Texas Roadhouse founder Kent Taylor took his own life Thursday after a battle with post-COVID-19 symptoms, the company and Taylor’s family said in a statement.
Among Taylor’s afflictions was “severe tinnitus,” a condition defined by a ringing in the ears. Harvard Health describes it as a “sound in the head with no external source. For many, it’s a ringing sound, while for others, it’s whistling, buzzing, chirping, hissing, humming, roaring, or even shrieking.”
“Our community and the restaurant industry lost a legend and the Taylor family lost a wonderful son, father and grandad this week,” the statement said. “After a battle with post-COVID related symptoms, including severe tinnitus, Kent Taylor took his own life this week. Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was, but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable.”
Taylor attended the University of North Carolina on a track scholarship.
Taylor, who was 65, went out in “true Kent fashion,” his family said. The enigmatic CEO and industry icon recently committed to fund a clinical study to help members of the military who also suffer with tinnitus.
“Kent leaves an unmatched legacy as a people-first leader, which is why he often said that Texas Roadhouse was a people company that just happened to serve steaks. He changed the lives of hundreds of millions of employees and guests over the past 28 years. He also impacted hundreds of thousands of people through his generous and often anonymous donations,” the statement said.
Taylor drew up the idea for Texas Roadhouse on a cocktail napkin and founded the now 600-plus unit chain in 1993 with a $300,000 investment from three Kentucky doctors.
“He leaves behind a legendary company led by his hand-picked Leadership Team fueled by the passion of Roadies in communities around the world,” the statement continued. “All who knew him will miss him greatly and Kent’s direction was always clear. Happy employees make happy guests.
“We are saddened by the decision Kent felt he needed to make and want to emphasize more than ever the importance of reaching out for help if you or someone you love is suffering, As Kent would so often say, ‘keep it legendary.'”
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer released a statement on social media Thursday, calling Taylor a “maverick entrepreneur.”
“Louisville lost a much loved and one-of-a-kind citizen with Kent Taylor’s passing today. Kent’s kind and generous spirit was his constant driving force whether it was quietly helping a friend or building one of America’s great companies in @texasroadhouse,” he said on Twitter.
Todd Graves, founder and CEO of Raising Cane’s Chicken Fingers, said in an emailed statement, “I am sad to learn about the passing of Kent Taylor. All of us at Raising Cane’s want to offer our condolences to Kent’s family and his extended Texas Roadhouse restaurant family during this difficult time. Kent was a visionary, a legend in the restaurant world that so many of us respected. He succeeded at all levels of the business while always remaining an operator at heart. His accomplishments at Texas Roadhouse created a legacy that will not be forgotten.”
There was no shortage of outpouring from restaurant operators on social media Thursday and Friday.
Greg Creed, the former CEO of Yum! Brands, said on LinkedIn, “What absolutely tragic news, he was a brilliant leader, my condolences to his family and the Texas Roadhouse family.”
Added Scott Taylor, president and COO of Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux, “Kent was truly a one-of-a-kind leader, rebel and icon for culture.”
James O’Reilly, CEO of Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill, called Taylor, “an aspirational industry leader and a loss to so many.”