Step into a Texas Roadhouse restaurant, and you’ll immediately notice that they are nuts for peanuts. With peanut shells scattered about the main dining area, you’d be forgiven for mistaking their restaurants for a ballpark stadium instead of a steak house. Complimentary in-shell peanuts on every table are a signature part of their brand identity. But they also serve as a source of pride for the company, and a reflection of their humble values.
“We’re known for what we call, ‘legendary food, legendary service,’ but you will always hear people say ‘oh, the peanut place!’” said Travis Doster, Senior Director of Public and Government Relations for Texas Roadhouse. He is an Arkansas native who is informally known around the office as the peanut guy. His thick accent, and low, measured tone belies his sincere admiration and enthusiasm for peanuts, which is most apparent in the peanut-filled table lamp on his desk. But his humble character fits perfectly with the company’s values.
Founded in 1993, Texas Roadhouse was the brainchild of Kent Taylor, a seasoned restaurant operator who wanted a concept of his own that he could take pride in. “His dream was very simple,” said Doster. “He said, ‘I want 10 restaurants and to be able to own a house.’” At the time he opened his first location, Taylor was living in his parents’ basement. Today, he is the CEO and Chairman of the Board, and they currently have 490 locations in 49 states.
As an operator, Taylor was frustrated by the corporate limitations that prevented him from making and serving food from scratch. “He tried to make better food from scratch, like homemade soup and he was always told no,” said Doster. “So he said, ‘I want a company where I’m proud to serve the food, but also to regular people at a great price.’”
Peanuts Bring Hospitality to the Table
Indeed, his no-fuss, high-quality approach to food means everything from the croutons to the sides are made from scratch, and sold at affordable prices. “We’re very reluctant to take on pricing each year because [Taylor] wants it to be that everyday value,” said Doster. As part of that value, Taylor made it a point to offer a complimentary snack to show their hospitality and set the standard for their dining experience.
“He originally thought about popcorn, believe it or not,” said Doster. After realizing that popcorn overpowered the smell of freshly baked bread which is also complimentary, they decided on a different snack. “So the idea of peanuts was born,” said Doster. “And the idea of peanuts and bread was to immediately give folks, especially families with their kids, something to eat.”
The complimentary snacks are now a signature part of the Texas Roadhouse brand. According to Doster, the company spent over $20 million last year on peanuts and bread, and purchased over 10 million pounds of peanuts. The value gained is apparent with the brand recognition.
In fact, the peanuts have become such an important part of the company identity that they are now selling seven-ounce branded bags of them at sports stadiums across the country. The cases of peanuts are even part of the décor in their restaurants, and they’ve recently created peanut characters for their holiday gift cards and decorations. Their support center has a museum with a giant peanut bucket, and Doster said they’re looking at placing a rotating peanut bucket on top of their building.
Value for the Community and Families
But the peanuts are more than just branding or novelty. As Doster sees it, peanuts are an honest reflection of the values of the company, and they extend that into their local communities. “A lot of things our stores will do is send out cases of peanuts,” said Doster. “I just sent out five cases to a school to try to raise money for a field trip. So that’s cool that we can use peanuts too for the community to try to raise money.”
Inside the restaurants, Doster sees peanuts as a shareable snack that subconsciously brings people together. “I know from my kids, that’s the first thing they do is dump a bunch of them on the table and crack ’em,” said Doster. “You’ve got to eat peanuts with two hands so you’re not on your phone while cracking them. I mean, I just think it brings the family a little closer together.”
It’s an affectionate thought to see peanuts as having added value as a unifying piece of a family meal. But that’s exactly the priceless value that he and the company sees in peanuts. That’s also why he can take pride in being dubbed the peanut guy, and why Texas Roadhouse is proud to be referred to as the peanut place.