The secret is out: Jimmy Loup is back in town. Everyone’s friend and familiar restaurateur has opened the town’s newest hot spot, Grub Burger Bar. Even though it’s been standing room only for the past three weeks, the restaurant hasn’t even had an official grand opening yet. Too late; the word is out and business is booming. The “Grub” in Grub burger is more than a descriptor of good eating, it’s an acronym for Good people—Real food—Unique vibe—Big flavors. To know why Jimmy Loup + Grub burger is big news in town, it’s because of who Jimmy is, as a businessman, and what he and his business partner, Tom Kenney, another of the town’s best friends and restaurant CEOs, have created together and debuted this month in College Station.
Hard to believe that it’s been almost 20 years that the community met Jimmy Loup, first as a young Aggie student, and one of Tom Kenney’s best waiters at Outback Steakhouse in College Station. Kenney, at the time, was the managing partner with Outback Steakhouse and he spotted Loup’s talent early.
It was an ordinary evening in 1994 when I first went for dinner at Outback Steakhouse, a night much like any other. The young Aggie who was waiting tables in our section that night made such a significant impression that it’s still strong today. What was unique about this server was that he looked customers directly in the eye, he could remember your order without writing anything down, and he was back to check on you at ‘just’ the right time. And yet, he was invisible, knowing precisely the perfect time to reappear. It was like magic.
With professional panache, this young man was studying business at Texas A&M. He was proud to be working his way through school, carrying a full courseload in business management while working full-time at the restaurant. But this wasn’t just another job to Jimmy Loup.
He had a plan, and his manner just spoke of ambition and reflected hard work. He remembered his customers by name, even if it was six weeks in between visits to the restaurant. It was also amazing that he remembered the famous, the infamous, and the not-known-to-anyone with equal acumen. Eighteen years ago, you just knew he was going places. He did. Right to the top of the local Outback Steakhouse. It didn’t happen overnight; it actually took five years before Loup went from apprentice to taskmaster.
By the time Loup was a senior at A&M, Kenney promoted him to a salaried position at Kitchen Manager, and worked him even harder. Loup was up to the task, and then some. He saw Kenney being mentored by those above him, so Loup announced to his boss that he was ready for promotion himself. Kenney said, “No” at first, noting that “Loup was too young.” Time and again, though, Loup kept after Kenney. He wanted to move up.
When Kenney was promoted to an executive position of Regional Manager within Outback and relocated to Austin, he told Loup, then an Aggie grad, that he was finally ready to assume the managing partnership as Proprietor in his first Outback Steakhouse franchise. Loup hired the best team of Aggie college students whom he trained demandingly to treat the customers the way he’d been taught by Kenney.
Kenney moved up the Outback ranks quickly and the community embraced him because of Outback’s strong commitment to supporting special fund-raisers and giving “above and beyond” to various charities. Kenney gave in time as well as resources, having served as the President of the Brazos Valley Food Bank here in 1999, as well as a member of the Rotary Club of Austin. Kenney modestly attributed his success to “his work ethic and hard work” but it really goes beyond that. What Kenney did and Loup learned firsthand was to embrace what was important to your community and always keep the focus on the customers. Jimmy Loup also served as the President of the Arts Council of the Brazos Valley in 2003. Jimmy’s successor at the local Outback, Tap Bentz, continues the tradition of customer service there and the trio remains great friends. Outback has been a great connector to build lasting friendships.
Kenney’s career has found him recognized throughout the Outback Steakhouse chain as well as being named to the Cambridge directory’s “Who’s Who” listing. Loup eventually relocated to Rome, Georgia, where his wife was an urgent care and primary care doctor. And the dynamic duo kept in touch through all the years of Outback ownership as both kept moving up the ranks. Jimmy’s wife, Dr. Lee Ann Howell Loup, had completed her medical residency and was delighted to return to the Brazos Valley to open a Family Practice and work out of Navasota’s Grimes St. Joseph Health Center with Dr. Steve Ramirez. The Loups have two children, daughters Sadie and Lila.
And so it was only natural that when Loup wanted to come back home to Aggieland, he reached out to Kenney to team up and create a brand of their own, something worthy of emulating one day, they hope. The result of their first brainstorm is Grub Burger. Aside from some very creative types of meat and turkey hamburgers, fresh ground every day, they are very proud of the fresh-baked buns for their burgers that are so warm you don’t need to reheat them. If you’re on a diet, stay far, far away from the milkshakes and good luck with that, because they have the best alcohol-blended milkshakes in addition to the tee-totaler types. That’s likely one of the reason for capacity crowds before the duo ever cut a ribbon for the local chamber of commerce.
Loup continues his tradition of supporting his community. His business doors were not even open in February when he was still overseeing remodeling into their restaurant space at 980 University Drive East (next to Pei Wei and Jamba Juice) when he donated a superb Aggie tailgate party “to go” as an auction item for the 2012 Heart Ball. Because everyone knows Jimmy Loup, the auction item was “over the moon” popular. It just goes to show that when you treat customers as priority one in business, you can make a success at what you do. Kenney chose wisely in reaching out to find talent with creativity and spark to mentor. The next time you think a dream is far away from reality, remember Jimmy Loup and know that a dream + hard work + creativity = success. And while you’re there contemplating that equation over a to-die-for burger, treat yourself to a milkshake. You know you’re going to want one. The only problem will be picking the flavor.