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Earl, Robert - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Robert Earl

rock hard restaurant restaurants

Planet Hollywood


Robert Earl initially was responsible for expanding and promoting the Hard Rock Café into international fame. He then moved on to become the founder of Planet Hollywood and many other themed restaurants around the world. From these very trendy businesses, Earl has created a multibillion-dollar enterprise.

Personal Life

Robert Ian Earl was born in 1952 and raised in London, England. His father, Robert Earl, Sr., was a British pop singer, comparable (according to Earl) to Tony Bennett. Earl spent much of his childhood on the road with his father and was infatuated with show business from the start. But, as Earl told Nation’s Restaurant News, he “had zero talent,” so he decided that the next best thing to being a performer would be to manage a club or restaurant.

Earl graduated from the University of Surrey in 1973 with honors in restaurant and hotel management. While at Surrey, Earl gained his first taste of his future business. The father of one of his friends was organizing a rock festival and, because Earl was studying food preparation, he gave Earl the job of running the concessions. Earl bused 400 fellow students to the site of the festival and paid them to cook for the 250,000 people who showed up during the three-day concert.

Earl is married and has two daughters. He and his wife live in a 25,000-square-foot mansion in an exclusive neighborhood in Orlando, Florida.

Career Details

Earl ventured into his first business with the opening of The Beefeater, a London dinner show, in 1972. During the 1970s he also founded the Talk of London, Shakespeare’s Tavern, and the Cockney Club. Earl’s target audience was tourists. As he told The Wall Street Journal, “The thought of 50 Americans pulling up in a coach repulsed the average English restaurateur,” but Earl created places they could feel welcome and have a good time, and it paid off.

In the late 1970s, the Walt Disney Company approached Earl with the idea of taking his theme-dinner idea to its EPCOT Center. Earl declined Disney’s offer but was impressed with Orlando and the potential it could have for his business. He moved to Orlando in 1983, first opening a Shakespeare’s and then other banquet halls, such as Mardi Gras and Wild Bill’s. Earl said in Restaurant News, “I chose to relocate to the U.S. because I found the market better. I found the staff and quality of service here way ahead of Europe. It was inspirational.”

Four years after moving to Orlando, Earl sold his group of English restaurants, which by then numbered 70, to a company called Pleasurama PLC for $103 million. He became Pleasurama’s chief executive and chief operating officer in the United States. One of his first and most important moves in the position was the acquisition of Hard Rock International PLC, a company with rights to all of the Hard Rock Cafés east of the Mississippi (Peter Morton owns the Hard Rocks west of the Mississippi.). The Hard Rock Café originated in London as a distinctly American restaurant with a rock and roll theme. Musicians donated items such as guitars and gold records, and the concept of the Hard Rock as a memorabilia restaurant was established. In addition to food, the Hard Rocks sell souvenirs such as T-shirts, jackets, sunglasses, and golf balls.

Earl’s new employer, Pleasurama, was subsequently bought by Mecca Leisure PLC; this was followed by a buy-out by The Rank Organization. Earl remained in charge of U.S. operations throughout both acquisitions, and in 1989 he became chief executive of Hard Rock International. By 1993, Earl had increased the number of Hard Rock restaurants from seven to 22 and had raised profits twentyfold. Earl’s real success, though, was in public relations. He convinced rock stars to make appearances at the restaurants and hosted fund-raisers for music-industry charities, giving the Hard Rock Cafés an even more popular image and following.

In 1989, movie producer Keith Barish approached Earl about creating a café that would be full of movie memorabilia and would attract movie stars, as well as people hoping to see them. Earl and Barish decided to bring some celebrities in as investors as a way to get the venture off the ground. They managed to recruit Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, Demi Moore, and Sylvester Stallone, and Planet Hollywood was born.

The first Planet Hollywood opened in New York in 1991 with elaborate fanfare and many movie stars in attendance. It was an immediate success. Like the Hard Rock Cafés, Planet Hollywood sells souvenirs, including everything from $3.50 pins to $325 leather jackets. In fact, apparel sales account for about one-third of the annual sales at the average Planet Hollywood restaurant. The cafés are filled with a large variety of movie memorabilia, including the bus from the movie Speed, the rocking chair from Psycho, and the uniform Tom Cruise wore in Top Gun. The Wall Street Journal called the restaurants “equal parts theme park and eatery.” With locations around the world (including London, Hong Kong, and Maui, as well as many other cities), Planet Hollywood continues to enjoy unprecedented success.

Earl’s next project was the opening, in 1995, of the Official All Star Café, a sports-themed restaurant that is billed as the most spectacular sports bar in the universe. He recruited sports stars such as Joe Montana and Shaquille O’Neal as attention-catching investors.

Social and Economic Impact

When Earl told Fortune in 1996, “I intend to build an empire,” he already had a good start. The Hard Rock Café in Orlando made $14.5 million in its first year of operation; by 1996 it was generating $50 million a year, making it one of the highest grossing restaurants in the world. With the opening of Planet Hollywood and other restaurants in the city, Earl is credited with helping to make Orlando, Florida, the world’s number one tourist destination. Planet Hollywood has been equally profitable. In the late 1990s, the group had sales of $373 million and profits of $48 million. Earl’s part of the ownership was worth $400 million in itself.

Earl started a trend in the restaurant business that others have eagerly joined. Since the creation of Planet Hollywood, other themed restaurants like Harley-Davidson Café, Dick Clark’s American Bandstand Grill, and Dive! have sprung up around the country. Themed restaurants now make up one of the fastest growing segments of the casual dining industry.

Analyst Paul Westra of Salomon Brothers called Earl “the grandfather of the theme restaurant industry.” Indeed, Earl continues to expand his idea. In the late 1990s he was planning a new musical restaurant, to open in Times Square; a Chefs of the World establishment, which would feature dishes prepared by a variety of world-famous chefs; and an eatery based on Marvel comic books.

Part of Earl’s success, he told The Wall Street Journal, is his ability to “appeal to the masses.” For example, he changed the name of his restaurant Shakespeare’s Tavern to King Henry’s Feast, because the former sounded like “too cultural an experience.” Earl says he keeps in tune with his clientele by hanging out at shopping malls.

Chronology: Robert Earl

1952: Born.

1972: Opened his first dinner theater, The Beefeater.

1983: Moved to Orlando and started new group of restaurants.

1987: Sold English group of restaurants.

1988: Bought into the Hard Rock Café.

1989: Became chief executive of Hard Rock International.

1991: Opened first Planet Hollywood in New York.

1995: Opened first All Star Café.

“For 15 bucks a head we take people out of reality,” Earl said in Time. But, despite Earl’s enormous success at creating a unique entertainment experience for his clientele, he remains a restaurateur at heart. As he told Nation’s Restaurant News, “People don’t eat themes—no concept in the world can succeed for long unless it also delivers great food at the right price.”

Earle, Alice Morse (1851–1911) - Popular History [next] [back] Eagleson, William Lewis(1835–1899) - Editor, journalist, political activist, Chronology, Helps Promote All-Black Town

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