Steak and Ale | Interior Rendering


Paul Mangiamele likes to say he isn’t out to recreate Steak & Ale; he’s going to pay homage to it. It’s a thought that’s sat on Mangiamele’s mind for well over a decade. In 2008, a Chapter 7 bankruptcy left Bennigan’s with barely a pulse, and Steak & Ale with none at all.

Atalaya Capital Management, Bennigan’s owner out of bankruptcy, originally brought Mangiamele, a former Salsarita’s CEO, to lead its turnaround. But in 2015, along with his wife, Gwen, Mangiamele acquired the assets from Fortress Investment Group. The Mangiameles then formed Legendary Restaurant Brands LLC.

Naysayers wasted little time chiming in, Mangiamele recalls. All 150 corporate Bennigan’s closed with the filing (some franchises remained). Steak and Ale, which had grown as large as 280 units in the 1980s, shuttered the remaining 58 and was gone altogether.

“They completely and always underestimate the power of the emotion,” Mangiamele says. “The power of the heart. The power of desire. The power of the brand. And I’ve always said two words, ‘watch us.’”

First came a resurgence for Bennigan’s, a brand that’s up to 27 locations (12 domestic) and has expanded everywhere from ghost kitchens to its fast casual, “On The Fly,” format. Steak and Ale was always going to be a more deliberate path, Mangiamele says. The Tudor-style, dimly lit concept, with its stucco walls and wood beams, had to get it right—and right in a big way—from the hour it reentered the picture.

After all, more than 50,000 people were watching.

As challenging and daunting as resurrecting a casual-dining icon is—Steak & Ale (1966) and Bennigan’s (1976) are the only two concepts Norman Brinker created—Mangiamele had a roadmap. There’s a Facebook page, Steak and Ale’s Comeback, with north of 50,000 followers. There are over 2,500 reviews of the restaurant despite the fact nobody has eaten there since the final months of George W. Bush’s presidency. Most reviewers post wish-list cities or wax nostalgic about the old days, like “broke my heart when they closed down,” or “hands down, the best corporation I have had the privilege of working for.”

“Those 50,000 people told me what they want,” Mangiamele says.

We’re talking famed offerings like the Kensington Club, unlimited salad bar, herb-roasted prime rib, and Hawaiian Chicken. Mangiamele jokes not all of the staples, like escargot, will be possible on day one, but there’s an endless well of options for limited-time offers. “I’ll play with it, but everyone will be happy with what we do,” he says. “I’ve been working on it for 12 years. I’ve always been noodling with it. It’s not something I drew up last month.”

Steak and Ale’s return progressed from imagination to reality earlier this year. Legendary Restaurant Brands struck an area development agreement with Kansas-based Endeavor Properties that could bring 15 new locations to several markets across the U.S. The grand debut for Steak and Ale projects summer/fall in Burnsville, Minnesota. Endeavor also holds exclusive rights for expansion in Kansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and South Dakota.

Endeavor CEO and president, Roy Arnold, and Mangiamele have been talking for going on two years. It’s a deal that could widen in the 30, 40, 50-store range over time, but Mangiamele is living in the moment. “Today, the environment is such that you can’t afford not to nail it. You can’t afford to not do it right,” he says. “You can’t afford not to surround the brands with the culture that, in Steak and Ale’s case, is from 1966. We took the responsibility and continue to take the responsibility very seriously.”

Mangiamele and Arnold aligned and share military backgrounds. Endeavor has roots in hotels and hospitality. “I’ve always felt, forever, that that spells hospitality,” he says. “So many times, hoteliers look at F&B as an amenity, not as a profit center. I think that’s an incorrect view of how to build that enterprise. Roy gets it.”

To put it differently, Mangiamele understood Steak and Ale couldn’t be just another restaurant opening. It had to be run by a cut-above operator. “There’s a common denominator between our organizations,” Mangiamele says. “And that’s a, b, c, d—going above and beyond the call of duty.”

Mangiamele has leaned into culture since Legendary Restaurant Brands’ inception. He terms the consumer angle, “New-stalgia,” or the idea retro is undergoing a regenerative moment. As some casual chains focus on short-term gains and drift from their brand equity, “we’re focusing on the promise of a legendary dining experience,” Mangiamele says.

So where does Steak and Ale fit? Plainly, it’s a brand that drips memories, and there’s a definite gravity to that. Not only from a sense of loyalists and those who remember the brand, but also the general restaurant landscape and how Mangiamele wants to operate within in. The price-value relationship has pressed operators throughout the field due to inflation. Getting caught in the middle between experiential and convenience can be a death sentence.

Mangiamele sees this climate, however, as an opportunity for Steak and Ale. He wants to introduce—and reintroduce—the brand as one that does more than harken back; it provides a “wow factor” Mangiamele feels is often missing today.

“I don’t want to just build restaurants and sacrifice the integrity of the brands. Just won’t do it,” he says. “And that has given us the opportunity to be in the regenerative moment where the resilience and the nostalgic and the emotional connection piece all converge to put us ahead of a lot of different casual-dining brands out there that have retracted, or to focus on a lot of things, but not their operations.”

The $20 steak has become a $40 steak across foodservice. That a la carte experience can run $300 at upscale spots. Throw a bad experience in there and defection occurs, Mangiamele says. Surprising guests by giving them value and service is where Steak and Ale is going to take aim at competitors.


The company won’t just slap the sign up and tap into 14 years of pent-up demand, though. Every detail in the remodeling, façade, dining room, culinary, and staffing has cultivated for years. Mangiamele says he’s even had people—lots of them, in fact—email him since the announcement and suggest they’d pack up and move, just for the chance to work in the first Steak and Ale.

Making sure that opening unit hums is task No. 1, or what Mangiamele refers to organizationally as “benign dictatorship.” He describes it as enforcing a standard of operation where “the focus is on the guest, not you.”

“Whether it’s music, food, ticket times, pricing and the value orientation—that has to be the focus,” Mangiamele says. “And if it isn’t, you’re going to fall into a category where it’s just another restaurant and you will lose market share over a period of time.”

Having good unit-level economics and a solid price-value equation are givens, he notes. They’re the ante to play the game.

“Now, you’ve got to go the next step and deliver a memorable experience,” Mangiamele says.

With Steak and Ale, Mangiamele never lost sight of the grand view. He’s standing on Brinker’s shoulders and working to replicate a pioneer in a changed restaurant world. For instance, why were classic Steak and Ale builds so dark and sequestered? Guests used to smoke while they ate.

The new location will feature booths separated from one side to the other with stained glass, like the originals, but the layout will be light and airy, closer to 6,000 square feet than the old 10,000 boxes, and anchored by tech that makes the back-end work. Table service, a prime rib carving station, perhaps Irish coffee, bananas foster—these memory-makers will weave in. “We’re not going to beat anybody on scale. But we sure can beat them on all the other aspects of foodservice,” Mangiamele says.

This is why the doors won’t open until summer or early fall. “Getting back to benign dictatorship,” he notes. “I won’t open it until it’s right.”

The Facebook page and flood of emails is something “you can’t buy with a billion dollars,” Mangiamele says. It’s loyalty no platform or marketing can invent. Mangiamele told Arnold “to get ready.” He’s confident guests will fly in to visit. They’ll drive from Iowa, Wisconsin, the Dakotas. “People will come because of the storied existence of these brands,” he says.

Here’s some added proof of Steak and Ale’s story: Mangiamele found a commercial from back in the day and slapped it to the brand’s website. Whitney Houston is singing Steak and Ale’s jingle in a 1987 commercial that still makes the YouTube rounds. Bennigan’s, in a similar vein, served as the backdrop for the romcom “About Fate,” this past fall.

Steak and Ale’s service-forward approach was a value one during its heyday, too. Mangiamele will emphasis that DNA as it carves out space in the affordable steakhouse arena. He expects average tickets to range from $40–$50. “Couldn’t be any better right now,” Mangiamele says. “Because people are looking for value but they’re also looking for an experience, and that’s what we plan to give them.”

“… If we can execute on the level that I’m talking about, because that’s the vision, that’s the purpose, who we are and what we stand for, then we will gain market share like nobody has seen for years and years.”

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