Last week, on a warm September afternoon, a group of fifteen members of the Endeavor Louisville network anxiously gathered outside of the Texas Roadhouse headquarters. Music and chatter escaped through its glass entry doors, tempting us with just a taste of what was waiting inside. Each individual additionally sported a pair of famous “Willie Braids,” which had been gifted to us by Texas Roadhouse staff. These braids—silky brown pigtails dangling from a red, Texas Roadhouse embellished bandana—reflected the fun and wild atmosphere that greeted us inside the lobby.
“Fun and wild” is perhaps an understatement, as the surrounding energy was electric and completely contagious. Nearly the entire Texas Roadhouse corporate team seemed to be present in their Texas Roadhouse swag, lining the lobby and peering over the railings of each of the three floors above. Line dancers two-stepped back and forth alongside to the left; Andy the Armadillo danced to our right; the faint sound of a country melody buzzed in the background, intertwined with the enthusiastic cheers of the staff members encircling us; a designated “hype guy” encouraged us all to echo his chants of, “Texas Roadhouse! Legendary Food! Legendary Service!”
While a glowing, neon Texas Roadhouse sign branded the space as its own, five other banners sought to define the company culture around us. Hanging from the high ceiling of the foyer were the words, “integrity, partnership, passion, fun,” which were all qualified by a center banner that read, “all with purpose.” The Texas Roadhouse team that so warmly welcomed us certainly seemed to embody all of these characteristics. However, this was just a glimpse of the company culture that Texas Roadhouse Founder & CEO and Endeavor Louisville board member, Kent Taylor, fosters and promotes.
After the grand welcome, we were led into a medium sized meeting room in the back of the building that appeared rather plain in comparison to the colorful entrance with which we were met. A nonchalant and unassuming Taylor followed suit, dressed casually in blue jeans, an olive green polo, sandals, and a Grateful Dead belt. Taylor opened the floor to questions, allowing the entrepreneurs an exclusive opportunity to pick the brain of the international restaurant chain’s leader.
Questions ranged from why Taylor chose the name Texas Roadhouse for a restaurant based in Kentucky, to market expansion, all the way to Texas Roadhouse’s IPO. In the end, though, two of the more memorable takeaways from the discussion seemed to be the importance of entrepreneurial grit and cultivating a consistent company culture.
Taylor’s grit was vital to the establishment of Texas Roadhouse and remains vital to the expansion of the restaurant chain today. It took Taylor about eight years to open his first Texas Roadhouse, and this came after being turned down well over 100 times. Eventually, Taylor opened his first five stores. Still, the business was rocky, as three of these first five restaurants failed. However, Taylor remained persistent, instilled changes, and ultimately persevered. By restaurant nine, he finally nailed down the restaurant prototype that, for the most part, still exists today. Texas Roadhouse now has over 500 stores worldwide generating over $2 Billion in revenue, 52,000 employees, and continues to grow. When asked if he regrets any mistakes of the past, Taylor replied with a firm no: “I’m not afraid to mess up, [because] you learn stuff.”
As the restaurant chain grew, maintaining a consistent company culture remained important, too. Taylor advised the entrepreneurs to fire fast and hire slow, and that the most important consideration for a prospective new-hire was cultural fit. Even those hired for a more senior-level position are required to first gain experience at an individual restaurant itself, shifting between a Service Manager position to a Kitchen Manager position and so on. Through this process, new-hires not only get a sense of Texas Roadhouse’s company culture, but the company itself gets a better sense of the new employee’s cultural fit.
Taylor also spoke of his annual, end-of-the-year party, a thank you for over 2,000 of his employees. This four-day, fun-filled celebration entails great food, drink, Billboard Hot 100 artists, and in the end leaves his employees exclaiming, “l love this company!” While Taylor fosters a fun and positive company culture, he stressed that people were still held accountable. As displayed by the banners, “integrity, partnership, passion, fun—all with purpose.”
After the discussion session, we walked across the street to the nearest Texas Roadhouse restaurant to see (and taste) this company culture in action. Once inside, we were greeted with the same fun, enthusiastic atmosphere that welcomed us at the corporate headquarters. Taylor also met us inside, allowing the group to converse with him in a more casual setting. Converse, of course, while drinking beers and experiencing the legendary food and legendary service of Texas Roadhouse firsthand.