Russell “Rusty” Fenton, co-founder of Uncle Julio’s and founder of Rusty Taco, died Monday at age 53 of kidney cancer, The Dallas Morning News reported Monday.
The first Uncle Julio’s opened in Dallas in 1986, according to a brief history on the Tex-Mex chain’s website. The Fort Worth location opened in 1988. The chain is up to 17 locations, including restaurants in Virginia, Marilynd, Illinois, Georgia and Florida; five of those locations are in DFW, including one in Grapevine.
Rusty Taco opened on Greenville Avenue in Dallas in 2010, and has quickly expanded to a small chain, with about a dozen locations in and around Dallas and in East Texas -- and in Minneapolis-St. Paul. So far, there isn’t a Tarrant County location, but a Denton location opened this year.
The DMN post, as well as one on D Magazine’s Side Dish, don’t have much biographical detail on Mr. Fenton. The Dallas Observer has a nice appreciation by Sara Blankenship on its City of Ate blog, with mentions of Mr. Fenton’s involvement in Star Canyon and Taqueria Cañonita, Timpano and Trader Vic's and his influence on the “D” side of the DFW food scene.
The Dallas Business Journal profiled Mr. Fenton in 2012. According to the profile, Mr. Fenton, who grew up in Houston, worked in real estate before entering the restaurant business. “During the savings-and-loan crisis in the 1980s, Fenton waited tables at Pappas restaurant to pay for rent on his office space,” the story says. “Witnessing the respect and sense of equality that Chris and Harris Pappas gave their employees made Fenton thirst to remain a part of the hospitality industry.”
On Dallas Culture Map, DFW.com contributor Teresa Gubbins reports that Mr. Fenton’s cancer diagnois came the same year he launched Rusty Taco. Tributes to Mr. Fenton are pouring in on the Rusty Taco Facebook page.