With help from its owner, iconic eatery endures test of time
Amid a changing downtown landscape, with large skyscrapers under construction and new retail establishments opening every month, there is the Texas Chili Parlor, a restaurant whose atmosphere is as chill—and as “Austin”—as it was when it opened in 1976.
Signs with kitschy phrases line the walls, and old neon beer advertisements accompany them. The restaurant is broken up into a bar, main dining room and an off-to-the-side dining room. The lighting is dark, and classic rock music plays overhead. Not much has changed since the restaurant opened more than three decades ago, save the menu, a few staff members and the owner.
While a group of four men opened TCP in the ’70s, Scott “Zoob” Zublin now runs the restaurant. He purchased it in 2002 after the Texas Comptroller’s Office seized it during its second round of owners, a couple who had little desire to see the parlor continue as a successful restaurant, Zublin said.
“After 23 years in the oil field, I decided to quit that and resurrect the chili parlor,” Zublin said, adding that he had been an avid customer of TCP for more than 20 years. “All I did was restore it to what it used to be. I’ve never owned a restaurant in my life, but I knew from hanging out here since 1980 exactly what made this place good, and I just reverted everything back.”
At no point, Zublin said, did he want to try something new as owner of the parlor. The menu features 36-year-old chili recipes, such as the X, XX and XXX-rated chilis, as well as Freida’s Chili Enchiladas, a dish crafted by one of the restaurant’s first cooks.
Zublin credits TCP’s success to his commitment to consistency, he said.
“There are a couple of things about a restaurant you need—it’s got to be good, but it also has to be consistent,” Zublin said, adding that the effort can be difficult when cooks are dealing with precise measurements, such as varying degrees of heat.
“The original menu had a waiver for the XXX-rated chili, and you had to sign off on it,” he said. “That’s one of the reasons why people steal our menus all the time.”
Zublin said he has no plans to expand the Texas Chili Parlor brand. Since taking the reins at TCP, he has received offers from interested investors in New Orleans and even London to open additional locations, but to him, a perfect replication of the Austin restaurant could never be carried out exactly, he said.
“Here we are 10 years later, and everything is running really good,” Zublin said. “We’re doing more business now than we ever have.”
Even as the recession came to a head in 2008 and 2009, sales never slowed at TCP, the owner said. With TCP’s reasonable prices for its array of dishes and popular chilis, customers chose to spend a little for a lot of food, he said.
“When the recession came, that was our best year,” Zublin added. “If you’re going to spend your hard-earned money and make the most of it, you’re going to look for value.”
On the menu
From enchiladas and tamales to burgers and salads, Texas Chili Parlor has a variety of dishes—as well as an assortment of chilis ranging from mild to triple hot—for diners to enjoy. While the menu also includes sampler plates to try multiple flavors, there are some favorites:
- Five-bean veggie chili ($5.95–$6.95)
- Texas Chili Parlor Steak ($13.95): Features a hand-cut, 10 oz. to 12 oz. strip or ribeye steak
- Freida’s Chili Enchiladas ($9.99): An original TCP recipe featuring chili over cheese enchiladas and served with rice, a choice of beans or sauteed vegetables
- Black Bean and Elgin Sausage Chili ($5.95–$6.95)
Zublin’s takeover of TCP in 2002 proved to be just what the restaurant needed to attract a national spotlight. Two shows on The Travel Channel, including “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations,” will soon feature the parlor.
The eatery gained additional notoriety after it was featured in Director Quentin Tarantino’s action thriller “Death Proof,” starring Kurt Russell. According to Zublin, during the 2007 filming of the movie, Russell consumed six plates of TCP’s nachos under Tarantino’s direction, which have since been renamed the “KilleR Nachos” in honor of the actor.
Texas Chili Parlor, 1409 Lavaca St., 472-2828, www.txchiliparlor.com
Mon.–Sun. 11 a.m.–2 a.m.