Coming from humble beginnings and having dropped out of business school, Kent Taylor didn’t seem destined to run one of the most successful restaurant chains in America.
Armed with boundless enthusiasm, though, along with a never-give-up attitude and willingness to throw away the rule book, he set out to try something new when he founded Texas Roadhouse–knowing that sometimes the most sensible business strategy is to be very unconventional.
So, what was the secret recipe to building the restaurants from the ground up? In his book, Made from Scratch: The Legendary Success Story of Texas Roadhouse, Kent Taylor recounts how he embraced unorthodox methods, following his own playbook even when his approach would make financial advisers cringe.
It wasn’t without its hardships; he was rejected more than 80 times as he pitched the idea for his business, and three of his first five locations closed down early on. But he had faith in his dream, and after 20 years of hard work, Texas Roadhouse became an overnight success.
Here are five leadership tips for business owners from Taylor’s book:
1. Continue to learn.
Taylor recommends that every business leader find a coach who will give you honest feedback, help you improve, and push yourself. Instead of assuming you know everything, learn from others’ expertise by reading leadership books. Some of Taylor’s favorites were The Power of Positive Thinking and Enthusiasm Makes the Difference, by Normal Vincent Peale, and The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey. And seek out books on topics where your business needs to improve: he would read real estate books before building new restaurants.
2. Find the right people.
Be open-minded when finding talent: having a positive attitude and a willingness to learn new things is much more important than experience, and you never know where you might discover the heart and soul of your team. Taylor developed a “zapp” philosophy, based on the book Zapp! by William Byham, which embraced giving power to the people, creating a positive vibe with the team instead of sapping their energy and drive. Taylor worked for companies that sapped their team members and vowed to not let that happen at Texas Roadhouse. If a team member is sapping others, Taylor recommends sending them packing.
3. Earn respect.
To earn respect from others, you must be willing to do menial tasks. When things get overwhelming, put in the effort, so your team will want to follow you anywhere. Taylor spent a week washing dishes, where he rolled up his sleeves and gained respect from the guys who worked in the back. He said it was a tough job, but he wanted the full-time dishwashers to know he was there to learn from them, so he put in the effort to do it well. Never be standoffish because the best leaders are down-to-earth, approachable, and are willing to hang with the team. You never know when or from whom you’ll hear a great idea.
4. Embrace new ideas.
Try new things to get where you want to go. Taylor describes how, in particularly difficult situations like the pandemic, he would call on what he called his “crazies,” his most creative, and even roguish restaurant managers. Some of the company’s most successful ideas came from their innovative suggestions, when “inside the box” thinking just wouldn’t cut it. If you don’t succeed at first, don’t stop trying. The best inventors keep tinkering and are never satisfied with good enough results.
5. Give back.
As soon as you make a profit, give back. Share the wealth and offer consistent bonuses to your team. Share the wealth with those who’ve helped you along the way. It’s also important to participate in humanitarian efforts and give back to those in need. Taylor always gave free meals on Veterans Day to hundreds of thousands of armed services veterans and active-duty personnel.
Texas Roadhouse also set up a fund, Andy’s Outreach–to which employees could donate part of their paycheck–that would help employees who hit hard times. During the pandemic, Taylor personally donated $5 million to the fund, and the profits from his book will be donated to it as well.
At a time when everyone in business is rethinking old rules, Taylor gives us confidence that nonconformity can be the way to win. Following his untimely passing earlier this year, Made from Scratch is a celebration of his legendary legacy and an indispensable playbook for anybody who’s inspired to strike out on their own to pursue a dream.