Juicy prime rib, dimly-lit 18th century English-style dining rooms and cozy bars are among the memories that linger fondly in the back of the minds of many former customers of Steak and Ale restaurants.
Those memories are something that Charlie Morrison, president of Steak and Ale Restaurants, is hoping to rekindle with new franchise restaurant growth that he hopes will eventually result in 10 to 20 openings a year. “We did customer research and found that customers love the brand. They say they used to go there, and they love the Kensington club (Black Angus sirloin marinated in wine, juice and soy sauce) — and where are they?” Morrison said.
Steak and Ale is owned by Plano-based Metromedia Restaurant Group, which also owns Bennigan’s, Ponderosa Steakhouse and Bonanza Steakhouse.
Dallasites grew up with the brand. Restaurant luminary Norman Brinker, founder of Dallas-based Brinker International Inc., opened the first Steak and Ale on Lemmon Avenue in 1966.
Morrison is using Steak and Ale’s 40th anniversary this year as an opportunity to talk about the brand’s first franchise program, its new prototype and its marketing initiatives, including television spots in key markets.
At its height, Steak and Ale had about 280 corporate-owned restaurants throughout the United States. That has now dwindled to 62 corporate-owned restaurants nationwide in 19 states. Texas is one of Steak and Ale’s larger markets, with nine locations in North Texas.
When Morrison took control of the brand in 2005, he shuttered unprofitable restaurants and updated the menu. Dinner prices average about $20 per person.
The changes so far haven’t been drastic, but they have slightly improved the bottom line, Morrison said. Over the past two years, same-store sales have gone up an average of about 1%.
Morrison believes the franchise program is the best way to grow the brand, especially since Metromedia already franchises most of its other brands.