The Untold Truth Of Texas Roadhouse

In less than three decades, Texas Roadhouse has gone from one single location in Indiana to become the largest steakhouse chain restaurant in the country (via Restaurant Business). Today, it has nearly 600 locations across the country, including in 49 of the 50 U.S. states, and can even be found in nine countries abroad. So, how did this once humble operation pull off such an incredibly impressive transformation? Many would say it's thanks to a combination of hand-cut steaks, made from scratch food, and low prices — with a little bit of line dancing mixed in. Of course, all those complimentary peanuts and cinnamon-buttered rolls don't hurt either!

But with any tale this good, there are always some interesting facts and tidbits that get lost along the way. And trust us — Texas Roadhouse has more than its fair share of stories to tell. From its Midwestern beginnings and sister restaurant chains to its connection with Willie Nelson and its founder's tragic death, here is the untold truth of Texas Roadhouse.

Texas Roadhouse began in Indiana

You'd be forgiven for assuming that Texas Roadhouse's story began in the Lone Star State. It is in the restaurant's name, after all. But the chain actually got its start hundreds of miles away in Indiana. In 1993, founder Kent Taylor opened the doors of the first Texas Roadhouse in Clarksville, Indiana, a city located on the Ohio River just across from Louisville, Kentucky. In fact, to this day, the company's headquarters are based in Louisville (via Texas Roadhouse).

But, according to Funding Universe, neither Texas nor Indiana was Taylor's original culinary inspiration. The avid skier loved the mountains of Colorado, where he lived for many years. After moving to Indiana — where he managed several casual and fast food restaurants, including locations for Bennigan's, Hooters, and Kentucky Fried Chicken — he decided to try his hand at operating his own eatery. Naturally, he opted for a Colorado theme. In 1991, with the financial backing of former Kentucky governor John Y. Brown, Taylor opened Buckhead Hickory Grill, today known as Buckhead Mountain Grill, in Louisville. When the business proved to be an immediate hit, the pair hatched plans for a second location, this time in Clarksville, but couldn't agree on how to divide the profits.

Still wanting to open a restaurant in Indiana, Taylor found new investors, but the Colorado theme belonged to Buckhead. Thus, Texas Roadhouse was born. In 1994, Taylor sold his interest in Buckhead and never looked back.

Texas Roadhouse's founder lived at his parents' house

After he graduated from the University of North Carolina, Texas Roadhouse founder Kent Taylor moved to Colorado, where the self-proclaimed ski addict could carve up the mountainside any time he wished, per Funding Universe. It wasn't until he relocated to Indiana that he opened up his steakhouse chain. But why did the avid skier relocate to the Midwest in the first place? In what would ultimately prove to be serendipitous, it was a series of personal setbacks that led Taylor to move back not just to his hometown, but to his parents' house.

Taylor and his wife divorced in 1990, leaving him to raise his two young daughters alone. Soon, he found himself so financially burdened that he was forced to move back in with his mom and dad, according to Investor's Business Daily. This wasn't the worst thing, as Taylor admitted to Investors' Business Daily that his mom "sure helped me with my kids when I was first starting the company."

It proved to be a big help, as Taylor, despite these significant personal and financial setbacks, was able to open the first Texas Roadhouse in 1993, not too long after moving to Indiana. "Things worked out," he said. "I like to fill my mind with positive thoughts. I've always been very persistent and prove the naysayers wrong."

It's now the largest steakhouse chain in the country

Texas Roadhouse has come a long way from its humble beginnings as a single restaurant in Indiana. And its sustainability didn't look too promising when several of its first expansion locations were forced to close, notes Funding Universe. Needless to say, it didn't appear as though Texas Roadhouse would become the largest steakhouse chain in the country — and yet that's precisely what happened.

According to Restaurant Business, the company brought in just over $3 million in revenue in 2019, the most of any steakhouse chain in the United States. That's roughly $400,000 more than its closest competitor, Outback Steakhouse, which had 724 locations compared to Texas Roadhouse's 553. And Texas Roadhouse's success doesn't appear to be slowing down. Aside from a drop in revenue in 2020, which was an industry-wide trend primarily caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, the restaurant chain has seen a significant jump in sales each year since 2017 (via Statista).

Texas Roadhouse spends $20 million a year on peanuts and bread

The first thing any guest notices upon sitting down to eat at Texas Roadhouse is the complimentary bowl of shelled peanuts on the table. In fact, the chain may be better known for their peanuts than their steaks. "We're known for what we call, 'legendary food, legendary service,' but you will always hear people say 'oh, the peanut place!'" Travis Doster, Texas Roadhouse's senior director of public and government relations, told the National Peanut Board. The company has become so famous for its salty snack, in fact, that it now sells bags of them at sports stadiums across the country.

Texas Roadhouse takes its peanuts and freshly baked bread (which is also complimentary) pretty seriously. That's because the restaurant sees them not as just a pre-meal snack, but symbolic of the great value customers get when they dine there. Therefore, the chain invests heavily in these treats. Doster claimed that across all its locations, Texas Roadhouse spends more than $20 million on peanuts and bread, which includes purchasing more than 10 million pounds of peanuts.

But, interestingly, peanuts were not founder Kent Taylor's first choice of snack. "He originally thought about popcorn, believe it or not," Doster said. But Taylor realized that the smell of popcorn would overpower that of the bread. "So the idea of peanuts was born. And the idea of peanuts and bread was to immediately give folks, especially families with their kids, something to eat."

Each Texas Roadhouse restaurant has unique murals

Every McDonald's in the country, whether it be in New York City or rural Idaho, feels and looks exactly the same. It's not by accident. The Restaurant Times reports that chains value consistency so customers can expect the same thing — including interior decorating — at every store, regardless of where it's located. This business model has its merits but it can also make restaurants feel a little soulless. And if there's anything Texas Roadhouse, as a brand, has in spades, it's soul. That's why the company decorates all of its restaurants in a similar style but gives each outlet its own personality.

How does it do this? With murals, of course. Per the Anchorage Daily News, the walls of each Texas Roadhouse location are adorned with murals representing the local area. Most restaurants have seven murals, six of which are unique to that particular store. They include paintings of everything from Mount McKinley in an Alaskan location to portraits of characters from "The Office" in the Scranton, Pennsylvania outpost (via Facebook).

The final mural, the only one found in every location, depicts an older, distinguished Native American, meant to honor Native American culture. According to Anchorage Daily News, founder Kent Taylor believed this particular painting is good luck. Three of the first four Texas Roadhouse restaurants were forced to close early on. The one that stayed open had a version of this mural. Thus, it is now a mainstay.

Every Texas Roadhouse restaurant has a corner dedicated to Willie Nelson

Texas Roadhouse founder Kent Taylor met the icon known as Willie Nelson at a Farm Aid benefit concert. According to Texas Roadhouse, the two became fast friends and bonded throughout the years over more than a few poker games. They were such good friends, in fact, that Taylor decided to incorporate the country music legend into his business. What's a Texas-themed restaurant without some Willie Nelson influence, anyhow?

Although each Texas Roadhouse location's interior decoration is primarily dedicated to representing the local community, every restaurant across the country has one corner dedicated to Willie Nelson, aptly known as "Willie's Corner." It naturally features photos and memorabilia of the legendary country crooner. The restaurant sometimes also distributes Willie Braids to its employees and guests, consisting of a bandana and two pigtail-style braids that mimic Nelson's signature hairstyle (via Louisville Business First).

And like a true friend, Texas Roadhouse always has Nelson's back. When a stuffed armadillo that tours with Nelson was stolen, Louisville Business First reports that the restaurant chain was on the case, offering $1,000 gift cards for any information on the whereabouts of "Ol' Dillo," as the armadillo was called. (The company's mascot is an armadillo named Andy, so this was an important cause on multiple fronts.) USA Today reports that the armadillo was eventually returned unharmed.

Every restaurant has an in-house butcher and baker

It's easy to conclude that most restaurant chains aren't overly concerned with serving the highest-quality food in town. Yet, Texas Roadhouse is not most restaurant chains. Case in point: every location employs its own in-house butcher and baker.

Any steakhouse worthy of its name needs to have great steaks, so Texas Roadhouse enlists the skills of professionals. Each butcher, or "meat cutter" as they are called by the chain, works in a 34-degree cooler, hand-cutting every single steak that their restaurant serves. The company claims that Texas Roadhouse meat cutters cut an average of $1 million worth of meat a year for every store.

The chain isn't just known for its steak, however. It also takes immense pride in making all of its food from scratch, including its famous and complimentary Roadhouse Rolls and cinnamon butter. It's the in-house baker responsible for whipping this delectable treat up every day. And it's a full-time job, too, since the bread is baked fresh every five minutes throughout the day and night.

Texas Roadhouse only serves lunch on the weekend

If you wake up in the morning with a hankering for some Texas Roadhouse ribeye, porterhouse, cheeseburgers, rolls and cinnamon butter, or all of the above, you're going to have to muster up some patience. The steakhouse chain abides by a dinner-only philosophy. This means that it's only open for lunch on the weekends.

Why does Texas Roadhouse forego the potential revenue lunch? There are a few reasons, starting with the well-being of its employees. According to the company's fact sheet, the restaurant is closed for lunch during the week to help its employees, particularly managers, maintain a healthy work-life balance. Not only does this improve the work situation for Texas Roadhouse employees, but it also makes them better at their job, according to founder Kent Taylor. "You have better execution when you're focused on two shifts," Taylor told Forbes. "Most chains only do 30 percent of business at lunch. I get my A team working for dinner. I like that."

Only serving dinner also helps Texas Roadhouse save money on real estate costs. Most people eat lunch during the week close to where they work, which is often in a high-traffic area. But owning or renting a property in these areas costs far more than in less densely populated locations. By not having to focus on the lunch crowd, Texas Roadhouse can set up shop just off the beaten path, where the cost of owning real estate can be significantly lower.

Some Texas Roadhouse servers line-dance while working

Texas Roadhouse may not have begun in the Lone Star State but it sure has adopted its culture. That includes, of all things, line dancing. Members of the service staff at Texas Roadhouse restaurants are often known to line dance throughout their shift. To be more precise, they dance along to one song every hour, according to the restaurant's Twitter, so you're bound to catch at least one performance during your meal. 

"It's just something fun for the guests," the owner of a Wichita, Kansas restaurant told The Wichita Eagle. "It's just part of what we do at Texas Roadhouse, have some fun and keep the energy up and guests love it. We pull kids out and they come out and dance and things like that."

It has become such a tradition at Texas Roadhouse that the company has gone as far as hosting line-dancing competitions with the staff of different restaurants across the country going head to head (via Marietta Daily Journal).

Texas Roadhouse was very popular during the pandemic

Few industries, if any, were hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than the food industry. But, while some restaurants have been forced to close, others have fared better. On the top of that list is Texas Roadhouse. According to the marketing agency TOP, Texas Roadhouse was the most popular casual dining chain in the country during the one-year period from July 2019 to July 2020. The steakhouse restaurant was the most visited casual dining destination in 15 different states, from Arizona and Colorado, to Massachusetts and Maine. It was also among the top five such eateries in 18 other states.

Texas Roadhouse's success can be attributed to its rapid business model transition, according to FSR. The restaurant was quick to switch to a curbside and drive-thru operation, equipped all employees with gloves and masks, and even set up double-drive-thru tents. The results were downright staggering. FSR reported that, in January 2020, Texas Roadhouse's to-go business was bringing in roughly $8,400 per week at each location. By the end of April, that number skyrocketed 575 percent to $56,000. "Make no mistake," CEO Kent Taylor said on a conference call back in May 2020, "Texas Roadhouse is open for business."

Texas Roadhouse's founder and CEO died in 2021

It has not all been good news for Texas Roadhouse, as the chain suffered a devastating loss in the early part of 2021. In March, the company announced founder and CEO Kent Taylor had died. Louisville television station WDRB reported that his family revealed Taylor had died by suicide. "We are saddened by the decision Kent felt he needed to make and want to emphasize more than ever the importance of reaching out for help if you or someone you love is suffering," the family said in a statement.

What led a successful man to kill himself at the age of 65? Sometime prior to his death, Taylor was diagnosed with COVID-19. One of the lingering effects of Taylor's experience with the disease was a severe and persistent ringing in his ear, known as tinnitus. The discomfort became so unbearable that Taylor's family said it contributed to his suicide. "Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was," the family's statement said, "but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable."

Although in extreme distress, Taylor managed to make one more significant philanthropic contribution before he died. According to his family, he committed to fund a clinical study to help members of the military also suffering from tinnitus.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Texas Roadhouse owns two other restaurant chains

Fans of Texas Roadhouse will be happy to know that it's not the only place they can get the franchise's level of quality and service. In fact, the company owns two other restaurant chains.

In 2013, founder Kent Taylor opened the first Bubba's 33 in Fayettesville, North Carolina (via Forbes). The sports bar-themed eatery was named after Taylor (whose nickname was Bubba), with a nod toward the end of Prohibition in 1933. Following many of Texas Roadhouse's successful steps, like being closed for lunch on most days and keeping prices down, the brand quickly found success. The chain now has 34 locations across the country, with more on the way. When asked by Forbes why people would choose Bubba's 33 over its competitors, Taylor said simply, "It's about the food and people. Number one, our wait staff handles three or four tables, where they have five or six. I do scratch-based food and they don't. If people eat my food, it's not easily compared."

Two years after Bubba's 33 arrived, Taylor had yet another restaurant idea (via FSR). This time it was focused on perfecting the staples of chicken, burgers, and salads, or, as Taylor described the theme to the Louisville Business Journal, "What if Chick-fil-A and Five Guys got married and had a kid?" Unlike its sister chains, Jaggers is a fast food restaurant and is still in its infancy. There are just three locations: two in Indiana and one in Kentucky.