Did Jimmy Buffett Own Margaritaville And Cheeseburger In Paradise?

With the passing of Jimmy Buffett, it's impossible not to reflect on the unusual impact he had on the hospitality industry. Not one but two of his songs became the names of famous restaurants: Margaritaville and Cheeseburger in Paradise. While he's undeniably linked to both through music, he was also at one point the owner of both.

Buffett's friend Dan Sweet opened a Margaritaville club in 1984 in Alabama, and Buffett began establishing places of his own, with his first Margaritaville retail store opening in Key West in 1985 followed by the Café in 1987. But after creating Margaritaville Holdings, LLC in 1998, he launched the famous Margaritaville restaurant at Orlando's Universal CityWalk a year later, and the Margaritaville empire began to take off from there.

In 2002, 24 years after the song was initially released, Buffett decided to see if he could have success with Cheeseburger in Paradise, and the first kitschy, island-themed restaurant opened in Indianapolis, Indiana. In 2012 he and his Margaritaville Holdings, LLC sold the chain's remaining 23 locations across 14 states to Luby's for $11 million, and Buffett's association with it was severed. By 2020 the last remaining location in Secaucus, New Jersey closed.

Margaritaville is still expanding

Today Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville Empire consists of restaurants, resorts, a casino, frozen shrimp, daiquiri frozen drink mixes, tequila, and even salad dressing. His 28% ownership in Margarita Holdings was worth around $180 million. The brand's restaurants include not only Margaritaville, but JWB Prime Steak and Seafood, and 5 o'Clock Somewhere Bar & Grill, and is still growing. The Margaritaville restaurants with the tropical theme and laid-back vibe are what started it all, and they're still going strong, with a new Boston location opening soon.

While Buffett's Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant chain is no more, there is another Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant that opened in Lahaina, Hawaii in 1989. Started by Edna Bayliff and Laren Gartner, the first location debuted in Maui and was so successful that the owners opened a second location in Waikiki, Honolulu. In 1997 Buffett tried to sue them for using his song title, but the business owners had already filed to trademark their restaurant in 1993. While Bayliff and Gartner told the Tampa Bay Times that "the song inspired us to open a cheeseburger restaurant." Buffett alleged that he made an arrangement with them in the early '90s, promising not to intervene if they didn't expand. However, the owners didn't recall making such an agreement when meeting with the musician.

The Hawaiian-based restaurants were allowed to keep the name but couldn't use it for more locations. A year after the court battle ended, Buffett debuted his first Cheeseburger in Paradise restaurant.