The untold truth of LongHorn Steakhouse

LongHorn Steakhouse has carved out a reputation as one of the best-known casual steak restaurants in the U.S., eclipsing its humble origins as a single restaurant that opened in Atlanta in the early 1980s. The restaurant's concept was the brainchild of George McKerrow, who explained in an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle that Texas-style steak restaurants were becoming popular at the time thanks to the success of the 1981 movie Urban Cowboy. McKerrow's concept, he explained, "was very simple," and meant to "capitalize on the evolving style of people's dining preferences."

Decades later, that philosophy laid the groundwork for what went on to become one of the leading restaurant chains in the nation. According to a 2018 profile on McKerrow in The Atlantan, that one Atlanta restaurant grew into an expansive chain with nearly 500 restaurants in four different countries; as figures from Statista indicate, the LongHorn Steakhouse chain generated 2019 revenues of a staggering $1.8 billion.

The LongHorn brand has become ubiquitous for steak lovers, yet there's a lot that aficionados can learn about this unique establishment. Read on to discover the untold truth of LongHorn Steakhouse.

The original Longhorn Steakhouse was once an adult bookstore

Before opening his first Longhorn Steakhouse in Atlanta, aspiring restaurateur George McKerrow had a decade of experience in the hospitality industry. According to a company history via Reference for Business, McKerrow held a variety of jobs, including working at a Cleveland pancake house and tending bar in Columbus. He struck out on his own in 1973 at age 22, opening a supper club in West Virginia. He quickly sold that business and spent the next few years working for a restaurant chain that ultimately brought him to Atlanta.

In 1978, he and a partner were able to secure $100,000 in capital to launch his own restaurant. Seeking the ideal location, McKerrow zeroed in on a building that had previously housed an X-rated bookstore, and began renovations that would transform the one-time porn palace into his vision of a casual dining establishment with a "traditional Texas roadhouse" vibe. 

However, there were some big obstacles standing in the way before McKerrow was able to open the doors of what was initially known as LongHorn Steaks Restaurant & Saloon, with an aim to serve "the best steaks and the coldest beer in town," all within a honky-tonk atmosphere.

The business nearly failed before it even took off

Reference for Business recalled that as the renovation was underway at the LongHorn Steaks Restaurant & Saloon, disaster struck when founder George McKerrow's business partner — and the funding — vanished. "I found myself scrambling to get the restaurant open," he said in an interview with Atlanta Business Chronicle. With no other options, McKerrow turned to his father for the money needed to complete the reno.

The decision to seek help from his dad proved to be an exceptionally good one. As McKerrow explained, his father not only became his investor, but also "a great partner for the last 25 years of his life," and was "instrumental in helping us grow LongHorn into a national chain."

Those early years of struggle were key for McKerrow, and taught him a valuable lesson that stayed with him during the decades that followed. "Tenacity played a big part of my early success," he said. "I believed in myself and what I was doing. You can't give up when things get tough and I had a fundamental belief in what I was doing was going to work no matter what the circumstances were."

The restaurant would have probably died had it not been for a freak snowstorm

George McKerrow's LongHorn Steaks Restaurant & Saloon was struggling to stay afloat when Atlanta was hit by a freak snowstorm in 1982, leaving motorists stranded and many without electricity.

As luck would have it, the LongHorn was one of the few restaurants in its area that still had power. McKerrow came up with an idea, recalled the Atlanta Journal Constitution, posting a sign outside the eatery that read, "Drinks $1 while it snows." That sign got the attention he was hoping for and the first night, McKerrow and his crew served $700 in drinks. As the snowstorm continued for a few more days, so did the parade of customers coming into the restaurant, something McKerrow credits with keeping the place in business. "It became folklore," said McKerrow of his gamble.

Not only did the restaurant survive, it thrived thanks to all those new customers who might not have otherwise dropped by. In 1983, according to Reference for Business, McKerrow opened a second location, this one in the suburbs of Atlanta, which also proved to be successful. By the end of the 1980s, there were 15 LongHorn locations, with the chain expanding beyond Atlanta into North Carolina.

The success of LongHorn Steakhouse spawned another popular eatery

In 2000, George McKerrow retired from RARE Hospitality International Inc. (Longhorn Steakhouse's parent company). A few years later, in 2007 the entire chain was sold by RARE to Darden Restaurants Inc., which also owns such restaurant chains as Olive Garden and Capital Grille. The reported price: $1.4 billion.

Yet McKerrow wasn't quite ready to be put out to pasture. In 2002, he partnered with Atlanta-based media mogul Ted Turner to launch Ted's Montana Grill, built upon a model that focused on sustainability. One key difference between this new venture and LongHorn was that beef wouldn't be the primary focus at Ted's, but rather bison. Speaking with The Atlantan, McKerrow admitted he found it "ironic" that serving diners bison — a species that had once been hovering on the brink of extinction — had "actually increased the population several-fold, and we've done so sustainably." 

As McKerrow mused, "Being at the helm of a successful enterprise is satisfying by itself, but if you can go to sleep at night knowing that your efforts are actually doing some good in this world, that's the cherry on top."

LongHorn Steakhouse offered a hotline to help amateur grillers

When holidays such as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July roll around, Americans tend to head outdoors, fire up their barbecues and get grilling. Recognizing this annual tradition, LongHorn Steakhouse offered it assistance by providing a special hotline to serve up tips, techniques and advice to amateur grillers. Launched in 2013, the LongHorn Grill Us Hotline allowed the public to connect with "the restaurant's certified Grill Masters." 

As LongHorn's head of marketing John Fadool explained in a press release, LongHorn's 30-plus years of experience, serving upwards of 650,000 steaks per week, "means we know a thing or two about grilling." 

The program proved to be successful, returning each year to offer grilling assistance. In 2018, the Austin-American Statesman offered some grill tips from John Dickey, one of the staffers manning the hotline. The first of these was, when grilling with charcoal, to not skimp on the briquettes since the ideal temperature to cook a steak is 550 degrees Fahrenheit; if using a propane grill, Dickey advised turning it on 10 minutes before cooking so the grill had enough time to heat up to the desired temperature. 

Longhorn and Dennys have a weird romance in online fan fiction

For most people, LongHorn Steakhouse conjures up images of thick, juicy ribeyes and tantalizing T-bones, while Denny's elicits thoughts of eggs over easy nestled next to a pile of fluffy pancakes. That was not the case for some folks who followed the LongHorn Steakhouse Tumblr account. In fact, certain fans of the two restaurants placed the two restaurant chains within some highly romantic and very weird fan fiction.

As DailyDot reported, it all began when LongHorn Steakhouse launched its Tumblr account, run by an anonymous employee. Apparently, the person running the Tumblr was regularly propositioned, and would respond by joking, "Sorry, I love Denny's." That throwaway joke led fans to start posting stories and drawings featuring a fictional romance between a young couple, LongHorn (a handsome male occasionally depicted with horns on his head) and a fetching young woman named Denny, often drawn in the style of Japanese anime. This fictional relationship eventually came to be dubbed "Denhouse." One Tumblr user put things in perspective by writing, "You know your life has hit rock bottom when your shipping two restaurants oh my lord."

LongHorn Steakhouse is generous with its recipes

As demonstrated by its holiday grilling hotline, LongHorn Steakhouse is not stingy when it comes to helping its customers recreate their steaks at home. The same holds true for the chain's recipes. In fact, the LongHorn Steakhouse website features a special page that's bursting with recipes that have been "inspired" by LongHorn chefs.

Surprisingly, only a few of these recipes featured steaks; among these were a coffee-rubbed ribeye and a herb-rubbed beef tenderloin topped with a portabella mushroom cream sauce. Meanwhile, those who enjoy LongHorn Steakhouse's ribs can fire up the grill cook up a batch of grilled baby back ribs, accompanied by a sweet-and-spicy bourbon BBQ sauce. 

Some of the non-steak recipes shared on the site included grilled vegetables, grilled lime shrimp, and even a grilled Caesar salad, with hearts of romaine that were lightly grilled until slightly blackened. There was even a grilled dessert, grilled Bananas Foster, placing a distinctive LongHorn spin on the iconic New Orleans favorite. Basically, if you want to create a complete LongHorn-inspired meal in your own kitchen, they have you covered. 

LongHorn Steakhouse offers a wide variety of cuts

If there's one thing that LongHorn knows how to deliver to its customers, it's variety. In fact, LongHorn's menu offers an impressive array of diverse cuts of meat, ranging from its signature Outlaw Ribeye to the savory Renegade Sirloin. Then there's the LongHorn Porterhouse, which is described as "the biggest steak in the game," a 22-ounce slab of beef that combines a bone-in strip and filet "into one thick cut."

In addition to all those regular menu items, LongHorn Steakhouse also serves up some special-selection cuts on occasion. "Hand-selected for their one-of-a-kind marbling and textures, they're prized possessions for any steak lover," notes the chain's website. These special cuts included a 14-ounce Delmonico described as "not just a steak" but "an event," along with a 12-ounce New York strip and the six-ounce Flo's Filet. "It's tender, buttery and you won't regret a single bite," the LongHorn website promised of the latter.

Longhorn SteakHouse shared some of its secrets

One of the key secrets to achieving the juicy and delicious steaks enjoyed by customers of LongHorse Steakhouse is that the restaurant is insistent on using fresh steaks — never frozen. Speaking with The Daily Meal, LongHorn's Chef Michael Senich conceded that frozen steaks may be more cost-effective for restaurants, allowing them to be stored for significantly longer, but the quality of the meat ultimately suffers. 

In addition, he explained that freezing a steak can also result in the formation of ice crystals and lead to freezer burn; meanwhile, if a frozen steak isn't correctly thawed it can hamper the ability to grill it to the proper level of preparedness. 

Senich also stressed the importance of keeping one's grill clean, which will prevent a steak from being ruined by sticking to the grates. For home grillers striving to reach the heights, he recommended first scraping the grates of the grill and then firing it up. While the grill is heating up, Senich advised dipping a hand towel in canola oil, gripping the towel with tongs, and then running it along the grates as they heat up. This, he explained, would prevent steaks from sticking.

LongHorn Steakhouse was Georgia's top restaurant during the COVID-19 pandemic

When the coronavirus pandemic led restaurants throughout North America to shut down, many eateries that had the capability shifted to a business model that emphasized takeout orders placed online, often using app-based delivery services.

Among these was LongHorn Steakouse, which offered customers meals to go. The strategy proved to be a winning one in the steakhouse's home state of Georgia. According to the Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, a report from TOP Data analyzed "consumer tracking data" to determine which casual-dining restaurants had been used most by consumers in each of America's 50 states. In Georgia, statistics demonstrated Georgians were craving beef during the pandemic and that LongHorn Steakhouse was "the most visited fast-casual restaurant" in the state since the start of the pandemic. 

While LongHorn was Atlanta's top pandemic performer, other restaurants most visited by Georgia residents included Chili's, Waffle House, Cracker Barrel and IHOP.

A LongHorn Steakhouse was the scene of a brutal double homicide

While the appearance of a Longhorn Steakhouse in a newspaper headline is typically seen as a good thing for the company from a public relations perspective, that decidedly wasn't the case in 2019 when a LongHorn location in Clarksville, Tennessee was the scene of a brutal double homicide.

According to Nashville's Fox 17 Newstwo men were gunned down in the parking lot of that LongHorn Steakhouse location, apparently the result of some type of "dispute." The public at large was not thought to be threatened at the time. Not surprisingly, when the shots were fired, "many people" reportedly fled from the scene of the shooting. The two victims were rushed to a nearby hospital, where they later died.

As The Leaf Chronicle subsequently reported, two men were arrested and charged in connection with the two murders. The suspects were "indicted by the Montgomery County Grand Jury on two counts of first-degree murder and one count of reckless endangerment with a deadly weapon," the newspaper noted. 

LongHorn Steakhouse revamped its Shirley Temple after a kid's lousy review

Let it never be said that LongHorn Steakhouse doesn't respond to the feedback offered by its customers. In 2019, a 6-year-old's Instagram review went viral when he critiqued the Shirley Temple he was served at a LongHorn Steakhouse. According to the kid — identified by People as Leo Kelly — the Shirley Temple was the tallest he'd ever had, but he had to diss the drink for containing not one single cherry.

In response, an Instagram post from LongHorn Steakhouse trumpeted the news: the restaurant was altering its recipe, which was now "fit for 'The King'" (a clever play on the youngster's Instagram handle, theshirleytempleking). The new Shirley Temple recipe upped the cherry game substantially by adding five cherries — three on the bottom of the beverage, and another two on top, balanced atop the rim of the glass with a skewer.

"He's been ordering Shirley Temples from the age of three and always commented on them," the lad's father, Tom Kelly, told People of his son's burgeoning role as a Shirley Temple critic. 

The Food Network copied a famous LongHorn Steakhouse dessert

Those who dine at LongHorn Steakhouse restaurants will typically end their meals with some type of sweet treat. One of the chain's most popular desserts is its famed Chocolate Stampede, large enough to serve two, consisting of "six types of chocolate in peaks and layers that are served with vanilla bean ice cream."

The popularity of the Chocolate Stampede hasn't gone unnoticed by the Food Network either. The TV network has a copycat recipe that's reportedly inspired by the popular steakhouse chain's dessert. This DIY version for chocolate-lovers has been dubbed the Almost-Famous Chocolate Mousse Cake, and while it's a worthy recreation, it may prove challenging for novice bakers.

There's also an eclectic list of ingredients, including devil's food cake mix, 10 eggs (with yolks and whites separated) and "strong coffee", with the latter combined with chopped bittersweet chocolate and butter to create the fluffy mousse that's a huge part of the restaurant's signature dessert.