8 Things You Might Not Know About LongHorn Steakhouse
By Emily Becker
Since its founding in 1981, LongHorn Steakhouse has become a familiar destination for those seeking sirloins and strip steaks. With more than 500 restaurants across the country and a 5 percent total sales growth in 2018 [PDF], LongHorn has definitely branded itself as a cut above in the steakhouse market. Dig into these facts about the dinner chain.
1. The original LongHorn location was once an adult bookstore.
George McKerrow Jr., a part-time bartender, opened the first LongHorn Steaks Restaurant & Saloon in Atlanta in August 1981. Before remodeling the building as a restaurant, though, it was an x-rated video- and bookstore. McKerrow added tablecloths, a jukebox, and bumper stickers to the walls, but he kept the back-lit booths that were once used for watching short peepshow videos.
2. LongHorn almost never got off the ground.
After LongHorn opened, it had a rough time taking off. "I had quit my previous job, fronted a lot of my own money, had a young daughter, and I was spending my days building that restaurant, literally, with my own two hands," McKerrow told The Atlantan in 2018. At the end of the first month, LongHorn was serving just a handful of meals a day, with McKerrow cooking, waiting tables, and washing the dishes.
3. A snowstorm saved the restaurant.
By January 1982, McKerrow was weeks away from shutting down LongHorn. But then one night, it started to snow—something that is a real rarity in Atlanta (and that particular storm is still known as the Snow Jam of '82). Drivers soon abandoned their cars on the roads, and LongHorn became a shelter from the freak blizzard. "We pulled a sign out front that said 'Drinks $1 While It Snows,'" Dave George, a former president of LongHorn Steakhouse told AirTran Magazine in 2006. "So all these people forced to pull over walked in 'til they filled the place up. And over the storm's three days, the steaks plus the genuinely friendly atmosphere surprised people, generating loyalty." By springtime, word-of-mouth had gotten LongHorn off the ground.
4. LongHorn really is all about the meat.
It was McKerrow's passion for grilling and dream of serving the perfect steak that led him to open the restaurant. Today, menus revolve around including ribeyes, T-bones, their signature porterhouse, a slow-roasted prime rib, and Flo's Filet, which LongHorn says was named for a server who loved that particular cut.
5. McKerrow didn't stop with LongHorn.
After the success of LongHorn, McKerrow expanded his steakhouse empire by opening Capital Grille. In 2002, he teamed up with Ted Turner to launch Ted's Montana Grill, which he is still the president and CEO of today.
6. Employees must complete extensive training to become a LongHorn Grill Master.
Every LongHorn location has two or three employees who have completed the training to be considered "Grill Masters." Once these grill chefs are certifiably ready to tackle any meat order, the best of the best can compete in a company-wide "Steak Master" competition. During the yearly contest, multiple "grill-off" rounds narrow 5000 Grill Masters down to seven for the final showdown. If you live near Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, congratulations—your ribeye might have been seared by 2018 reigning champion Michelle Cerveney.
7. LongHorn has a grill hotline for holiday weekends.
To take some of the pressure off family grill masters during the Fourth of July, LongHorn launched a call-in helpline to answer anyone's burning questions about the art of preparing dinner over flames in 2013. Called the Grill Us Hotline, the program put 25 Grill Masters on call during the evenings of the holiday weekend. The hotline has since continued and been expanded to cover Memorial Day weekend as well.
8. On the web, LongHorn is in an imagined relationship with Denny's.
In one of the more bizarre corners of the internet exists a community of users, especially on blogging site Tumblr, that create anthropomorphized accounts for various restaurant brands. In June 2013, two months after Denny's launched their official Tumblr account, an unofficial Tumblr was created for LongHorn Steakhouse. Whoever ran the site, which has since been deleted, began making references to being in love with Denny's. As things tend to do on the internet, the idea took off and resulted in a community of users who spent their time shipping "Denhouse."