Editor's Note: A previous version of this story was updated to correctly attribute a quote to Mark Paul.
Restaurant chains come and go, but Steak and Ale holds a special place in the careers of many in the foodservice industry.
The first Steak and Ale restaurant opened in Dallas in 1966. Its founder, Norman Brinker, who died in 2009, is credited with popularizing the casual-dining segment with the brand, as well as with Bennigan’s. The last Steak and Ale unit closed in 2008, when parent company Metromedia Restaurant Group filed for bankruptcy liquidation.
But Steak and Ale was resurrected for two days when more than 400 former S&A Restaurant Corp. employees gathered in Dallas last Saturday and Sunday to share memories and dine on classic menu items, such as prime rib, Kensington Clubs and Monte Cristo sandwiches.
“The setting provided such a fantastic backdrop for everyone to put themselves back in that time to recreate and enjoy all of the great personal memories that they had,” said event chairman Mark Paul, a former Steak and Ale employee and current financial advisor who has worked with restaurant executives for the past 25 years.
Attendees included current and former industry leaders who worked in the Steak and Ale system: Louis P. Neeb, former chairman of Mexican Restaurants Inc.; Rick Tasman, former chief operating officer of P.F. Chang’s; Hal W. Smith of the Hal Smith Restaurant Group; Rick Berman of Berman & Co.; and Lane Cardwell, president of P.F. Chang’s China Bistro.
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James Cavalaris came all the way from Singapore, where he is managing director of Universal Success Restaurants. The company holds development rights for Outback Steakhouse in Southeast Asia.
Chris Sullivan, a co-founder of Outback Steakhouse, credited Brinker with developing many casual-dining leaders.
“He saw something in all of us that knew that we could do better than what we were doing … He was about being the best,” Sullivan said. “He also instilled in us this concept of putting people first and caring so much about each other.”
Paul M. Mangiamele, president and chief executive of Bennigan’s Franchising Co., provided an update on that brand. He also noted that Steak and Ale, for which his company continues to hold intellectual property rights, could still return to the dining scene.
Watch Sullivan discuss Brinker's legacy; story continues below
The idea for the reunion came from a Facebook posting by former employee Lori Sigwing Olson. She said the gathering was “more than wonderful.”
Mark Paul added that guests were “so appreciative of the opportunity to see people that they had not seen in as long as 30 years. Many commented on the fact that, as they began conversations with people that they were close to back then, it was if they had never been separated by time.
“Many said they knew just how fortunate they were to be one of the ‘chosen few’ that had the opportunity to be a part of S&A in those very special years,” he said. “They knew how unique the culture was, and the reverence for Norman definitely lives on.”
Paul said there are no immediate plans for another S&A reunion, but another such event is possible.
“I would place a bet that we would see strong interest in holding another event in, say, five years,” he said.
Proceeds from the reunion were directed to the Friedreich’s Ataxia Research Alliance and the Susan G. Komen for the Cure breast-cancer fund-raising organization.