Steven Grant Neeley, 1946-2022
Steven Grant Neeley, 75, of Austin, Texas, died suddenly and peacefully at home on April 22, 2022 after a three-month battle with sepsis.
A respected, high-energy, lover of life, Steven was bold, focused, disciplined, gracious, responsible and a highly intelligent giver. “You could always learn something new from Steven! He knew a lot and never minded sharing and teaching anyone what he knew!”
Cooking and enjoying great food and wine were always on Steven’s agenda, whether at home, going out or at the company deer lease (where Steven served hunters his personal gumbo recipe, developed while living in New Orleans), Steven always basked in an excellent culinary experience even if as simple as his favorite Louisianne Coffee with chicory and apple fritters.
Highlights of Steven’s love of cooking include cooking classes with renowned French and American Chef Jacques Pepin and in Austin, Texas, Chef Jeff Blank and Jay Moore of Hudson’s On The Bend (where Steven and wife Laura helped Jeff with Hudson’s first cookbook). Steven’s favorite restaurant memories include international Chef Alain Ducasse’s, Le Louis XV in The Hotel de Paris in Monaco; The Embassy Inn’s High Tea at the Empress, in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada; and in Austin, Texas, his beloved Freda’s Seafood Grille and his neighborhood hangout, one of Chef Amir Hajimaleki’s great restaurants, Oasthouse Kitchen and Bar.
Besides delicious food, wine and travel, Steven also loved photography, music (from smooth jazz’s The Rippingtons to country and western’s Blake Shelton), fishing/boating/hunting, TV’s Jeopardy, crossword puzzles and cherished neighbors, friends and family.
But everyone who knew Steven will remember him most for his joy of working. He was exceptionally disciplined and intelligent, with a strong work ethic that began when he was only 12 years old.
At age 14 Steven’s confidence grew when his father, a WWII hero, saw Steven’s potential. He took him to work at a medical convention booth where Steven would invite physicians to “come in and see the first ever, anatomically correct, full-sized replica of the human skeleton…in plastic”. These realistic skeletons began replacing real human skeletons in doctors’ offices and medical schools. They were conceived and built at Medical Plastics, in Gatesville, Texas, where Steven’s father was a business partner and manager. Talking to medical professionals about exact physical anatomy at 14 was a building block of confidence entwined with a lack of intimidation when talking with adult professionals that stayed with Steven as he grew up to interface with people in his career.
Steven’s professional career was in the restaurant industry, starting at age 19 and lasting over 55 years. While most of these years were spent at McDonald’s, corporately and with Haljohn, a McDonald’s franchise in central Texas, he was also President CEO/CFO of Golden Fried Chicken, where he developed the idea and recipe for the first “fried chicken tenders”. Steven said, “Golden Fried Chicken needed more white meat, and the chicken distributors had a by-product, cut off the chicken breast, called a tender, that was going to waste. We took tenders to our test kitchen, and ultimately, fried chicken tenders became our new, very profitable, boneless, white meat favorite.” Today, chicken tenders can be found worldwide due to Steven’s culinary creativity!
Steven graduated from North Texas State University in Denton, Texas, with a degree in business while working three jobs. Later, he managed a bar and restaurant in a private club in North Texas. That job ultimately opened a door for him to manage some of the best fine dining restaurants in Dallas, Texas, in the 1970’s.
After graduation from college, Steven oversaw management of multiple 24-hour Pitt Grill restaurants. Still, McDonald’s offered to fast-track him into their system, where he quickly became a field service representative being a liaison between the corporation and individual franchisees while managing the entire Houston-region area. Steven ultimately received real estate authority, personally by Ray Kroc, to locate and build future McDonald’s restaurants for the corporation.
While building, staffing, managing stores, running entire market segments, Steven felt most personally gratified as a mentor. Steven loved, “helping people grow”. He touched thousands of restaurant employees’ lives during his career as he could see people’s drive and ability. He loved encouraging them, helping to open doors and then watching them grow into successful professional restauranteurs. Some employees became owners of their own restaurants, crediting Steven for seeing what they didn’t see in themselves.
Steven was actively involved in serving on the board of directors and raising funds for many Ronald McDonald Houses during his McDonald’s career, including in Texas, the Dallas, Houston, Austin, Temple, Permian Basin Odessa/Midland Ronald Houses; in Louisiana at the New Orleans Ronald House; and he sat on the Grant Committee for Ronald McDonald House Charities.
Steven was born in Gatesville, Texas on September 20, 1946 and graduated from Gatesville High School with the infamous class of 1965. He played football as the Hornet’s center until he was hit and taken out of the game for life with a kidney injury. But Steven immediately picked up a camera, continued to travel with the football team, and volunteered to teach photography to fellow high school students. Steven went on to became a great photographer, as evidenced by the beautiful photographs he took during his lifetime.
In lieu of flowers, we would like to ask, “if you receive great service in a restaurant, please tip your server well, in Steven’s memory”. Nothing would please Steven more that if you let your restaurant server know they did a great job thus mentoring them as Steven did. Covid ravaged the lives of food service employees; some still have not recovered. Steven was heartbroken when he watched restaurants and the entire hospitality industry suffer during covid. Steven knew how often the people who serve us all are not seen, they are often treated as if invisible, and these people lost their jobs, homes and more, harming uncounted numbers of human beings in this world. So, while this is an unusual request in lieu of flowers, we feel Steven will be with each of you as you “leave a tip in his memory” and he will feel your love as you make a difference in someone’s life, the same way he did.
Celebration of Life service is pending.
Steven Grant Neeley is survived by wife, Laura Kinsey Neeley. Son, Grant Neeley, wife Sabrina Moreland, granddaughter Jordan. Brothers: Ralph Neeley (deceased), daughter Melissa, wife Corrine Volpe; Bruce Neeley, wife Jeannie (deceased), daughter Ayelet Elnecave, husband Daniel; Warren Neeley, wife Jennifer, children Grace West, husband, Trey; Laura Lomonaco, husband Matt, daughter Lucy; and Mason. Sister, Donna Scott. Brothers-in-Law: Wayne Kinsey, sons Chris and Justin; Mark Kinsey, wife, Karen, children Lauren Irving, husband Mark; Thomas and Micah. Numerous Cousins.