Steele Platt, founder of Yard House Restaurants, has always possessed an entrepreneurial spirit. He is considered both a visionary and industry leader having begun his career more than 34 years ago. Like most restaurateurs, Steele’s career started in the heart of the house where he washed dishes while attending high school on the Hawaiian island of Oahu. After graduation he enrolled in the School of Hotel and Restaurant Management at the University of Denver working his way through college as a busboy, bar back, server and bartender. Armed with a business degree and plenty of experience, the twenty-something Steele created his first Denver restaurant, Kailua’s at the Tivoli, which paid homage to his Hawaiian hometown – Kailua. Within five years Steele’s portfolio grew to include a half-dozen themed restaurants plus EFEX, Denver’s largest nightclub at the time.
In the early 1990s Steele sold his mini-empire and headed to Southern California. He settled in Orange County where he enjoyed the surf, sand, and sun and, within two years, his fortune had dwindled. His story went from riches to rags as he worked two jobs, car salesman by day and bartender by night, just to make ends meet. After stumbling upon an abandoned waterfront restaurant in Long Beach, he began to plot his next career move and restaurant concept. While he was bartending at a restaurant in Huntington Beach he wrote the business plan for a concept he called “Yard House”. He borrowed elements from The Boiler Room, one of his successful Denver establishments, and added additional components that would make his new concept a dining revolution. The Yard House, named for the glass yard served during Colonial times, would feature a vast selection of draft beer, a continuous playlist of classic and contemporary rock, and an eclectic menu of both classic and innovative fare.
As the first and, for the time being, only employee of his new company Yard House Restaurants, Steele assumed many roles from arranging the financing and lease negotiations to creating the restaurant’s conceptual design. On December 7, 1996, the first Yard House opened in Shoreline Village along the Long Beach waterfront and featured 250 taps of beer, an extensive menu of American fusion cuisine, and a state-of-the-art audio and video system with each song and artist hand selected by Steele from his private music library.
The first Orange County Yard House opened in Costa Mesa in 1999 and, 14 years later, there are now 40 Yard House locations divided among thirteen states with six to eight stores being added each year. With an average unit sale of $9.3 million, Yard House continues to generate some of the highest unit sales volume in the restaurant industry and has earned numerous awards as a result.
Yard House was recently sold to Darden Restaurants (owners of Red Lobster, Olive Garden, Capital Grill, Seasons 52, Eddie V’s) for $585,000,000 – making the purchase one of the highest prices ever paid for a private restaurant chain. Tapped as Ernst and Young Orange County Entrepreneur of Year in 2003, as well as the Orange County Business Journal Entrepreneur of the Year in 2005, Steele Platt is often a keynote speaker at industry events and an inspiration to aspiring restaurateurs and entrepreneurs.