TAMPA — Two weeks afterwards Chris Sullivan opened the aboriginal Outback Steakhouse, he got a adulatory alarm from addition South Tampa restaurateur who’d done appealing able-bodied in the beef business. A adolescent by the name of Bern Laxer.
“You’re the alone restaurant that’s anytime opened up that’s taken a little bit of my business,” the architect of Bern’s Steak Abode told Sullivan. “People are talking about this filet you have. You’ve got to baker me dinner.”
And so they did. The actual abutting week, Laxer and his wife, Gert, came to the Outback Steakhouse on Henderson Boulevard for a brace of Victoria’s Filets.
“That was a heck of a compliment,” Sullivan said. “And at the end of the day, I don’t anticipate he absolutely anytime absent abundant business.”
Twenty-five years later, neither has Outback.
On Tuesday, the chain’s four founders — Sullivan, Bob Basham, Tim Gannon and Trudy Cooper — met at the aboriginal Outback at 3403 Henderson Blvd. to reflect on a quarter-century of Bloomin’ Onions and Gold Coast ‘Ritas, advantageous accolade to longtime advisers and reminiscing about the canicule aback Outback was aloof addition new restaurant in a South Tampa band mall.
It was a attenuate moment of homesickness for the chain, which will about-face 25 on Friday. Unlike Hooters, which proudly calls its Clearwater restaurant “The Original,” Outback has continued advised its Henderson area absolutely like its 900-odd ancestors about the world. Until Tuesday, there wasn’t alike a applique commemorating its cachet as Outback Zero.
But over the advance of Outback’s adventure of buying — the alternation went accessible in 1991, clandestine in 2007 and accessible afresh in 2012 — the aboriginal has stood able and backward busy.
“Back then, South Tampa didn’t accept any restaurants that were like this, accidental dining restaurants,” said bartender Rich Menendez, who grew up about a mile from the Henderson Outback and is one of two actual aboriginal employees. “You’d accept to go to Chili’s on Dale Mabry, up abreast the stadium, or Bennigan’s.”
How altered are things now? Back 1988, Outback’s authority has belted Carrabba’s Italian Grill, Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, Bonefish Grill, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and, for a while, Lee Roy Selmon’s.
Basham and Sullivan now accept their own rapidly accretion bounded chains, PDQ and Carmel Cafe and Wine Bar. Apple of Beer, Red Elephant Cafe and Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza were all founded or broadcast by above Outback executives.
Today, you can acquisition all 10 of those restaurants aural 3 afar of the aboriginal Outback.
Of course, the founders didn’t see all this advancing aback they set up boutique in a above bar in 1988.
“It was in actual bad shape, and it smelled like alcohol,” Cooper said. They laid bottomward the cheapest attic they could acquisition — copse reclaimed from an old basketball court. And the decor? “I was accession things out of aged food — bullhorns and sheep shears, some bedraggled rugby accessories that a acquaintance had,” Cooper said. “The night or so afore we opened, we sat actuality with a six-pack of beer and afraid decor, actually blame being to the wall.”
Things started off so slowly, “we acclimated to accept to get our advisers to esplanade in the parking lot to accomplish it attending like it was busy,” Basham said.
But it didn’t booty continued for chat to advance throughout Tampa.
Laxer wasn’t the alone big name to banquet there. Stars alignment from Willie Nelson to Gen. Norman Schwarzkopf popped in, too. The night afore Super Bowl XXV in 1991, Menendez said, New York Giants active aback Ottis Anderson came in and ordered two steaks. The abutting day, he was called the game’s MVP.
For Menendez, the Henderson Outback has appear to ascertain not aloof his career but his life. He has met not one but two wives there. His 18-year-old son, Mack, was a busboy.
When Outback went accessible in 1991, the founders gave him 150 shares of stock. Aback he awash it, it was account $100,000. “I bought a abode with it,” he said.
On Tuesday, Outback’s founders presented Menendez with a benefit analysis for $2,500. They additionally gave him the advantage of a day off, but he chose to assignment anyway.
Back abaft the bar, Menendez spotted a accustomed face at a adjacent table: Debbie Isaac, his above English abecedary at Plant High School. She was there not for Outback’s 25th anniversary, but to bless her 64th altogether with a sirloin and Clive Cussler’s Night Probe! She’s been advancing to this Outback back it opened.
“I can’t accept you’re still here!” she said to Menendez.
“Twenty-five years,” he said, smiling. “I know.”
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