Steak and Ale was yet another creation of Norman Brinker, the legendary restaurant visionary who turned Jack in the Box and Chili's into runaway successes. Brinker started Steak and Ale in Dallas in 1966 to compete against the conventional full-service restaurants that he derided as "starchy" and overpriced. Brinker deduced that middle-class customers would flock to a joint that charged just $1.95 for an eight-ounce filet, which was something of a no-brainer. But he also wowed America with another innovation, the self-service salad bar. When Brinker sold the chain to Pillsbury in 1976, he had 109 restaurants in 24 states [source: Grimes]. Steak and Ale's success may have been its undoing, because the "casual dining" genre that it created became crowded with imitators. It ultimately became part of billionaire John Kluge's Metromedia Restaurant Group, which shut down its last 50 of the restaurants in 2009 [source: McCracken].
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