In December 2005 Moonie's Burger House opened its first restaurant location in Cedar Park, where guests were served what was later voted the best burger in town for eight consecutive years.
Owners Angela and Brian Gingrass went on to open three more locations in the Austin area, but one by one each restaurant was sold to new independent local owners—including the original Cedar Park restaurant, which was purchased by Stuart Ward in February.
Ward, an electrical engineer, said he has molded the restaurant into something new and improved.
"When we came in, honestly, we felt like it was a diamond in the rough," Ward said. "We didn't want to change too much [of] the menu right away because the customers were used to it. We really stared with the cleanliness, making it a little more bright, a little more hip, more fun really working on the customer service side."
As part of the updates, the restaurant received a fresh coat of paint, the floors were refinished and the counters were replaced with large, wooden butcher blocks.
But what may be Ward's favorite change is what he's doing to the menu, he said.
"Now that we've got a handle on keeping this place running and not making customers mad, I think we can really start having some fun with [the food]," he said. "We started doing burgers of the month—just really random things. Probably the craziest was the Thai burger; it's got teriyaki-glazed pineapples, jalapenos, peanut sauce, cilantro and Sriracha."
The changes do not go unnoticed. Udo Dussling, co-owner of neighboring shop Hang Ups Picture Framing, said when he first tried Moonie's two years ago he was less than impressed with the experience.
"Once I found out that Stuart was the new owner, I realized all the changes being made with his menu and his meat product itself," Dussling said. "Some of the food has increased in quality, I would say, about 80 percent from what it was."
Dussling said he now eats at Moonie's two or three times a week for lunch, and he is often the one behind the taste-testing for Ward's new burger creations.
"We are the guinea pigs for some of his experiments," Dussling said. "When he comes up with a new food idea we are the ones who give an opinion."
Ward said he began considering purchasing Moonie's after growing an interest in craft beer, which was a key component of the restaurant's updates.
"I fell in love with craft beer five or six years ago," he said. "I ended up investing with a brewery out in Dripping Springs. I just saw the craft beer boom through their eyes and then kind of started developing a restaurant concept."
Since taking over the restaurant he has grown the menu to include a number of craft beers with nearly 30 labels exclusively from Texas, all of which are $3 each.
Among the other changes, the restaurant will be closed on Mondays starting Jan. 5. But the final piece of Ward's renovation is customer service. He said that interaction is key, and if guests do not like what they order, he always welcomes feedback.
"Because so many people tell us they love it, it's obvious when somebody had a bad experience, so we work really hard to get it right," he said.
Even with all of the changes for Moonie's, Ward said all four of the restaurants still carry the same spirit—the only difference is they all have started to embrace their own unique identities.
"I think it's good that each one has their individual identities because people still know Moonie's," Ward said. "If they like what we do they can come here; if they like [something] slightly different they can go to the other stores."
Some things never change
Owner Stuart Ward said that throughout the years, customers have been drawn to Moonie's classics such as the Plain Jane Burger and the California Burger. These menu items, as well as the restaurant's signature buns, are not going anywhere—in Cedar Park or at the other three restaurants.
"I feel that one thing that probably sets us apart is our bun," he said. "We've been using the same bun for eight years. It's a sweet-sourdough; we toast it with a little butter on it."
The burger patties are made daily, sometimes with different ingredients, he said, and each is hand-formed.
"To create these little burgers with a lot more ingredients is kind of hard, but we're starting to get a really good flow in the kitchen," he said.
He also said Moonie's will remain the same family-friendly staple in Cedar Park that it has grown to be.
"I feel like what we really bring to the table is that personal touch and creating that fun, home experience," he said. "Cedar Park is a family city. We're really just trying to keep to the families."
Moonie's Burger House, 200 S. US 183, Cedar Park, 512-249-5214, www.facebook.com/mooniescedarpark, Hours: 11 a.m.–9 p.m. daily. (Closed on Mondays starting Jan. 5.)