Stanley Young is in the final, tiring rounds of radiation treatment for prostate cancer.
Predictably, he is planning a party.
Young is the genial, outgoing proprietor of Murry’s Restaurant in Hazen. It is a go-to dining destination for duck hunters and non-hunters alike and a recent entry into the Arkansas Food Hall of Fame.
A musician, award-winning cook, successful restaurant owner, duck hunter, guide and a proud husband and father, Young emanates hospitality the way a stove gives off heat.
Everyone is welcome in Stanley Young’s world. Regulars at the long-time family establishment — where Young, 71, has worked since the early 1970s — are known to visit the kitchen to pay their respects.
“They just stick their heads in and go ‘Hey Stanley,’ ” Young says.
As he speaks, Young is more than halfway through with his treatment, estimating another 16-17 days.
“When I get through with my radiation, my doctor and a lot of my good, close friends that I hunt with, I’m going to have a private party in my restaurant,” Young says.
Young plans a performance by his group, the Stanley Young Band, not to mention a delicious menu, and he expects plenty of smiling faces. His health outlook is good, he says, but then, Young’s outlook is always positive.
Rex Nelson is a senior editor and columnist at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette as well as a blogger and chronicler of the state’s history, sports and food scenes. Young’s personality is contagious, Nelson says, and it infuses the character of Murry’s.
“It’s so much more than just a restaurant. By the time you leave, you feel like you’re a part of their family,” Nelson says.
Young worked “off and on” in restaurants through high school and was also a drummer for a three-piece combo. The group played clubs around the city until Young completed his one year at Shorter College and enrolled at Ouachita Baptist University to study art and music.
He was helping in the bar at Little Rock’s Lafayette Hotel when he answered a fateful call from the short-handed staff.
“Someone said ‘Anybody know how to cook in here?’ ” Young says.
In retrospect he thinks he may have responded “yes” a little hastily.
“I shouldn’t have said that. I was there [in the kitchen] until I went to Ouachita,” Young says.
But Young came by his cooking pedigree honestly. His mother was a cook who insisted Young and his siblings all learn how to cook, iron and do wash.
Young’s father, who died when Young was 13, was a butcher and his father-in-law was a chef on a dredge boat, trading recipes with the crew as they traveled up and down the Mississippi.
“I was very fortunate I was around good cooks,” Young says.
At Ouachita Baptist, Young met Rebecca Murry and became “love bit.” He was 20 hours short of his degree when he chose to leave school to marry and raise a family, and it was Rebecca who got Young involved in the Murry family’s restaurant business in Hazen. The couple was married in 1971.
“I’ve been married to hard labor ever since,” Young says.
But it’s been a labor of love. Young has no regrets and brags about his three grown children — Fayetteville police office Stanley Young Jr.; Yolanda Young, a doctor at Presbyterian Village and Gaylon Hale, circuit clerk for Prairie County’s two county seats.
All three have helped, or continue to help, at Murry’s when they have the time.
“I’m not regretting that decision,” Young says. “I’ve got a wonderful family. They’re very sharp. I’m very proud of my kids.”
Stanley Young plans his next move in the kitchen at Murry’s Restaurant in Hazen. (Sydney Bryant)
If Murry’s is popular with hunters, it may be because Young is popular with hunters too.
In the past, by his estimation, Young hunted almost daily, and when he wasn’t hunting himself, he was guiding hunts for others.
“I still hunt,” he says. “I don’t go as much. Once you get to be 71 years old you don’t want to get out of that bed like you used to.”
For Young, hunting is a sensory experience, like tasting food, and he enjoys the camaraderie of the sport.
“The atmosphere of getting out there and getting in the wild. I just enjoy calling in ducks and watching them work,” Young says. “You can communicate and have fun in the duck blind.”
Young has hunted with or guided for people like Stephens Group CEO and Co-Chairman Witt Stephens Jr., former Tyson Foods CEO Leland Tollett, TV host and outdoor personality Marty Fischer, Gap Executive Chairman and Arkansas Game and Fish Commissioner Bobby Martin and members of Holiday Inn founder Kemmons Wilson’s family.
Young has hunted at some of the state’s elite clubs and his hosts are frequent customers at Murry’s.
“I got some real good people with real nice clubs they invite me to every year,” Young says.
But some days, Young says, the ducks don’t come and you have to find other reasons to enjoy the experience.
“My best thing I enjoy is going out with friends and having a good time,” Young says. “You can’t guarantee a hunt. … They say ‘Man you should have been there yesterday.’ ”
Stanley Young with hunting partner Gary Tollett
When They Come Back
The presence of ducks on a hunt may be unpredictable, but the presence of duck hunters at Murry’s is a lock.
“During duck season we have a repeat business every year,” Young says. “A lot of the clubs from around this area, they come every year to Murry’s. Upscale clubs come here.”
What do they come for?
“We’re known for fish,” Young says, and is off and running, listing bone-in ribeyes (always hand cut and never frozen), catfish, chicken fried steaks, quail, fresh shrimp, hand-battered onion rings, deviled crab and a lineup of homemade desserts that includes a bread pudding with bourbon sauce.
He’ll also prepare a special, off-the-menu, not-for-sale blackened duck on request for his hunter clientele.
“I happen to think it’s one of the most special restaurants in the country, which is why national magazines ranging from Southern Living to Garden & Gun have written about it,” Nelson says.
He never wanted a big menu, Young says, just one he could control and perfect.
“Be consistent. That’s one of the main things,” Young says. “Quality and consistency. Whatever you start out with, whenever they come back, they’re looking for the same taste they had the last time.”
It’s also possible they come back looking for a big smile and a warm welcome, something else Young is consistent about. He is hardly five minutes into his conversation with Greenhead when he invites a complete stranger to his party.
“I guarantee you’ll have a good time,” Young says. “That will be one of the most fun trips you’ve had.”