14 years after disappearing, Steak and Ale is set to return

For its second act, the casual-dining pioneer will revive many of its signature elements while adding some new tricks.
Steak and Ale
The new Steak and Ale will have a polished-casual feel. / All photos courtesy of Legendary Restaurant Brands

Steak and Ale, the casual-dining trailblazer known for its Tudor-style decor and affordable steaks, is coming out of retirement.

Later this year, the brand will get its first new location since 2008, when it filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy and abruptly closed all 58 of its remaining restaurants. Kansas-based Endeavor Properties will open the new Steak and Ale in the Minneapolis suburb of Burnsville, part of a 15-unit area development agreement announced last week.

It caps a seven-year journey for Steak and Ale that began when it was acquired in 2015 by Paul and Gwen Mangiamele along with the Irish-themed bar-and-grill chain Bennigan’s. 

The Mangiameles’ Legendary Restaurant Brands set out to revive both concepts, each of which were casual-dining pioneers created by Norman Brinker that went bankrupt in 2008. 

Under Legendary’s ownership, Bennigan’s was back in gear by 2018. But it has taken longer to update the 56-year-old Steak and Ale for the 21st century—and find the right franchise partner to reintroduce it. 

“We wanted to keep the same vibe, the same ambience, the same energy,” Paul Mangiamele said in an interview. “It was hard to replicate and still keep the integrity of the brand sound.”

Meanwhile, people’s emotional connection to the brand remained intact, he said, pointing to the 50,000-member Facebook account devoted to its comeback. And he believes the pandemic created opportunity for a polished, value-focused chain with a legacy.

“People harken to the days when people can have a great experience and don’t have to spend a lot of money,” he said. “The evolution of the affordable steakhouse category is ready for the reintroduction.”

Steak and Ale old

In its heyday, Steak and Ale was a popular spot for special occasions. 

Brinker founded Steak and Ale in 1966 in Dallas, envisioning it as a more accessible version of an upscale steakhouse. Its restaurants featured rustic, dimly lit dining rooms with stucco walls, wood beams and touches of stained glass. Menu highlights included the herb-roasted prime rib, Hawaiian chicken and an unlimited salad bar—a novel idea at the time.

Many of those elements will be part of the new Steak and Ale. The chain’s logo and color scheme will remain, as will most of its signature menu items, including the salad bar. (“50,000 people are telling me that they want that salad bar” on Facebook, Mangiamele said.)

Those vestiges will be combined with new features, such as a prime-rib carving station and tableside salad preparation—nods to Steak and Ale’s roots in hospitality and experiential dining. 

“We have fun, we have energy, we have theater,” Mangiamele said. “As I look around the landscape today, that added value is missing.” 

Steak and Ale 2.0 will also expand its food and beverage horizons to include modern trends like culinary fusion and craft beer. It may also feature items from its sister concept, Bennigan’s, which has been serving select Steak and Ale dishes since 2018.

The new restaurants will also be smaller—6,000 square feet compared to about 10,000—which Mangimele said is a reality of franchising. 

Hawaiian chicken

Steak and Ale's popular Hawaiian chicken is back on the menu. 

Legendary has spent years looking for the right operator for Steak and Ale. Mangiamele said he’s been “bombarded” by people interested in owning one, but that most didn’t have the capital or couldn’t find the right location.

“You’ve gotta be very disciplined, especially as a franchisor,” he said. “It’s been very slow but very deliberate and hopefully very intelligent.”

At the same time, Legendary had to prove that Steak and Ale was worth the investment for prospective operators. Using the 25-unit Bennigan’s as a proxy, it developed projections for unit-level profits and average unit volumes. Average check is expected to be $40 to $50, Mangiamele said, roughly double the typical Bennigan’s ticket.

The process culminated in the deal with Endeavor that will bring 15 Steak and Ale and Bennigan’s locations to several Midwestern states. In addition to Minnesota, Endeavor is targeting Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, Oklahoma and the Dakotas for Steak and Ale and Bennigan’s. 

“We’re thrilled to partner with Paul and his team to bring these iconic and successful brands to guests across the Midwest who have been clamoring for their return,” said Endeavor CEO and President Roy Arnold in a statement.

Steak and Ale, Bennigan’s and the scaled-down Bennigan’s On the Fly concept will be developed in tandem, Mangiamele said, giving franchisees options and a variety of revenue streams. Formats will include second-generation sites as well as ghost kitchens, host kitchens and hotels.

It will face some stiff competition in the steakhouse segment, where stalwarts like Texas Roadhouse, Ruth's Chris and LongHorn Steakhouse have seen sales boom coming out of the pandemic, while others like STK, Fogo de Chao and even Roadhouse are expanding aggressively. 

At its peak, Steak and Ale had nearly 300 locations. Mangiamele declined to predict how big the chain could get this time around.

“It’s going to be slow, it’s going to be deliberate, and again, I’ve been very stingy with where we’re going with it,” he said.

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