Former NFL players. Present foodies.
Most athletes will spend the majority of their time focusing solely on their skills. They will clock endless off-field hours fine-tuning their physiques so they stay at the top of their game. The most successful and marketable athletes will spend time, with the help of an agent, crafting a public persona—giving interviews, attending fan events, endorsements and appearances.
After a physically challenging career, most athletes will disappear from the public eye to a world of beautiful houses, cars and chiropractor visits. Others will get in to commentary. Still others, will pursue a different industry all-together: food service.
What is it about athletes that makes us flock to their restaurants? Maybe, we think athletes know something about nutrition. This might be true, except most of their restaurants revolve around red meat. Maybe we feel a solidarity with the other diners. Or maybe, we think, somehow, it brings us closer to our favorite sports stars who we can no longer see on Sundays.
…Or maybe we just like really good food.
With Super Bowl LI right around the corner, let’s look at some successful restaurants started by former NFLers.
The former Pittsburgher/Miami Dolphins quarterback knows a thing or two about tossing footballs, but he leaves it to the pizza pros when it comes to crust. Dan Marino invested in New York native Anthony Bruno’s coal fired pizza restaurant in the early 2000s, and it has since grown to more than 60 locations throughout the Northeast and Florida.
Filled with classic steakhouse favorites such as the Strip or Porterhouse, Brett Farve’s Steakhouse also “reflects Brett’s southern upbringing in our menu and warm, welcoming atmosphere,” as described on the website. Southern dishes include Bayou Pasta, jambalaya and BBQ Baby Back Ribs. But you won’t be disappointed if you’re looking to relive the Gunslinger’s decade and a half career in Green Bay. The walls are filled with Packer memorabilia including Farve’s trophies and personal items, and the menu offers—what else—a locally sourced Wisconsin cheese platter.
Al “Bubba” Baker’s career didn’t end at defensive end. After a career spanning 12 years, Baker finished his final 2 seasons with the Cleveland Browns and stuck around C-town to open Bubba’s Q World Famous Bar-B-Que & Catering. The restaurant has received numerous barbecue accolades. Baker even appeared on the ABC-TV show Shark Tank in 2013, and the investor and entrepreneur Daymond John agreed to invest in the food company Baker started with his children.
Ditka’s small chain of restaurants include locations in his hometown of Pittsburgh and Phoenix, but, the original and mothership restaurant can only be located in the Windy City—of course. The famous eatery’s walls are adorned with plenty of football memorabilia to give Bears fans the blast of nostalgia they come looking for.
John Elway is a legend. In the Mile High City, he is God. And God is clearly a carnivore. The classic steakhouse menu has enough options and add-ons for any appetite, but it’s the menu’s creativity that has made this fine-dining restaurant one of Denver’s best. The lamb chops in green chile cheese fondue and prime beef enchiladas practically have fan clubs of their own.
Much like its legendary namesake, the Jerome Bettis Grille 36 is a crowd pleaser. For a formal night out, order in the white tablecloth dining room. With a group of friends, grab a seat on the outdoor patio and enjoy scenic city views. With the guys, sit at the upscale bar surrounded by 50 televisions. The restaurant even prepared for the super fan with its imposing signature dish, “The 36”—a grass-fed, bone-in 36 oz. beef smothered with onions and portobellos.
Is it possible for the Mannings to not succeed at something? Located in New Orleans’ Warehouse District, fans flock to Manning’s to pay homage to the famous football family. Archie spent 12 seasons with the Saints, chose to raise his 3 sons in city and continues to call the Big Easy his home. The restaurant has tons of tasty sharables and bayou style burgers and sandwiches like the alligator sausage po’boy.
As a kicker for the Chargers and then the Dolphins, it was all about the long distance. In the food business, it’s all about the short distance—sourcing food from the shortest distance possible, that is. Kaeding bought a stake in his hometown Short’s Burger & Shine restaurant where the beef, beer and produce al come from suppliers within the state.
Most Redskins fans will remember Joe Theismann by the career ending, gruesome leg injury he sustained in 1985 from a hit by Lawrence Taylor. But don’t let that spoil your appetite. Located in Alexandria, Virginia, Theismann’s is one of the most successful of the NFL players’ restaurants. In operation since 1975, the sports bar has been serving chef created dishes to families and fans for more than 40 years.
Young’s NFL career had some memorable moments—both highs and lows—but it was his time at the University of Texas leading to the 2005 NCAA national championship when he cemented himself as king of Austin and allowed for the popularity of his namesake steakhouse.
Here are some other restaurants checking out where food and football exist in perfect harmony.
- Andy Nelson Southern BBQ Pit (Andy Nelson): Cockeysville, Maryland
- Billy Sims BBQ (Billy Sims): More than 50 locations throughout Oklahoma, Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Michigan
- Brother Jimmy’s (Jonathan Vilma, Jon Beason, D.J. Williams): New York, Connecticut, New Jersey, Maryland, Florida
- Eddie George’s Grille 27 (Eddie George): Columbus, Ohio
- Fred & Steve’s Steakhouse (Fred Smerlas, Steve DeOssie): Lincoln, Rhode Island
- Offerdahl’s Cafe Grill (John Offerdahl): 6 locations throughout Florida
- Table 86 (Hines Ward): Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Meghan Rodgers is the EverybodyCraves.com food editor. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org. See other stories, blogs, recipes and more at everybodycraves.com.