabilia inside Chuy's Rockville. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
The chain got its start in Austin in 1982. Each restaurant has a unique look and the company likes to say, “If you’ve seen one Chuy’s, you’ve seen one Chuy’s.” However, the eateries do have some common design elements. That’s because when founders Mike Young and John Zapp were first starting the business, they didn’t have enough money to decorate their first place, so they stopped at a roadside shop and bought what they could afford—portraits of Stevie Wonder and Elvis Presley. They also scrounged up some hubcaps and wooden red fish, according to Rockville general manager Helen Bowen.
The Elvis portrait became so well-known at the original restaurant that regulars began dropping off their own Elvis memorabilia and the restaurant started amassing a collection. As the chain expanded, it continued to add small shrines of Elvis in its restaurants and now celebrates his birthday.
“He’s the patron saint of Chuy’s,” Bowen said. Inside the Rockville restaurant the “shrine” includes nine small plastic Elvis heads. The other items from the original restaurant also became signatures.
The hubcap room. Credit: Andrew Metcalf
At the Rockville restaurant, there’s a hubcap room—where hubcaps hang from the ceiling and paintings of classic cars are on the walls. There’s also a dining room decorated with metal palm tree sculptures and a bar area adorned with photos of dogs and small wooden fish. Customers who give the restaurant a framed picture of their dog receive a free appetizer, Bowen said, and the photo will be hung on the wall.
The dog wall.
In the kitchen, there’s a big walk-in fridge where the staff store ingredients and the 10 sauces made daily that range from salsa and tomatillo to hatch chili and boom boom sauce, which is made from green chiles, garlic, cilantro, chicken stock and melted cheese. That sauce is a key part of one of the restaurant’s most popular dishes, chicka chicka boom boom enchiladas, according to kitchen manager Jeff Sheehan. Other menu items include tacos, burritos, fajitas and other Tex-Mex dishes.
The bar serves margaritas made with fresh-squeezed lime juice as well as beer, wine and other cocktails.
The restaurant, which will be open daily for lunch and dinner, will employ 165 people, including 45 kitchen staff.
“It takes a lot of people to make fresh food,” Sheehan said.
The chain, which was bought by a private equity firm in 2006, was later taken public in 2013. Since then, it has been expanding by opening about 10 new restaurants each year—working its way along the East Coast after expansions in the Midwest and South.
In Maryland, the company is planning to open a second restaurant in Gaithersburg. Bowen said the company hopes to open it next year, but she could not say yet where it would be located.
Main dining room
Tortilla making station