A Snowstorm Saved LongHorn Steakhouse. Here's How

LongHorn Steakhouse hasn't always been the massively successful chain it is today. In fact, just a year after its flagship location opened in Atlanta, it was at risk of closing its doors for good. Despite how popular casual dining is today, the concept didn't really gain traction until the '80s and '90s were in full swing. 

"It was a tumultuous time for that type of entrepreneurship," George McKerrow, founder of LongHorn Steakhouse, told The Atlantan. "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. Our main investor dropped out, and I was thinking, 'Oh, no... what now?'" What McKerrow didn't know was that a 1982 freak snowstorm would save his restaurant — and it would eventually act as the foundation of casual dining steakhouses for decades to come.

Snow Jam '82 was a saving grace for LongHorn Steakhouse

Anybody who lived anywhere near Atlanta (or honestly, anywhere in the U.S.) in January of 1982 probably knows all about the freak snowstorm that hit Georgia that year. Yes, we're talking about "Snow Jam '82." If you're not familiar with what happened that snowy January day, as a quick recap, courtesy of 11Alive: "Georgia received four inches of snow during the 1982 Snow Jam. The winter storm left thousands of people stranded at work and on the roads and highways. People were forced to abandon their cars along I-285 and I-75 and walk home or seek shelter ... it lasted for several days." 

We know, four inches might not sound like a lot for people who live up north, but to Southerners, the unexpected blizzard was a bizarre phenomenon — and for McKerrow, it was a prime opportunity for business. According to the LongHorn website, it was a "night that got our legend started."

"Drinks $1.00 while it snows"

LongHorn's Peachtree Road location wasn't exempt from being hit by the historical Snow Jam '82, but the blizzard was anything but an inconvenience for McKerrow. After the snow started falling a little after noon, McKerrow put a sign outside of the restaurant that read "Drinks $1.00 while it snows." His genius idea brought in so many stranded customers that the restaurant made $700 in revenue just from drinks that night. 

Snow Jam '82 lasted four days, which meant that first night was just the beginning of an unexpectedly prosperous 96 hours for the restaurant. "It became folklore," McKerrow told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recalling the memorable night. Fast-forward nearly 40 years later and LongHorn now has over 500 locations in close to 450 cities (via ScrapeHero). LongHorn was super fortunate to have such a drastic increase in clientele, but other businesses aren't so lucky in times of struggle.