You meet all kinds in our business. In all of the years that I have been in restaurants, I have known saints and sinners, intensely effective leaders and know-nothing would-be managers. In short, I have seen the best, the worst and everything in between.
I never met anyone, however, quite like Kent Taylor.
I was in the Gatlinburg Bubba Gump Shrimp Company restaurant after we had opened it. There was a Texas Roadhouse down the street and, though there were a number of well-known competitors in that town, they were the only one that concerned me. They were on my mind because they approached the business the same way we did. That way was, "Always give the customer more than they expect and treat your people with respect."
In the short interaction I had with him- it could not have been more than 30 minutes- I found him to be smart, exciting, easy to talk to and exuberant. To a large extent, we shared the same views on our business and what it took to lead a restaurant company. In a nutshell (no pun intended), it came down to this: Keep your investors happy, your team happier and the customer happiest.
He paid my group a great compliment when he told me that we were the closest thing to a direct competitor that he had. I will never know whether he meant it or was just being a nice guy. But I'll take it.
For many years, I used to say that Houston's (or Hillstone or whatever they are calling themselves now) was the best chain operation in the sit-down restaurant genre. That was until Texas Roadhouse came along. Nobody has done it better and his passing is just a terrible loss- to his family, his company and the industry.