RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. — Stuart Anderson wasn’t a cowboy, but the founder of the Black Angus Steakhouse chain knew how to corral customers.
When he founded the chain in 1964, Anderson offered a big meal for a small price: for $2.99, customers got soup or salad, their choice of steak and a baked potato with all the trimmings.
“They were lined up outside the doors,” his wife, Helen, said Wednesday.
But the price didn’t include desert. Anderson wanted heavy volume, and he didn’t want folks to linger, she said.
“He wanted to get them out of there,” she said. “That was his whole theory. But he gave them a lot of food for the money.”
Anderson was 93 when he died Monday at his Rancho Mirage home in the Southern California desert. He had lung cancer, his wife said.
Anderson was born in Tacoma, Washington, but grew up in Seattle. He was a tank driver with Patton’s Third Army during World War II. Anderson eventually returned to Seattle after the war, buying an old downtown hotel. State blue laws permitted hotel owners to sell hard liquor, his wife said.
“As fast as I could, I installed a small bar in the lobby,” Anderson wrote in his 1997 book, “Here’s the Beef! My Story of Beef.”
“Hookers, seamen, hustlers, and wrestlers made up most of my trade,” he said.
The hotel had a small restaurant, and that was the part of the business that attracted him, his wife said.
“He decided that he didn’t like the hotel part, but he loved the restaurant part,” she said.
In 1964, he opened the first Black Angus in Seattle. At its peak, the chain had more than 120 outlets around the country.
The chain was sold in 1972, but Anderson stayed on to run it before retiring in the mid-1980s. The business had its ups and downs, changing hands several times. There currently are about 45 Black Angus steakhouses, most in California.
For many years, Anderson and his family had a 2,400-acre working ranch in eastern Washington that raised, among other animals, black Angus cattle. Some were sold for consumption, but they didn’t go to the Black Angus chain, Helen Anderson said.
At one time, Anderson also owned a seafood restaurant in Seattle. In 2010, he took over a defunct Black Angus outlet in Rancho Mirage and turned it into Stuart’s Steakhouse.
“Stuart thought: ‘Well, we can save all those people’s jobs if we reopen it,’ “ his wife said. “He was almost 90.”
“He had a good heart,” she said. “He always worried about others.”
The restaurant closed in 2012.
And while Anderson liked steak, he never got the hang of cooking it. Or much of anything else.
“I’m a pretty good cook,” she said. “The best he could do would be peanut-butter sandwiches or frying eggs, if I weren’t home.”