In Memorium: Entrepreneurs Who Died in 2009

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Norman Brinker

A pioneer in casual dining, Brinker got his start in the restaurant business in the 1950s with a dinky group of San Diego eateries called Jack in the Box; the franchise grew so rapidly under his care that he became president of the company in two years. He then started Steak and Ale in 1966 with the aim of providing a full-service sit-down meal that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. Ten years later, when he sold the chain to Pillsbury, it had 109 restaurants in 24 states. He followed that up with Chili’s, a powerhouse chain that he built under the umbrella of his company, Brinker International. At Brinker's death, Ellen Koteff, editor of Nation’s Restaurant News said of the entrepreneur: “He was the most influential person in the restaurant industry. This is not even debatable.”