Texas Roadhouse is the biggest Louisville-based restaurant chain you’ve never heard of

Texas Roadhouse
Founded in 1993, the company now has nearly 500 restaurants and 48,000 employees.

Boulevard focuses on news about some of Louisville’s biggest employers, nonprofits, and cultural institutions. This is one in an occasional series about them.

Put your books away; it’s time for a pop quiz!

Ever heard of a Louisville-based restaurant chain called KFC? Of course you have. Papa John’s? Certainly.

Now, what about that other big Louisville-based chain: Texas Roadhouse. Not so much?

KFC (15,000 restaurants in more than 125 countries) and Papa John’s (4,700 stores, 37 nations) are better known in Louisville at least partly because they’re older, and promote themselves more locally. There’s the KFC Yum Center downtown, and Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium at the University of Louisville. And who hasn’t seen Papa John’s founder John Schnatter in one of his ubiquitous TV commercials?

Kent Taylor
Taylor

But Texas Roadhouse has come a long way, too — and in a relatively short time. Chairman and CEO Kent Taylor started the steakhouse chain in 1993 with a single restaurant in southern Indiana. Some 23 years later, it’s grown to nearly 500 company-owned and franchised restaurants in 49 states plus five foreign countries, and 48,000 employees.

That three big restaurant companies are all based in Louisville isn’t a huge surprise given an economic principle with an unwieldy name: agglomeration. That’s where companies beget other companies in the same industry nearby, all benefiting from the increasingly specialized labor pool and economies of scale: for example, intellectual property attorneys experienced in the fast-food trade.

Peanut shells
Western theme peanut shells.

Taylor, for one, started out as a KFC manager in 1990, when he returned to his Louisville hometown. Three years later, he opened the first Texas Roadhouse, in Clarksville, Ind. The restaurants are known for their western themes, line-dancing servers, peanut shell-strewn floors, and Texas Red Chili and ribs.

The company went public in 2004. Its headquarters is at 6040 Dutchman’s Lane.

Now 60, Taylor is the biggest individual stockholder, with 4.4 million shares, or 6.2% of all, according to the 2016 shareholders’ proxy report. His stake was worth more than $200 million in June 2016, when shares were trading at a record high of $46 each.

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