SBJ/June 4 - 10, 2001/No Topic Name

Deal could make Earl Campbell owner of an Italian barbecue

Football legend Earl Campbell is considering a partnership that could result in the reopening of his Austin, Texas-based barbecue restaurant.

The 3,400-square-foot restaurant and bar has been closed since February. Representatives of the property's landlord, Colliers Oxford Commercial, say the location was padlocked after rent went unpaid.

Tom Douglass, a consultant for Campbell, said the former University of Texas and Houston Oilers star is negotiating a partnership with an Italian chain restaurant that he wouldn't name. Douglass said he's a longtime friend of Campbell who has lent his consulting services to other athletes. He works with the Austin law firm Scott Douglass & McConnico LLP, although the Campbell work isn't connected to the firm.

If a partnership agreement is reached, Earl Campbell's on 6th would reopen and serve both barbecue and Italian food. Douglass said the Heisman Trophy winner would continue to lend his celebrity to the restaurant.

If the deal goes through, Douglass said, the restaurant could reopen this summer.

Campbell's lawyer, Mike Robertson of Austin-based Smith Robertson Elliott & Glen LLP, said the potential partnership is just one of the options on the table.

"There have been a series of folks interested in trying to work something out," Robertson said. "This one is sort of the latest. Earl is taking his time to identify the right partner that will provide a concept he is happy with and one we think will really be successful."

The restaurant opened in October 1999 after Campbell and three partners entered the sausage industry in 1990 with the formation of Austin-based Earl Campbell Foods Inc. The eatery included sports-oriented decor, complete with the Heisman that Campbell won at Texas.

"His barbecue restaurant was doing really well," Douglass said. "There were just some management problems that caused us to shut down for a while and regroup."

Douglass wouldn't pinpoint what kinds of management problems cropped up, saying simply, "Earl Campbell did not have anything to do with the problems the restaurant experienced."

Alison Hovanec, a spokeswoman for the Texas Restaurant Association, said she has noticed more partnerships within the restaurant industry.

"Partnerships are an effective business strategy," Hovanec said. "They've been prevalent in the industry in the last five years or so.

"We're now seeing partnerships between independents and chains. Independents have a unique concept, and chains have the capital. It's a good marriage."

Hovanec said Campbell wouldn't be the first football star to form a partnership with a chain restaurant. Last November, NFL hall of famer and former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Lee Roy Selmon opened a restaurant with the help of Florida-based chain Outback Steakhouse Inc.

Mary Alice Piasecki writes for the Austin Business Journal.

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