This past March, Chili’s Grill & Bar hit a milestone that many companies never see—our 40th birthday. Depending on who you ask, forty is the new 30. (Or is it the new 20? We can’t keep up with all the decade hopping.) Regardless of what the new-school age calculator says, here’s what we know for sure: it all started with a dream to create a place that friends and family could hang out over a burger and a beer.
In 1975, our founder Larry Lavine opened the first-ever Chili’s in a renovated post office at the dusty two-lane intersection of Greenville and Meadow in our hometown of Dallas, Texas. He surrounded himself with an affectionately labeled band of brothers and sisters forever known as “The Hamburger Hippies.” They took their work seriously, but not themselves. Fast forward to #TodaysChilis and a team of 80,000+ ChiliHeads that live by that same idea–working hard and playing hard every day, having fun and being who we are.
We look back on those 40 years with wonder and a lot of pride. As our former CEO and Hall of Fame recipient Doug Brooks recently pointed out, “Food innovation in the 1970’s and 1980’s was very different—there was no test kitchen. We were at Larry Lavine’s house, or in the kitchen of one of the restaurants, just using ingredients or getting our suppliers to bring them in.” Those originators, ideators and creators of the Chili’s brand had no idea they were establishing a legacy that would last four decades. They were just playing restaurant. It’s a legacy we intend to honor every day forward as we evolve in a world quite different from the simplicity of 1975.
Marking our 40-year milestone became an audacious dream: Bring 2,000 General Managers, Managing Partners, senior leaders, restaurant support teams, global and franchise leaders, and many of our fantastic supplier partners to Las Vegas. The week started with a documentary called “40 Years in 40 Stories” which navigated through some of our biggest (and smallest) moments with pride.
We continued to explore our well-being journey, with countless examples of ChiliHeads connecting more often with their families and friends, getting out of debt, blossoming in their career, or achieving a major physical breakthrough like running a marathon or losing 100 pounds. We explored our own growth and development with 40 different learning experiences offered throughout the week. And we cried a few tears of joy, honoring our newest Hometown Hero, Claudia Marquis, a ChiliHead Manager who literally saved a life by simply reaching out to someone in a time of need.
For many in attendance, the week was defined by the announcement of Chili’s Purpose Statement—a crowning achievement two years in the making. Different from a company mission, or vision, or values or beliefs, a purpose answers the question, “What were you put here to do? What is your higher calling as a company?” As our COO Kelli Valade proudly revealed the work of countless hourly Team Members, leaders, innovators, and inspiring friends and thought leaders, we all felt the room breathe in and out in unison. To say the moment was emotional is an understatement. There it was. On screen. No turning back. A reason to believe …
Our Purpose: We Connect, Serve and Give, to Create the Best Life.
It’s an amazing thing to see a couple thousand of your extended family stand up and cheer, committed to the idea that work can about much more than just earning a paycheck. We marked a turning point that day. We celebrated legacy and experienced destiny. What will the next 40 years bring? It’s hard to say. But, we march into the future proud and excited about making a difference and leaving this place a little better than we found it. What we can clearly see is that the future is always ours to create. The journey continues, and we find ourselves at the crossroads of past and future. Our purpose is calling. THIS IS 40.