What stamp did Norman Brinker leave on the restaurant business? How much time do you have?

Restaurant Rewind: In Part II of our two-part special report on the godfather of casual dining, we look at how the serial entrepreneur walked away from one of the biggest jobs in the business to start all over.

Imagine that you’re the head of the second largest restaurant company in the business, overseeing the likes of Burger King, Godfather’s, Steak and Ale and Bennigan’s, making a huge salary, though you’ve already made millions upon millions. 

But you decide to pack it in to buy an upstart concept no one had ever heard of, to start all over in building a restaurant brand.

As this week’s episode of Restaurant Rewind recounts, that was exactly what Norman Brinker did while heading the enormous restaurant group of The Pillsbury Co. He could have worked that job for the rest of his life, and made a fortune doing it. Instead, he resigned to buy an upstart concept that few had even heard of, a full-service brand in a segment called gourmet burgers, which would all but disappear within a few years. 

Chili’s would not. It would become the foundation of a multi-brand restaurant company whose brands would include Maggiano’s, Romano’s Macaroni Grill, Bay Street, Cozy Mel’s, On the Border, Wildfire Grill and Corner Market, to name just a few. 

In the process, Brinker changed the trajectory of the restaurant business. It’s proof that he was one of the smartest and most successful leaders the industry has ever seen. 

But listen for yourself, in Part II of our two-part series. And if you need to catch up, give Part I a listen. You’ll find both wherever you get your podcasts. 

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