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Farewell to a Legend

June 9, 2009 By: Donna Hood Crecca

The restaurant industry lost a true legend Tuesday when Norman Brinker passed away at the age of 78.

From his first restaurant – a coffee shop known as Brink’s in Dallas in the ‘60s, he went on to launch concepts including Steak & Ale, Bennigan’s and Chili’s. Essentially, Brinker transformed dining out in America by introducing the salad bar and the casual chain, living out the American Dream in the process and , by building a successful company, making it possible for many others to do so as well. He survived a near-fatal polo accident in 1993 that left him partially paralyzed, and worked hard to regain his ability to walk and function. He continued to run Brinker International until 2000, when he stepped down as chairman after growing the company to 1,000 restaurants in nearly 30 countries. Brinker then survived throat cancer, but succumbed to aspirated pneumonia on June 9.

If you haven’t read his book – On the Brink: The Life and Leadership of Norman Brinker (Summit Publishing, 1996) – you should. It illuminates many crucial lessons about trial and error, listening to the guest and savvy people management, all of which is particularly relevant today.

Much will be said and written about Norman Brinker in the coming days and weeks. If you didn’t know him, be sure to listen and learn. His is a story every bar and restaurant operator should know. If you did know him, my condolences. He will be sorely missed.

Stop by a Chili’s this week and raise a Presidente Margarita to a legend in this industry. I know I will.


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