Public Memorial for Chili's Mogul Norman Brinker

By Frank Heinz
|  Monday, Jun 15, 2009  |  Updated 9:45 AM EDT
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Norman Brinker Dead at 78

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Norman Brinker Dead at 78

Legendary restaurant pioneer Norman Brinker has died at the age of 78.
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A "Celebration of the life of Norman Brinker," will take place Monday afternoon at the Meyerson Symphony Center in Downtown Dallas.

The service gets underway at 2pm.

The Meyerson is located at the intersection of Pearl and Flora Streets.

Norman Brinker, former CEO of Brinker International, died Tuesday morning while vacationing in Colorado Springs, Colo., said Robin Rymer at the Swan-Law Funeral Home.

Brinker's cause of death has not yet been revealed.

Brinker is best known professionally for taking Dallas-based Chili's restaurants into a nationwide phenomenon, though he has also had a hand in other well-known restaurants such as Jack in the Box, Bennigan's and Burger King.

His Friend and fellow restauranteur Phil Romano told the Dallas Business Journal that Brinker was a "good man" who "had the ability to take something and grow it."

Brinker's third wife, Nancy, founded the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation in 1982, in the memory of her sister  who died of breast cancer at the age of 36.  Since 1992, the foundation has also awarded work in the field of cancer research in the form of the Komen Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction.

"The world lost a great man in the passing of Norman Brinker," said Komen ambassador Nancy Brinker. "Norman was one of the savviest business and philanthropic leaders of our time, and I, along with the entire Susan G. Komen for the Cure family, am indebted to him for the wise counsel, sage advice, mentoring and support he provided in helping to turn my promise to my sister into a global movement that has supported and saved the lives of millions."

"In 1983, the very first Susan Komen event was really an invitation of people off his Rolodex," said Doug Brooks, chairman and CEO of Brinker International. "He is known from sea to shining sea, and was the sweetest, nicest guy -- but was also an incredibly successful businessman. I mean, there is a huge loss in our industry today ... He's a living legend that we've lost."

He funded the startup of Steak & Ale before selling the chain to Pillsbury Co. in the early 1970s -- he then  went to work for Pillsbury's restaurant division. During his time at Pillsbury's restaurant division, he created the Bennigan's chain and became known for creating a "fern bar" restaurant chain concept intended to attract single people.

Today, Brinker International is a publicly traded company that owns three restaurant chains: Chili’s; Maggiano's Little Italy, and On the Border Mexican Grill & Cantina.  Until recently, the company also owned Romano's Macaroni Grill but gave up majority ownership  in 2008. The company currently has over 125,000 employees in 1,700 restaurants in 27 countries and two territories.

"Norman started the casual dining and I'm not exaggerating when I say that," said Roger Thomson, executive vice president, Brinker International. "If you look throughout the restaurant industry right now, the leaders that are currently there ... almost every one of them started with Norman at some point. He created an industry. The man is truly phenomenal."

Through the years, Brinker International has also operated EatZi's, Cozymel’s, Big Bowl Asian Kitchen, Grady's American Grill, Corner Bakery Cafe and Spageddies Italian Kitchen.

Brinker was raised in Roswell, N.M., spent time in the Navy and also won a berth on the 1952 U.S. Olympic Equestrian Team.

In 1993, Brinker was seriously injured when a horse fell on him during a polo match. He was in a coma for three weeks and was paralyzed on his left side for nearly three months but recovered and eventually walked again.

Brinker was 78.
 

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