One of Dave Shula's favorite recurring incidents is seeing his father, legendary NFL coach Don Shula and namesake of the restaurant brand, react to people who identify him for his eatery.

"People recognize him and they start talking to him, and when it's apparent they recognize him from the restaurants, he inevitably will say, 'You know, I used to be a football coach!'" Dave Shula says, laughing. "In his mind—as he's not involved with the day-to-day of the restaurant—he spent 44 years as a professional football player and coach, and he sees himself in that light. I get a big kick out of that, when they talk to him about the restaurant and not football."

Of course, when Don Shula debuted the steak house concept in 1989, he was still coaching the Miami Dolphins, and his son Dave was offensive coordinator of the Dallas Cowboys. Fast forward, and Shula's is celebrating its 25th anniversary with activities ranging from charitable donations and limited-time menu offers to photo and video submissions from guests. The year-long celebration will culminate on Nov. 5, when Don Shula will arrive at the Miami Lakes location in Florida to virtually raise a toast to diners at all of the Shula's locations.

A lot has changed since Shula's opened, as the brand acknowledges with its quarter-century milestone.

"We used to talk about how Shula's served the biggest and the best," Dave Shula recalls. "And now, that has fallen out of favor. … There's still some of that, but more people are not thinking that way. They're thinking in terms of quality, and that's a constant that we've never changed."

Longstanding favorites including the 12-ounce filet mignon and the 48-ounce porterhouse have proven to be menu hits. "We rode the peaks and the valleys, and been able to stay true to our core and continue to evolve to stay current and adjust to what consumers are looking for," Shula says, noting upgrades to both service and food over the years.

In the near future, in an effort to stay relevant, the brand is also planning to add a 6-ounce filet for budget-conscious consumers. Shula says that the rising commodity and meat prices are also impacting decision-making at the brand.

One of the campaigns that Shula's has planned for its anniversary is a range of limited-time offers. The Stags Leap wine program, which launched July 1 at Shula's locations, offers high-end selections by the glass from Stags Leap wine cellars—a rarity, since these wines are typically unavailable in single glass pours.

Available in Florida locations only will be the Shula's 25th anniversary aged bourbon, hand selected by the restaurant's head coaches. The brand will also recommend the Steak Mary Anne to guests, selected in recognition of Mary Anne Shula and her commitment to end breast cancer. In October, for Breast Cancer Awareness month, and May, for Mother's Day, portions of the sales from Steak Mary Anne will be donated to the cause, which is further supported by the Don Shula Breast Cancer Research Fund, unveiled last week.

The Don Shula Foundation launched the fund last week with a $1.5 million donation to the Moffitt Cancer Center, the third largest cancer research center in the country. The fund aims to support projects that will create new treatment and prevention strategies for breast cancer patients. A portion of the profits of the system-wide cocktail party on Nov. 5 will also go to the fund.

At the party, which will signal a culmination of all of the anniversary festivities that have gone on this year, the brand will debut a video that the brand is creating about Don Shula and Shula’s fans. Fans can actually join the video by visiting a Shula's location and taking a photo or video, and then submitting it via email or social media. The initiative went live a month ago and Dave Shula says the restaurant has already received 100 submissions.

On Nov. 5, fans can return to Shula's locations, watch the short film made from their photos and videos be a part of, and share a virtual toast with Don Shula.

"We're looking forward to celebrating with our fans, our customers, the people who have sustained us all this time," Dave Shula says. "Generally speaking, it's a tough business. The survival rate for new restaurant concepts is 5 percent after one year. To be able to do it for 25 years and then grow our company to where we're at 35 restaurants in 13 states and six different concepts, it's something to be proud of.

We're excited to be able to share this with our customers, and looking forward to the next 25 years."

By Sonya Chudgar

Industry News, NextGen Casual, Philanthropy, Shula’s Bar & Grill