Here’s how George McKerrow changed the way we eat meat.
If you’ve lived in Atlanta for any length of time, you’ve probably heard of George McKerrow. For that matter, if you’ve eaten food in the last 40 years, you’ve almost certainly come across his work.
If the bell isn’t ringing in your mind, McKerrow is the man who started LongHorn Steakhouse back in 1981, when casual dining was in its infancy. Folks weren’t sure whether the concept would take off... and truth be told, it almost didn’t. “It was a tumultuous time for that type of entrepreneurship,” McKerrow recalls. “I had quit my previous job, fronted a lot of my own money, had a young daughter, and I was spending my days building that restaurant, literally, with my own two hands. Our main investor dropped out, and I was thinking, ‘Oh, no… what now?’ But we had a plan.”
In hindsight, that first LongHorn location on Peachtree Road was a mustard seed (offering $1 drinks to stranded motorists during Snow Jam ’82 didn’t hurt either, especially in the pre-social media age). Turns out, people love a good piece of meat as much as they like strong word of mouth, and, over time, this humble steakhouse grew into an empire with nearly 500 locations in four countries. McKerrow retired from RARE Hospitality (LongHorn’s parent company) in 2000, but not before sewing a few more seeds: If you’ve ever enjoyed an evening at Canoe or Aria, he’s the one to thank.
Sustainability was the operating word for McKerrow’s next act—a magnum opus, of sorts. Bison numbers increased during the 20th century, but were still pretty slim, so when McKerrow teamed up with Atlanta’s own media tycoon/philanthropist extraordinaire Ted Turner with the opening of Ted’s Montana Grill in 2002, part of the deal was upping those numbers in a responsible way. “It’s a little ironic, isn’t it? By bringing bison to tables across America, we’ve actually increased the population several-fold, and we’ve done so sustainably,” McKerrow says. “Being at the helm of a successful enterprise is satisfying by itself, but if you can go to sleep at night knowing that your efforts are actually doing some good in this world, that’s the cherry on top.”
Photography by: Patrick Heagney