Chris Sullivan and Bob Basham had never been to Australia, but they had seen the movie "Crocodile Dundee" and they could see that Americans were fascinated with anything Aussie. So, in 1988 in Tampa, they opened the very first Outback Steakhouse.
"The Bloomin' Onion obviously changed our lives," said Sullivan. "I don't know if it changed anybody else's life, but it sure changed ours."
Outback now has more than 900 locations worldwide.
HIS, MINE, AND OURS
Nearly 25 years after opening the first Outback, Sullivan and Basham own equity in Bloomin' Brands, the parent company of Outback, but they aren't involved in the day-to-day operations. Some might quit while they are ahead, but the original Outback guys can't stay out of the restaurant game.
"You can't be afraid to try and you can't be afraid to fail either," said Basham.
Together they own Lee Roy Selmon's, a Bay Area chain inspired by the late Buccaneers Hall of Famer. Plus, they each have their own new restaurant concepts.
Basham has "PDQ", a new fast food restaurant emphasizing fresh, healthy foods. Sullivan has "Carmel Cafe," featuring "modern Mediterranean" cuisine with an extensive selection of wines.
RACE FOR THE NEXT HIT
Both Carmel and PDQ are adding new locations. But the Outback founders admit it's not going to be easy to equal their past successes.
"Is there pressure? I think there's pressure whether it's your first one or your thousandth one," said Sullivan.
Carmel Cafe uses iPads for menus, and has been recognized by Apple for its new restaurant technology.
"You're always trying to find a better way to do something," continued Sullivan.
He's now marketing the software to other restaurants, and he predicts it will be widely used in years to come.
Neither Sullivan nor Basham know what they would do if it weren't for restaurants.
"Professional golf, if I were good enough," smiled Basham.
"He's good enough for a caddy," laughed Sullivan.
Even after all these years together, the Outback guys love to rib one another. And these days, they might make a friendly wager on which one will have the next hit restaurant.