Courtesy of Foodservice.com
Thursday May 22, 2003 19:50 PM Eastern Time
The closing of McMahon's Steakhouse this
week in Glenview made it the latest in a string of sports-celebrity
Opened with much fanfare a year ago this
month, it was former Bears quarterback Jim McMahon's
latest attempt to succeed with a sports bar and restaurant.
An earlier attempt in 1987 in Chicago failed after three
The failure of McMahon's latest venture
keeps him in a not-so-select group of former Chicago
sports stars who have seen their nightclub and restaurant
ventures go out of business.
The list includes Michael Jordan, Mike
Ditka, Harry Caray, Ron Santo and Dennis Rodman. From
the 1985 Super Bowl champion Bears, Tom Thayer, Dan
Hampton, Kevin Butler, Gary Fencik and the late Walter
Payton each tried their hands at restaurants or bars
that no longer exist.
Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa's proposed restaurant
never even opened its doors.
"More often than not, celebrity-themed
restaurants don't have long life spans," said Jay Stiebert,
senior vice president of finance, Lettuce Entertain
You Inc., the Chicago-based restaurant chain founded
by entrepreneur Rich Melman.
"We don't do them any more," said Stiebert,
noting his firm helped found McMahon's original attempt
but McMahon ceased using them as consultants well before
Lettuce Entertain You has more than 40
restaurants, Stiebert said. Some have celebrity investors
but none have celebrities in their names.
It is still unclear what happened at McMahon's
Glenview restaurant. Speculation has focused on a possible
dispute with friend, partner and restaurateur Gus Cappas
but McMahon has declined to comment, citing legal precautions.
Past patrons described the TV and memorabilia
packed eatery as a sports bar and restaurant dream come
true. It was designed to look like the former Chicago
Stadium in its heyday and included the Blackhawks' 1961
Stanley Cup banner, 30 TVs and eight big screen TVs.
And it may well be a popular restaurant
again, Stiebert said.
Ditka's restaurant on Ontario Street in
Chicago failed in the 1990s but a Magnum's Prime Steakhouse
is currently operating successfully at the same location
under different management.
Ditka, who also once had a restaurant
in Rosemont, has gone on to establish two new Mike Ditka's
restaurants, one in Chicago and another in Naples, Fla.
In Chicago, co-investor Todd Gunderson said revenues
increased 15 percent to 20 percent last year and are
doing the same this year.
"The secret in this business isn't getting
them in the first time, it's getting them to come back,"
said Gunderson, also operational general manager.
It helps, he said, that Ditka comes by
the restaurant oftenwhen he isn't in Florida.
There are other examples of sports celebrity
successes. Former Miami Dolphin's coach Don Shula has
his steakhouses in Chicago and in Itasca's Wyndham Hotel.
He has more than 20 across the country.
The most notable local success, however,
has been Harry Caray's restaurants, with sites in Chicago
and Rosemont. Industry estimates put its downtown site's
revenues at $9 million annually, making it the 86th-largest
grossing restaurants in the country.
And some sports celebrities who have closed
restaurants have others that have survived, including
Walter Payton's Roundhouse in Aurora and Jordan's ventures
in Washington D.C. and Connecticut.
Restaurant analysts say there is no empirical
evidence that sports-celebrity themed restaurants fail
more than other sports restaurants.
"Many of them fail because they are kind
of novelty items where food isn't the whole focus,"
said Bob Goldin, executive vice president, Technomic
Inc., a Chicago-based restaurant consulting firm.
"I can't tell you for sure they fail more
often," he added. "But I can say their fatality rate
is extremely high."
- Daily Herald sports columnist Barry