Kent Taylor, the maverick entrepreneur who founded Texas Roadhouse, has died at 65 (TXRH)

  • Kent Taylor, who founded Texas Roadhouse in 1993, died Thursday at the age of 65.
  • Taylor was most recently the board chairman and the chief executive officer.
  • Louisville’s mayor remembered him as a ‘kind and generous spirit’ who put others first.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Kent Taylor, the founder and CEO of Texas Roadhouse, known for his deep care for workers and entrepreneurial spirit, died Thursday at age 65, the company said.

Taylor founded the Lone Star State-themed steakhouse — famous for its loyal fans, free peanuts, and unlimited rolls and butter — in 1993. In the decades since, he “dedicated himself to building it into a legendary experience for ‘Roadies’ and restaurant guests alike,” the restaurant’s lead director Greg Moore said in the statement.

“He was without a doubt, a people-first leader,” Moore said, noting that Taylor forfeited his compensation package amid the COVID-19 pandemic in support of his workers. “His entrepreneurial spirit will live on in the company he built, the projects he supported and the lives he touched.”

The company did not specify a cause of death. 

Taylor was the visionary behind the company’s partner model and its mission of “Legendary Food and Legendary Service,” Jefferies analyst Andy Barish said in a note. The restaurant chain, which now has more than 600 locations across the country, went public in 2004. Since then, its “unending focus on delivering a quality experience with great value has made it one of the most consistent casual dining companies overall,” Barish said. 

Texas Roadhouse lived up to the hype of being America’s favorite steakhouse chain, according to one Insider reporter who dubbed the restaurant the “clear winner” in a competition with Outback Steakhouse. According to Pitchbook, the restaurant was also named Employee’s Choice Best Places to Work by Glassdoor.

Throughout his career, Taylor received many accolades, including becoming a member of the Kentucky Business Hall of Fame and being named the 2014 Operator of the Year by Nation’s Restaurant News, Pitchbook said. 

He earned his Bachelor of Science from the University of North Carolina, which he attended on a track scholarship. Before founding his restaurant, he worked at KFC, Bennigan’s, and Hooters of America, according to Pitchbook. 

Taylor’s successor as CEO will be President Jerry Morgan, the company said, adding that Morgan will be key in helping the business move forward “after such a tragic loss.” Morgan has worked at Texas Roadhouse for 23 years. 

Read more: 6 chains that are positioned to survive the restaurant apocalypse sparked by the coronavirus pandemic, according to experts and analysts

In a tweet, Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer said Taylor was a “maverick entrepreneur who embodied the values of never giving up and putting others first.” 

“Louisville lost a much loved and one-of-a-kind citizen with Kent Taylor’s passing today,” Fischer said. “Kent’s kind and generous spirit was his constant driving force whether it was quietly helping a friend or building one of America’s great companies.”

Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell said Taylor didn’t fit the “mold of a big-time CEO.” He built his company taking bold risks and using creativity and grit, McConnell said. But most of all, he cared about his team. 

“When the pandemic threw everything into uncertainty last year, there was no question what Kent would do,” McConnell said. “Like always, he put his people first. He dug deep into his own pockets and covered healthcare and bonuses for thousands all while keeping his stores open to make sure workers got paychecks when they needed them most. These were acts of extraordinary leadership that were all very ordinary for Kent.”

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