Obituary: Co-founder of Axel’s, Lucky’s 13 and other restaurants ‘had a heart of gold’
As a kid, she stood on milk crates and washed dishes at the Parker House, where her father was the maintenance man and her mother was the head cook. As she grew older — and taller — Young moved on to cleaning tables and waitressing at the historic Mendota locale.
They were humble beginnings, indeed, for Young, the co-founder of the Axel’s and Axel’s Bonfire Grill restaurant chain and Lucky’s 13 Pub locations.
“She’s the American dream story,” Charlie Burrows, her longtime business partner, said this week while remembering Young, who died March 28 at age 69. “I can’t say enough good things about her.”
Young’s husband, Charlie Young, said she also took pride in being involved in Wishes & More, a Minneapolis nonprofit that grants experiences to kids battling a terminal- or life-threatening condition.
“She gave a lot of her time and money to Wishes & More,” he said. “And she enjoyed that because she was helping young kids.”
Linda Young and Burrows also founded the Rudy’s Redeye Grill franchise and owned the Rosemount location at the time of her death, as well as the Me & Julio restaurants in Hastings and Madison, Wis.; Yankee Tavern in Eagan; and Tru Blu Social Club in Fargo, N.D.
Lulu’s Public House, which is named after Young, debuted at the Minnesota State Fair in 2014.
Burrows said they made a good team.
“The things she was good at I wasn’t … and vice versa,” he said. “It worked well and I had 22 years with her.
“Instead of being sad I’ve chosen to take the attitude that for 22 years I’ve had the best partner, the best friend and the best mentor a guy could ever have.”
BEGINNINGS AT CHAMPPS
Young and Burrows were managers at Champps Americana restaurants in the mid-1990s when they decided to partner and open a restaurant of their own. They were looking for a spot when the owner of the Parker House, which had been closed for nearly two years, called and asked if they were interested.
“When I walked in the back door, it was like deja vu,” Young told the Pioneer Press in 2002. “It felt like I was supposed to be there. I believe in fate. I think certain things happen for a reason.”
The restaurant duo took the leap and bought the space.
“It was just sitting there vacant,” Burrows recalled this week. “We decided to just take a chance.”
It paid off. In July 1996, after remodeling the space, they opened it as Axel’s River Grille — named after Young’s father, Axel Lofgren.
“I feel like I’ve come full circle” Young told the Pioneer Press at the time.
It was an instant success.
“Arrive at 7 on a weeknight, and there isn’t a table available in the main dining room,” wrote former Pioneer Press restaurant critic Kathie Jenkins two months after Axel’s debuted.
Young and Burrows later opened several other Axel’s and Axel’s Bonfires in the metro area, including ones in Roseville, Woodbury, St. Paul and Eagan, as well as the first Lucky’s 13 Pub in the former Mendota Saloon in 2007. It has since grown to nine locations.
Young and Burrows sold the Axel’s and Axel’s Bonfires to Bloomington-based Nath Cos. in 2008, a move that only seemed to push the duo into starting up more restaurants.
“I used to always tell her, ‘You’ve got the best instincts of anybody I’ve ever met in my life,’ ” Burrows said. “She was pretty savvy.”
Young would bus tables at her restaurants, or do whatever it took to keep them running right, Burrows said.
“She always worried, shifting a chair, small things like that,” he said.
Young was known for her generosity, Burrows said.
“She would sit down sometimes and play pull-tabs,” he said, “and when she would win she’d find someone who was playing and split the money with them.”
She had a “heart of gold,” Burrows said.
A memorial service will be held at noon Thursday at Mount Olivet Lutheran Church, 5025 Knox Avenue S., in Minneapolis. Visitation starts at 10:30 a.m.
In addition to her husband, Young is survived by sons Tod Bruestle, Kent Bruestle and Chad Bruestle; stepchildren Todd Young and Cheryl Failor; brothers Gordie Lofgren, Dave Lofgren and Bill Lofgren; sister Wanda Robinette; 12 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.