Former CEO of Brinker International
|Norman Brinker, restaurateur, founder of Steak and Ale and CEO of Brinker International, which owns Chili’s Grill and Bar, Romano’s Macaroni Grill and Maggiano’s Little Italy, revolutionized casual-dining restaurants in the United States. In his career he helped create restaurants that offered high-quality dining at affordable prices and turned Chili’s from a small chain of 21 burger joints to one of the world’s largest casual-dining companies. His impact continues to be felt throughout the industry.
Brinker was born in Denver, Colorado, and at age 10 moved with his parents to a farm in New Mexico. He graduated from Roswell High School and New Mexico Military Institute, where he subsequently won a berth on the United States International Equestrian team.
After an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy, Brinker enrolled in the marketing program at San Diego State University. He graduated with honors in 1957 while also selling cutlery door-to-door and managing a clothing import business he started. In 1962, he became a general partner in Jack in the Box Restaurants and relocated to Houston for the company’s expansion into Texas. After leaving Jack-in-the-Box Restaurants, Brinker started a new company, Steak and Ale, which initiated such innovations as a salad bar and affordable pricing.
In 1976, Steak and Ale merged with The Pillsbury Company, and Brinker became executive vice president and a board member. In 1982, he became chairman of The Pillsbury Restaurant Group, the world’s second-largest restaurant organization. Then, in 1983, Brinker resigned from Pillsbury’s and invested in Chili’s, Inc., a Dallas-based restaurant company, and became the company’s CEO. During the 1980s, Chili’s grew to be recognized in many areas of the country. In the 1990s, Chili’s, now renamed Brinker International, became “the mutual fund of casual dining” with its powerful portfolio of Chili’s Grill and Bar, Romano’s, On The Border Mexican Grill & Cantina, Maggiano’s Little Italy, Corner Bakery Cafe, Big Bowl Asian Kitchen and Rockfish Seafood Grill.
By 1995, Brinker International had grown to more than 1,400 restaurants worldwide with 90,000 employees and system-wide sales exceeding $3 billion annually.
In 2000, Norm Brinker became chairman emeritus of the company. His legacy lives on as Brinker International has grown today to more than 1,700 restaurants in 27 states and two territories.
As a believer in the free enterprise system and community involvement, Brinker was active in a wide range of organizations and civic affairs. He served on the boards of the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Dallas Museum of Fine Arts and the Dallas Civic Open. He also established a philanthropic trust that contributes to higher education and medical research. He was founder and owner of the Willow Bend Polo and Hunt Club and traveled throughout the world playing exhibition matches. He was a past chairman of the United States Polo Association.
Brinker won numerous honors throughout his life. He won the Horatio Alger Award, was named Entrepreneur of the Year and Business Statesman of the Year by Venture magazine, was inducted into the Texas Business Hall of Fame and was honored as Restaurateur of the Year three times.
A few years before his death, Brinker co-wrote an autobiography, “On the Brink: The Life and Leadership of Norman Brinker.” He was a true visionary, the New York Times once remarked, and other newspapers that eulogized him said the same.