How George McKerrow climbed the ranks in the restaurant industry.
Ted’s Montana Grill CEO and cofounder George McKerrow got his start in hospitality at 16 as a busboy and then a dishwasher. Fifty-four years later, after creating Longhorn Steakhouse, Canoe, Aria and Ted’s Montana Grill, he can still be found on occasion scrubbing dishes or whatever else needs to be done.
A Georgia Restaurant Association Lifetime Achievement Award winner, McKerrow takes pride in using only the freshest ingredients and sustainable practices in his restaurants. Though he serves as a silent partner in Canoe and Aria and retired from Longhorn’s parent company in 2000, he works with Ted’s daily, even opening a new location on the Upper Westside late last year.
With a home in Vinings, this family man makes sure to give back, remaining active in numerous philanthropic organizations, including ATL Family Meal and Share Our Strength. We spoke to him about his history, charity work and hobbies below.
What’s a typical day for you?
I travel the country and visit the restaurants. My work at the office previously focused on development, marketing and public relations. Now I work on strategic planning, thinking and daily management. Our office is downtown. We’re an in-person business, and we’re an in-person company.
How often are you in the restaurants?
Weekly! I plan trips throughout the year to get to all 40 of our businesses. I’m an inspirational leader. The success of a hospitality company is about the attitude and teamwork of team members. I try to speak to our teams with a great deal of transparency about where we are as a company. I like to recognize people for doing things right and thank them for their hard work and dedication.
What was it like to work with Ted’s Montana Grill co-founder Ted Turner?
He’s the most honorable, supportive, honest business partner anyone could ask for. He’s the number one protector of our environment and conservationist in the country. I have the privilege of being his partner and his friend. We speak every day. We’ve been in business together for nearly 20 years—all [based] on a handshake. We don’t have a contract.
You’ve had such a storied career. What advice do you have for those just starting out?
Consumer habits are changing. You need to have a well-thought-out business plan and concept before you venture out. You’re not going to be an overnight success. You need to have a financial plan that gives you a runway to success and allows you to deliver on your promises to the guest so you can build a case for loyal, regular customers.
Do you ever consider retiring? What inspires you to keep going?
I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I’ve been in this business over 50 years, and I enjoy being involved every day. I’m proud of what we do. Plus, I have a 9-year-old at home, and I have to keep buying her shoes [laughs].
Tell me about your philanthropic contributions. What motivates you to keep giving?
I always felt the right thing to do was help those less fortunate. I have the opportunity and wherewithal. It makes me feel good. In the ’80s, I decided my focus would be children (with March of Dimes) because there is a tremendous number of college kids and families who work in our business. If we bring healthy children into the world and nourish them, they can develop strong bodies and souls and have the opportunity to come out of poverty. Thirty-three years ago, Share Our Strength was created, and in the ’90s, I got involved with Taste of the Nation led by Pano Karatassos. I’ve been co-chair for 22 years.
What do you do for fun?
I’m an avid fly fisherman. I’ll go anywhere in the world I can fly fish or saltwater flatfish—Mexico, Argentina, Bolivia, Montana, Florida, North Carolina. You get to be out in nature. I practice 100% catch and release. I enjoy vacationing with my family. We’ve owned several sailboats and spent a lot of time sailing.
TED’S MONTANA GRILL
2250 Marietta Blvd. N.W.
PHOTO: Joann Vitelli
Foodie Tastemaker Columnist at Simply Buckhead. Contributing Editor at Atlanta Magazine. Restaurant Aficionado and Mother of Two.