Monday, October 16, 2006

Down from Olympus

Among the high points of this year’s MUFSO was having Norman Brinker attend. It was like going to a wedding reception and seeing the Rolling Stones take the stage. The man is nothing less than a founding father of the business—every bit as much of god as Ray Kroc, Dave Thomas, or Colonel Sanders. And there he was, sitting in the audience as if he headed a six-unit chain with national aspirations. This was a man who veritably invented casual dining, the visionary who thought up Steak and Ale, Bennigan’s and Chili’s when concepts of that sort were Gemini space craft in a horse-and-carriage world . Oh, yeah—along the way he managed to become one of the richest men in America. Yet you could readily reach him on the phone if you felt like chatting.

There, in the flesh, at MUFSO.

Yet a most extraordinary thing happened: Our industry’s equivalent of Frank Sinatra was in the house, and the house stayed as calm as a yoga instructors’ convention. A few of we old-timers said hello, but nary a Beatles-esque scream was raised, and the crowd kept its distance.

If most attendees merely wanted to respect the seventysomething’s privacy, that’s a wonderful thing indeed. But you can’t help wondering if many of those in the room didn’t grasp who this person was, and how much of a stamp he’d left on the industry, and society as a whole. They’re squandering the chance to meet a legend. And that’s sad indeed.

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