Executive Chef John “Blue” Avila was born into the restaurant business as the first grandson of Texas food legends A.C. and Mary Saenz of the A.C. Saenz Tamales & BBQ, est. 1968.
Avila can recall his grandfather sitting him on the bar of the Bryan, Texas restaurant, giving him Lance peanut candies from a jar next to the cash register, and talking endlessly about his love for the restaurant and his customers. “I am a very lucky man,” John remembers his grandfather telling him. “I work with my family everyday and when I turn on these lights, our friends come to visit us and eat at our table.” At age 6, tall enough to use a broom and a cue, Avila would earn dimes for the pool table by wiping down tables, sweeping up bottle caps, and collecting the empty bottles. The smell of burning oak and corn masa resonated in John’s young soul. Years later, the memories of his grandfather, the restaurant, and ultimately the love of the barbecue itself would draw him off of the corporate ladder and return him to where he was from: the kitchen.
John traded his oxfords for kitchen clogs and left the comfort of his beloved Houston, turning a few heads in the process.
Alone, focused, and highly motivated, he settled in Austin and began his culinary odyssey, finding solace in his grandfather’s words. He threw himself into working under the direction of Chef Melissa Brinckman in her newly founded Cake and Spoon, Co. It would be here- in the commissary kitchen working for Cake & Spoon- that he would come to meet Aaron Franklin. After discovering both shared deep Bryan, Tx roots, the two became friends and Franklin invited Avila into the kitchen to execute the menu. Three years after starting his journey in Chef Brinckman’s kitchen, Avila was invited by Austin-based success story, Torchy’s, to help launch their brand in his hometown, Houston. Torchy’s exploded onto the Houston scene with Avila running point. The success of Torchy’s planted the desire in Avila to eventually launch his own brand, but a chance meeting with Chris Morgan of Cooper’s Square led to a talk over beers about barbecue, Texas, New York, and how Morgan wanted to combine the three. Avila was further impressed after a second meeting with Morgan’s business partner, Joel Bolden; an eclectic team emerged. Inspired by the vision of Cooper’s Square and fueled by the desire to bring his family’s oak-smoked Texas barbecue to new friends, Avila moved to New York City. He focused on the training and growth of a talented team to successfully carry out the Cooper’s Square vision.
Upon returning to Houston, John launched his own catering company turned restaurant called El Burro & the Bull (now known as, Burro & Bull) with his wife, Veronica Avila and brother-in-law, Jesse Gallegos. His passion for Texas cuisine is reflected in his menu, which utilizes regional and seasonal Texas ingredients, combining the best of German smokehouses and Mexican ranches with favorites from his grandfather’s restaurant- dishes such as smoked brisket tamalitos with crema fresca & burnt ends and sweet potato pie with a gingersnap crust. Avila’s barbecue pedigree puts him at the forefront of an evolving barbecue scene, taking the art of smoked meats beyond what it is today.
This concept evolved into Henderson & Kane General Store, a second concept for the husband and wife team. Henderson & Kane has become known as the backbone of the community, providing a shelf for every local chef to sell their unique products. Currently in stock, Henderson & Kane offers over 200 locally sourced products, from eggs, to milk, cheese, and tamales. Avila serves the very same barbecue for take away, along with other homestyle meals with daily specials and house made sausage.
John Avila’s latest concept is that of the recently opened Acadian Coast in Houston’s Second Ward. The Second Ward location was originally slated to be a Corky’s BBQ led by Bruce Gingrich. Bringing John on board to steer the concept, he ramped up the design & menu to incorporate a more historical approach to French Creole-Cajun cuisine.