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

Where the bison roam

Turner knows business, but a restaurant expert he wasn’t. That’s where his partner McKerrow, who introduced Turner to the restaurant’s concept, comes in.

McKerrow has 30 years of experience in the restaurant business. Nation’s Restaurant News credits him with giving “birth to an entire casual-dining segment” when he founded LongHorn Steakhouse Inc. more than 20 years ago.

McKerrow opened LongHorn Steakhouse as a neighborhood restaurant in 1981, at a time when Atlanta had few choices in casual dining. He successfully evolved that single Atlanta location into RARE Hospitality International, a nationwide casual dining group with 190 locations that includes the Bugaboo Creek and Capital Grille chains.

Recently McKerrow, along with other partners, opened a new restaurant in the Buckhead area called Blais, named after its chef and creator Richard Blais.

So far, the Ted’s Montana Grill chain is a hit in all of its 15 locations. Each restaurant generates $2 million to $2.5 million in sales a year, according to company estimates.

“The one that’s grossing the most is in Littleton, Colo., by a little bit,” Turner says. “They’re all doing well, but Littleton has been the most successful. Denver is where the National Bison Association is headquartered. It’s been historically the center of the bison industry. It’s right out there in the middle of the Rocky Mountain time zone where the bison are most prevalent.”

But Turner isn’t ignoring his hometown. There are eight restaurants in the Metro Atlanta area, with two more coming soon. The duo plans to open 24 locations this year and double the number of openings every year, with the ultimate goal of 500 restaurants.

“We’re learning, as a lot of other restaurants have, that the suburbs are generally a more fertile area for casual dining business than an industrial business area downtown, which is, to a large extent, vacant at night when people go home,” Turner says. “But we’re still successful, even in those locations. It’s just that the grosses aren’t quite as high as when you’re closer to where people live.

“It’s a lot easier for them to jump in the car and drive a couple of blocks instead of a couple of miles.”