June 2010

Western Hospitality - LONGHORN STEAKHOUSE Serves It Up!

Author: Michele Roldán-Shaw | Photographer: John Brackett

We’ve all heard of Southern hospitality, but how about Western hospitality? As defined by the Longhorn Steakhouse, Western hospitality is inspired by the ideals of the American West: individuality, freedom, simplicity, trustworthiness, confidence and the sense of fulfillment at the end of a day’s hard work.

“Our brand promise is that you can come in here and unwind, savor a great steak and enjoy genuine Western hospitality,” said JoeDon Boney, general manager of the Longhorn Steakhouse on Hilton Head Island. “You can trust us to make you feel at home. In the cowboy days, when you were invited to a rancher’s home, that meant a warm welcome in a down-to-earth setting.”

First opened in 1991, Longhorn is one of the older restaurants on the island. “We’ve come a long way since then,” said Boney. “We used to just have a few select steaks, a few sides. We had a chalkboard with the menu, and patrons wrote down their order so the server could take it to the back where it was cooked and brought out.”

Now the four-star menu boasts two sizes of filet mignon, two sirloins, two New York strip steaks, two ribeyes (including the Longhorn signature 18-ounce bone-in ribeye, cooked over an open flame) a 16-ounce T-bone and a 22-ounce Porterhouse, also char-grilled. As far as non-beef options, there is chicken, salmon, shrimp and plenty of sides, not to mention basket after basket of warm, multi-grain bread. Good food at good prices is part of what keeps people coming back.

“We do have history here,” said Boney. “We are part of Hilton Head. Besides the locals, we have a bunch of people who vacation on Hilton Head, and they come back here every year because they enjoy the good food and friendly atmosphere. So many people tell me they’ve been coming here 10, 15 years. We strive to make sure that every guest is a loyal guest.”

That’s no empty statement, either. Boney derives personal satisfaction from connecting with his customers in a very real way. Take for instance his story about a pair of elderly regulars.

“We have a 90-some-year-old couple that comes in here every day—have been for years,” Boney said. “They are a regular fixture, and everybody talks to them. Miss Charlotte takes good care of herself and always looks very nice. Well, one day I noticed she wasn’t talking very much, and she hadn’t dazzled herself up as much as she normally does. The next couple days they didn’t come in, so of course I called them and turns out she had pneumonia. But we look forward to having them back. We come to know our guests, and we appreciate our guests.”

Caroline Sneed has been the bartender at Longhorn since it opened. “Back then it was more like a saloon that served great steaks,” she said. “I guess it has evolved into a family restaurant that makes everybody happy, but we still serve great steaks and cold beer.”

Sneed recalls the early days when the menu had only one appetizer (sautéed mushrooms and onions), one dessert (hot fudge brownie deluxe) and one side, a description of which she can still rattle off without a hitch: “thin-skinned chef potato, quartered and deep-fried so you can eat it with butter and sour cream like a baked potato or with ketchup like French fries.”

Given the nature of a saloon-type atmosphere—and perhaps the more rustic state of the island in general—it’s not surprising that things used to get rather wild at the Longhorn. While most of Sneed’s stories may not be of the printable variety—especially if they occurred after a Peanut Bowl Shooter, wherein the peanuts were dumped out of the peanut bowl and a margarita poured in, then everyone stuck a straw in and slurped it up, peanut dust and all—she does have at least one tale that’s G-rated.

“A couple got married in here once,” she said. “They came in and said they were thinking about getting married that weekend. I said, ‘Why don’t you just do it right now?’ Our hostess was a notary public and I called the justice of the peace, and they got married in that booth right there. We showered them with peanuts.”

At that time, throwing peanut shells on the floor of the restaurant was not only allowed but encouraged. According to Sneed, the Hilton Head Longhorn was known within the chain as “the renegade store,” at least partly because it was the first one opened outside the Atlanta area, where Longhorn started. The owner of all the Longhorns liked to come hang out at the renegade store when he was down here on his boat. The restaurant has enjoyed incredible longevity, not only outlasting all other chain restaurants on the island, but becoming the oldest of the 300+ Longhorns after the recent closures of several Atlanta franchises.

Whether you’re bringing the kids after the big game or sidling up to the bar in hopes that Caroline will make you a Peanut Bowl Shooter for old times’ sake, the Longhorn awaits with that big Western welcome.

“You can come in after church all dressed up, you can come from a business meeting in suit and tie, or you can come directly from the beach in your flip-flops,” promises Boney. “The whole idea is to be able to come here, enjoy a great meal and friendly, attentive service.”

Longhorn is located at 841 Highway 278. For more information or reservations please call 843.686.4056.

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