The restaurant business in Texas and the world lost a special person earlier this month.
He was Norman Brinker, founder of many restaurants in the Lone Star State. During his 52-year career in the restaurant business, he created jobs for approximately 1.4 million individuals.
Many of Brinker’s quotes are worthy to note. Two of my favorites are “Guests don’t feel welcome when people are just standing around with a wooden smile,” and “Sinners can repent, but stupidity is forever.”
While vacationing in Colorado, Brinker, 78, died June 9 from complications related to pneumonia.
One of his famous eatingplaces was Chili’s. A Chili’s restaurant is located in Stephenville on West Washington St.
Its manager, Casey Cumby, recently shared with this writer an abundance of information on Brinker. While talking with the local manager, this writer quickly determined that Brinker was held in high esteem by Cumby. He commended Brinker as being a prime example of kindness and courtesy mixed with a super understanding of people and the restaurant business. Cumby pointed out that he met Brinker a number of times at corporate meetings in Dallas.
When my late wife, Ann, and I lived in Dallas in the early 1990s, we often ate at Brinker’s restaurants. The food was superb, and the service was the best.
The biography of Brinker reads like a Who’s Who for four individuals rather than one. He was born on June 3, 1931, in Denver Colorado.
He graduated from New Mexico Military Institute in Roswell, and later obtained a bachelor’s degree with honors from San Diego State University (SDSU) in 1957. During his time at the California university, he served as student body president.
Prior to enrolling at SDSU in 1954, he was a member of the U.S. Navy for two years, 1952-1954. It was at the 1952 Summer Olympics in Helsinki, Finland, he served as an alternate on the U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team.
Following his graduation from SDSU, he married tennis legend Maureen (Little Mo) Connolly. She died from the effects of cancer in 1969.
After receiving his degree, he went to work for Robert Peterson, founder of Jack-In-The-Box Restaurants. Eight years later in 1965, he left Jack-In-Box to start his first restaurant in Dallas — Brink’s Coffee Shop — which was located on Gaston Ave., near Baylor Hospital. The following year, he introduced the first Steak and Ale in Dallas on Lemmon Ave.
In 1972, he opened the Willow Bend Polo and Hunt Club in Plano. Four years later he set up the first Bennigan’s Tavern.
He married Nancy Goodman in 1981, and she founded the Susan G. Komen Foundation in Dallas. Two years later he became Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Chili’s.
In 1993, he was severely injured in a polo accident in Florida, and was in a coma for three weeks. Four months later, he returned to work at Brinker’s International in Dallas.
He published his biography in 1996, “On the Brink: The Life and leadership of Norman Brinker” with Donald T. Phillips.
Here are a few successful restaurant executives, who got their start under Brinker – John Miller, President and CEO of Taco Bueno; Rick Federico, Chairman and CEO of PF Chang’s; Debra Smithart Oglesby, Board Chair of Denny’s Corporation; Chris Sullivan and Bob Basham, founders of Outback Steakhouse; and George Biel, founder, Chairman and CEO of Houston’s Restaurants.
Brinker’s awards are numerous from all over the world. One of the major donations he made came in 2006. It was a $1 million to establish the Brinker Institute for Hospitality and Restaurant Management at Southern Methodist University.
Norman Brinker left his mark on the restaurant world. He will be missed.
Perhaps one of his most inspiring quotes was this one — “Being active in your community, taking a stand politically and giving something back is all part of the ‘caring’ aspect of leadership.”
Dr. Stuart Chilton, a retired educator/journalist, lives in Stephenville. He occasionally writes for this newspaper.