How Ted Turner expands his brand with Ted’s Montana Grill

Ted’s Montana Grill, a new chain of restaurants in the Atlanta area and select locations around the country, serves up burgers and steaks made of a meat not seen on most menus — bison.

While that may seem unusual to the average diner, once people learn the identity of the restaurant owner, it doesn’t seem odd at all.

The “Ted” of Ted’s Montana Grill is Atlanta’s own media mogul and philanthropist Ted Turner, an entrepreneur and personality that few people would consider ordinary. The food service venture is a first for Turner, but not for his business partner, restaurant entrepreneur George McKerrow Jr., who founded LongHorn Steakhouse Inc.

What’s curious, though, is that the chain of restaurants owned by these two Atlanta men began operations with its first location not in their hometown, but in Columbus — that’s Columbus, Ohio. Both Turner and McKerrow are familiar with the Ohio market — Turner was born and spent part of his childhood in Cincinnati; McKerrow is an Ohio native and graduated from The Ohio State University.

And while the restaurant business may appear to be outside Turner’s realm of expertise, he says the opposite is true.

“It’s all about happy customers,” says Turner. “That’s what television viewers and restaurant customers have in common. If they’re not happy, they won’t tune in or come back.”

So far, customers and critics alike are happy.

“The food is good, the fine detailing great, and the crowds leave happy,” wrote Journal-Constitution food critic John Kessler.

Ted’s Montana Grill was also named Best New Concept for 2003 by Nation’s Restaurant News, and sales are brisk.

The restaurant business is a good fit for Turner’s business portfolio because it allows him to sell the 32,000 head of bison he raises on his Montana ranch, “Bar None.”

“Turner’s ranch is one of the largest commercial bison ranches in the world,” says McKerrow.

Bison figures prominently on the restaurant’s menu, and with recent health scares concerning the nation’s beef industry, that might not be a bad thing.