The Texas Roadhouse founder scribbled his vision for the steakhouse on a napkin — and was rejected 100 times before building a $5.8 billion empire

January 31, 2022, 6:50 PM UTC
Texas Roadhouse founder and CEO Kent Taylor
Kent Taylor, CEO of Texas Roadhouse, poses for a portrait inside the Texas Roadhouse corporate offices on Dutchman Lane.
Courtesy of Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse founder Kent Taylor’s original idea for the steakhouse empire was scribbled on a cocktail napkin — and he’d be rejected more than 100 times before receiving the funding to build the largest steakhouse chain in America, and a multibillion-dollar empire. 

Taylor tragically took his own life in March 2021 after suffering lingering effects from COVID-19. In a recent profile by Fortune’s Beth Kowitt, friends and family recounted the founder’s determination to start his own restaurant.

Taylor began his career working as a manager in casual and fast food chains like Bennigan’s and Kentucky Fried Chicken. But clashes with management, such as when he tried to add hot wings to KFC’s menu, made him realize he was better off starting his own business. 

Taylor resolved that when he started his own restaurant, he’d “take care of employees first, guests second” to ensure his team members never faced the kind of abuse he did in his early career. 

In 1991, Kent started his Colorado-themed restaurant, Buckhead Mountain Grill, with former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown. But the business partners fell out over differences of opinion just before they were about to open a second location. Kent ended up going solo, and eventually sold his entire stake in the partnership. 

After losing ownership of his original Colorado theme, Taylor had to create an entirely new identity for his new eatery. He got the idea for a cowboy-themed restaurant and penned down his initial concept on a scrappy cocktail napkin. That idea would eventually become the $5.8 billion restaurant empire called Texas Roadhouse

The rise of Roadhouse did not come without obstacles. Taylor struggled to raise capital for his new restaurant idea, telling Louisville Business First in 2016 that he’d been rejected more than 100 times by investors. He even chased after basketball legend Larry Bird at an airport once, trying and failing to pitch him.

The constant rejection didn’t stop him from staying true to his dreams, and he finally collected funds after three cardiologists agreed to invest in February of 1993.  

“Fear is inevitable, as is pain,” Kent wrote in the conclusion of his book, “Made From Scratch,” which details the story of Texas Roadhouse. “I’ve never met a successful person who did not overcome some personal hurdle or tragedy. But we can make a choice each and every day to either listen to the negative around us and react emotionally, or we can smile and try to be the most positive person in the room.”

This very optimism, unwavering discipline, and undying love for people in Kent is what fueled the birth of Texas Roadhouse and led to its expansion with over 600 locations spanning across the United States and 10 foreign countries.

Kent’s people-first leadership and philanthropic endeavors changed the lives of many beyond just his customers. He left an unmatched legacy that “will live on in the company he built, the projects he supported, and the lives he touched,” as his board fondly remembers him. 

How did such an iconic restaurateur endure such a long and painful struggle with COVID-19? You can read more about his amazing career and agonizing final days in Fortune’s full profile

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