May’s Counter Chicken & Waffles, a popular dining destination for University of Arizona athletes and students and one of the only Tucson restaurants fully devoted to the Southern specialty, was expected to close at the end of business Tuesday after the Phoenix owners decided not to renew their lease.

Phoenix businessman Ryan Field, who owns the restaurant with his brother Jared, could not be reached for comment Tuesday and did not return a call seeking comment. But a restaurant manager who would not give his name said he learned of the closing last week.

May’s Counter, 2945 E. Speedway, had just enough food on hand to make it through Tuesday, the manager said, noting that he was worried they would run out before the restaurant’s advertised 9 p.m. closing time.

Tucson restaurant designer John Foster conceived the idea of May’s Counter in 2010, inspired by chicken and waffle restaurants popular in the South. He brought in Phoenix chef Aaron May — who is not the restaurant’s namesake — to help craft the menu; the Fields, who owned the lease, were also partners in the venture.

“It’s been the honor of my life to create a concept that did not exist ever once in Tucson and to have it be so embraced,” said Foster, who maintained a 25 percent stake in the business. He said Tuesday that he walked away with nothing.

May’s Counter was the first restaurant concept fully conceived by Foster, a longtime Tucson restaurant designer. He also created the concept and designed the restaurant for Mr. K’s Barbecue near the Tucson Mall, owned by Charles Kendrick; and a drive-in restaurant, Buffalo Corral Barbeque, in Sierra Vista. Both have since closed.

Tuesday’s closing came with little fanfare; the restaurant, which had been reliably active on Facebook over the years, has been silent since July 31 when it advertised its Taco Tuesday specials. The restaurant employed 18 people full- and part-time.

Ryan and Jared Field are partners in Plated Projects, a Phoenix-based restaurant group with ventures around the state.

Most recently, the company’s focus has been in Flagstaff, where it is expected this month to open Whisk and Whisky in the upscale shopping complex Aspen Place at the Sawmill.

May’s Counter was the last of the brothers’ Tucson restaurants. Around 2007, they were the sole franchisee of My Big Fat Greek Restaurants in Southern Arizona. They had two locations in Tucson and one in Green Valley.

They closed all three beginning in 2012 to convert the locations into restaurants based on May’s concepts, including his Lodge Sasquatch sports bar — which took up residence at Foothills Mall and in Green Valley in early 2013 — and The Heist pizzeria, which opened in summer 2013 at 7131 E. Broadway. It closed in October 2014.

May’s Counter put Tucson on the larger national food map, Foster said. The restaurant was featured in the Los Angeles Times and Travel + Leisure magazine, and helped launch Foster’s career nationwide. He is now based in Nashville, Tennessee.

“Tucson wrapped their arms around this crazy idea. May’s was great for Tucson, it was great for Speedway,” he said.

Foster’s latest Tucson restaurant venture, Fat Noodle at 811 E. Wetmore Road with Ramon and Linda Gonzales, opened on Monday. Foster said Fat Noodle might pick up some of May’s employees.

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Contact reporter Cathalena E. Burch at or 573-4642. On Twitter @Starburch

Cathalena has covered music for the Star for the past 20 years. She's a graduate of Arizona State University has worked at Sedona Red Rock News, Niagara Gazette in Niagara Falls, New York; and USA Today.