Log in
updated 2:54 PM CDT, Jul 28, 2018

FlynnsHarp logo 042016

Stuart Anderson, iconic name in restaurants, marking 50 years since steakhouse launch

More than a quarter century after he left the restaurant business, former western cattle rancher Stuart Anderson's name remains the iconic brand on the concept of affordable steakhouses.

 

And on April 1, Anderson, now 91 and retired with his wife, Helen, to a condo in Rancho Mirage, CA, will mark the 50th anniversary of the opening of the first Stuart Anderson's Black Angus near the Seattle waterfront.

Stuart Anderson

 

That first restaurant, in 1964, became a chain of 110 steakhouse restaurants across 19 states, each restaurant bearing the Stuart Anderson's Black Angus name and menus with the icon that became known affectionately as "the square cow," a squared cow's head inside a square frame.

 

The image has changed but the Black Angus part of the name, as well as the explanation of Anderson's philosophy in launching his steakhouse concept, are still touted on the menus at the 45 Black Angus restaurants, now owned by Los Altos, CA-based American Restaurant Group in six western states.

Famous "Square cow" logo.

 

I visited a couple of weeks ago with Stuart and Helen, his wife of more than 40 years, at their condo, looking west toward the San Jacinto Mountains. Anderson sported his signature mustache and cowboy hat, anxious to discuss his new book, which won't be out in time to mark the half-century milestone.

 

In fact, neither was certain what kind of a celebration of the special anniversary might be planned by the owners, but both enthused about the opening last month of the latest Black Angus in Brentwood, CA, where the chain brought him to be on hand and introduced.

 

"They still remember me," he laughed. "He was the star of the event," said Helen.

 

He wanted to talk about the book, Corporate Cowboy, the story of how he built the restaurant empire that became a national company with 10,000 employees and annual revenue of $260 million. It's actually a longer official title: "Corporate Cowboy Stuart Anderson: how a maverick entrepreneur built Black Angus, America's #1 restaurant chain of the 1980s."

 

Anderson speaks and moves slowly from the effects of a stroke he suffered five years ago but retains a firm gaze under the brim of his cowboy hat and a sharp mind. Helen refers to the recovery by the man she refers as "my cowboy" as "miraculous."

 

The book unfolds, as did his first one a couple of years ago, by his dictating to Helen or, if she's not there at the time, using a recorder from which she later transcribes.

 

He first tried his hand as an author when he produced "Here's the Beef! My Story of Beef, " a book he described as "fun and informative" that sold thousands of copies in the Black Angus restaurants. The book was meant to be an answer to the highly popular McDonald's commercial in which an elderly lady asks: "Where's the Beef?"

 

Anderson recalls that he was already in the business in Seattle, owning a hotel and a restaurant, but says he much preferred the restaurant part of the business.

 

So his strategy for his Black Angus concept was simple:

"A one-price steak, with six choices of cut, for $2," he recalls. "We got the meat from Australia, which had to be tamed a bit when it got here. We soon raised the price to $2.95 for a full dinner with a good steak."

 

The second Black Angus was opened in Anderson's hometown of Tacoma and it turned out to be a disaster, what Anderson now describes as a "dumb decision."

 

But the third, in Spokane, proved the validity of the concept and it remained for years the most successful restaurant in the chain.

Expsansion to other states followed, starting with California where San Diego was the launch city.

 

It was in 1987, after five consecutive years of his Stuart Anderson's Black Angus restaurants being named the top steakhouse chain in the nation in a poll by industry publication Restaurants & Institutions, that Anderson retired from the business.

 

By then the chain he had sold to Saga Food Services more than a decade before that had been in turn sold to Marriott Corp., which decided it didn't want the restaurant part of Saga's business and the unbundling made it not fun for Anderson any longer. He said he was working too much and traveling too many hours.

 

So he and Helen retired to his 2,400 ranch sprawled along Interstate 90 west of Ellensburg. He had bought the ranch in 1966 with the intent of raising the black angus cattle that would be served at his restaurants. But it turned out to be too great a challenge, for various reasons, so he continued to raise the cattle until he sold the ranch to Taiwanese interests, though to most travelers going past, it remains the Stuart Anderson ranch.

 

Anderson sought a comeback a couple of years ago, driven not by the desire to get back into the business in his late 80s but rather to try to save the jobs at a Black Angus he had opened in Rancho Mirage in 1980 when the California expansion was in full swing but had closed during the financial downturn

 

It was an effort that didn't last long, with Helen recalling that "after the Black Angus closed, Stuart thought he'd be helping the economy and jobs by re-opening the restaurant."

 

"After negotiating the lease, we opened in late February of 2010.  Stuart decided he was definitely too old to be back in this business," she said. "He jokingly said he forgot more than he knew, so in 2012 we were approached by a group who wanted to buy our lease and we were happy to accommodate them."

Continue reading
  1598 Hits
  0 Comments
1598 Hits
0 Comments

Stuart Anderson admits challenges in his comeback effort at age 89

Stuart Anderson, successful cattle rancher, restaurateur, author, television personality and entrepreneur, is finding that a comeback at the age of 89 is turning out to be more challenging than he had expected. It's not because of age so much as it is the economy and changes in the restaurant business.

 

The man who built Stuart Anderson's Black Angus from a single location near downtown Seattle in 1964 into a chain of 110 steakhouse restaurants across 19 states before selling the chain in the late 1980s was lured out of retirement by a shuttered Black Angus in Rancho Mirage, CA.

 

The appeal of reopening and rebranding a restaurant that he had originally opened in 1980 when his California expansion of Black Angus/Cattle Company restaurants was in full swing proved too much of a temptation, despite the protestations of his wife, Helen, who recalls saying: "Over my dead body."

 
 

 

"It was tough to see that restaurant go away, along with a crew we had come to know," Anderson says of his reaction when he learned in early 2009 that the restaurant he and his wife frequented had closed

 

"We thought we could help the economy by creating some jobs there," Anderson says. "And I thought Helen and I had the experience needed to reopen the restaurant."

 

But he concedes it has been more difficult than they had anticipated, originally convinced that "with my 60 years of experience, I felt we could overcome all the difficulties posed by this economy. But it's amazing how much you forget at the age of 89."

 

Helen, who has been Anderson's partner and spouse for almost 40 years and describes his comeback from a stroke three years ago as "miraculous," admits "we knew it would be costly, but it has been more of a financial drain than we thought it would be."

 

Anderson says "the restaurant business is more competitive and demanding than it used to be, with government regulations and additional costs we were unfamiliar with. It has been challenging," he admitted.

 

Many of those rooting for him to succeed again will be those from his home state. Not just Seattle, where the chain was headquartered as one of the most respected in America,  but also Spokane, where Black Angus number three became the most successful in the chain, and Ellensburg where his 2,400-acre ranch sprawled along Interstate 90. It was the ranch with its black angus herd, as well as the signature mustache and cowboy hat, that  made him the icon of cowboy country.

 

Over the course of nearly a quarter century, Anderson created a restaurant company with 10,000 employees and annual revenue of $260 million.

 

Shortly before Anderson's retirement in the late '80s with the sale of the company, industry publication Restaurants & Institutions, in a national survey, judged his chain the nation's best full-service restaurants three years out of four. And USA Today judged the chain best in the nation in the category of casual dinner.

 

He tried his hand as an author when he produced Here's the Beef! My Story of Beef, a book he describes as "fun and informative" that sold thousands of copies in the Black Angus restaurants. The book was a follow on to the highly popular McDonald's commercial in which an elderly lady asks: "Where's the Beef?"

 

And his stint as a television personality was as spokesperson for Seattle's Senior Housing Assistance Group's low-income senior housing developments.

 

Part of Anderson's concern for the amount of time and effort he and Helen are having to invest in their restaurateur entrepreneurial encore is that she doesn't have as much time as she'd like for her commitment to Umbrella Ministries. The Palm Springs-based national 501c3 is focused on helping mothers who have lost children.

 

The two spend "three or four nights a week" greeting customers and making the rounds of the restaurant, Anderson says. 

 

"I've seen tough times before and some of my restaurants didn't make it," says Anderson, noting the failures included the Tacoma restaurant that opened following Seattle.  

 

 

While noting his conviction that "the general economy has to change around here" and "there are too many restaurants," Anderson insists he and Helen will make Stuart's Steakhouse a success.

Continue reading
  1419 Hits
  0 Comments
1419 Hits
0 Comments

52°F

Seattle

Mostly Cloudy

Humidity: 63%

Wind: 14 mph

  • 24 Mar 2016 52°F 42°F
  • 25 Mar 2016 54°F 40°F
Banner 468 x 60 px