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Texas Roadhouse is on track to become the biggest casual chain in the US — here’s how it grew from small beginnings in the Midwest

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Irene Jiang / Business Insider

  • Texas Roadhouse’s sales are gaining on bigger chains like Olive Garden.
  • The chain started from just one location in 1994 to hundreds in 2023, with plans to reach 900.
  • Founder Kent Taylor worked at KFC and Hooters before he found investors for Texas Roadhouse.
The first Texas Roadhouse opened in Clarksvillie, Indiana in 1993.Clarksville Indiana

Photo By Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

Source: Texas Roadhouse

It wasn’t an easy road though, and founder Kent Taylor worked at other restaurant chains and concepts before landing on Texas Roadhouse.Texas Roadhouse.Texas Roadhouse.

chapin31/iStock

Taylor worked as a KFC area manager before starting Texas Roadhouse.KFC

Omar Marques/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Source: Made From Scratch by Kent Taylor

He wasn’t successful within the KFC system because he was a “freethinker,” and a “rogue,” Taylor wrote.KFC

Justin Sullivan/Getty

Taylor also managed a Hooters location before pursuing his own restaurant ideas full-time.hooters

Hooters Facebook

Source: Mashed

Taylor left the job and pitched John Y. Brown, former Kentucky governor and partial owner of KFC, on his restaurant concept for the fifth time.John Y Brown Kentucky

Photo by Stephen J. Cohen/WireImage

Brown invested $80,000 in Taylor’s steakhouse concept, but it wasn’t Texas Roadhouse.Texas Roadhouse steak

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

It was a Colorado-themed steakhouse, called Buckhead Bar and Grill.ColoradoColorado Springs, Colo., May 2, 2006.

Ed Andrieski/AP Photo

When the partnership with Brown fell apart, Taylor came up with another idea: a cowboy-themed steakhouse.Texas Roadhouse  signTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Source: Fortune

Things weren’t easy from there, though. Taylor says he pitched the Texas Roadhouse concept to more than 100 investors before he found backers.Texas Roadhouse skull

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Source: Biz Journals

In 1992, Taylor found three investors willing to put in $100,000 each after being convinced by his concept drawings on a cocktail napkin.Texas roadhouse cocktail napkin

Texas Roadhouse

Source: Texas Roadhouse

Taylor recruited staff for the growing Texas Roadhouse chain by eating at other restaurants and introducing himself to servers, hosts, and cooks he thought were doing a good job, he wrote in his book.Waiters, waitressesWaiters.

Lars Ronbog/Getty Images

Managing partners who ran each location had skin in the game because Taylor required they put $25,000 down and receive 10% of the location’s profits.Texas Roadhouse kitchenTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Source: Restaurant Finance Monitor

Taylor and his team originally considered giving out free popcorn before settling on the chain’s iconic rolls.Texas Roadhouse  rollsTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Source: Made From Scratch by Kent Taylor

Developing the perfect recipe for the rolls took three weeks, experimenting with different types of yeast and flour.Texas Roadhous tableTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

There was also an ill-fated attempt to sell Mexican food at the restaurant, which lasted just two weeks thanks to “poor execution and almost no sales,” Taylor wrote.mexican food dinner chimichanga

Shutterstock

Since then, the chain has expanded from medium-sized US cities to smaller markets, with promising sales.Texas RoadhouseTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Source: Restaurant Business Online

In 2002, singer Willie Nelson became an official partner of Texas Roadhouse by promoting the chain, and some locations have a corner of decor dedicated to him.Willie Nelson

AP Photo/Hans Pennink

Source: Mashed

By 2004, 10 years after it first opened, there were 162 Texas Roadhouse locations in 32 states.Texas Roadhouse bar

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Source: Marketwatch

That same year, Texas Roadhouse filed for an IPO.Texas Roadhouse steak cut

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

In the SEC filing, Texas Roadhouse said its operating strategy was based on high-quality food, low price points, and only serving dinner during weekdays.Texas Roadhouse sidesTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

The chain expanded outside the US for the first time in 2011. It now has 15 locations in Middle Eastern countries.Texas Roadhouse mealTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Source: Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse has grown steadily since, with 643 locations as of September 2022.Texas Roadhouse burgerTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Texas Roadhouse executives are planning to eventually grow to 900 US locations, the company said in October 2022.Texas Roadhouse steak piece

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

Source: Restaurant Business Online

That pace of growth could put Texas Roadhouse on pace to become the largest casual chain by sales in the US.Texas Roadhouse menuTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

In 2021, the chain did $3.7 billion in sales, with average unit sales of about $6 million, according to earnings statements.Texas Roadhouse appetizersTexas Roadhouse.

Mary Meisenzahl/Insider

Those high sales are how the chain can outpace or come close to competitors with more locations, like Chili’s and Olive Garden.chili's

Diane Macdonald / Contributor/ Getty Images

In 2021, CEO and founder Kent Taylor died at age 65.Texas Roadhouse Kent Taylor founder

Texas Roadhouse

Source: Insider

President Jerry Morgan took over as CEO and oversaw an explosion of the chain’s to-go business.Texas Roadhouse jukebox

Irene Jiang / Business Insider

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