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Morton, Peter - Overview, Personal Life, Career Details, Social and Economic Impact, Chronology: Peter Morton

rock hard restaurant cafe

(1948-)
Restaurateur

Overview

Peter Morton along with partner Isaac Tigrett founded the Hard Rock Cafe in London, England in 1971, launching what evolved into one of the world’s best known; highest grossing; and most influential restaurant creations. Years later Morton sold his share of the business for several millions but he continues to work as a Hollywood restaurateur and hotelier.

Personal Life

Becoming a restaurateur must have been in the genes for Peter Morton. He was born in 1948 into a family well known for the Morton’s of Chicago restaurant. After earning a business degree at the University of Denver, he left Colorado and headed to London for a little rest and relaxation before starting a job with a Wall Street conglomerate. It was while in London that he met Isaac Tigrett.

A product of the 1970s, a time when society became more environmentally conscious, Morton’s social interests are largely an extension of his business philosophy and, as such, require corporate involvement with charity and conservation issues. He is very committed to environmental causes and has had a membership on the board of the National Resources Defense Council, a New York based group made up of scientists, lawyers, economic planners, and others who promote management of natural resources through research, public education, and development of public policies.

Career Details

For Morton, the beginning of his ascent in the restaurant business started in 1970. After spending time in London, Morton came to the conclusion that there was a void in burger joints in the British capital and attempted to change that by opening the Great American Disaster restaurant. He later boasted, according to Nation’s Restaurant News in February of 1996, that he “beat even McDonald’s to Europe.” Eventually, Morton met Tigrett, a native of Tennessee who was working odd jobs in British factories controlled by his father, an exporter of vintage Rolls-Royces and Bentleys. Morton and Tigrett decided to join forces and pool resources, totaling $5,000. Of course, more was needed so they borrowed enough money to launch the first Hard Rock Cafe in 1971. The very ‘American’ restaurant opened in London’s fashionable and upscale Mayfair district. It was Europe’s first introduction to the American experience. Oddly enough, this very unconventional restaurant in a most traditional location quickly became one of the most sought after places to dine. Moreover, it was a place that attracted people from a variety of ages and social backgrounds. The Beatles and the Rolling Stones frequented the restaurant, as well as hippie-types, high society, and ordinary folks — all desiring to eat and be seen at the hottest place in London. And they came to the newest sensation to hit London streets just to eat a burger. As the restaurant’s popularity grew, so too did demand for its logo emblazoned souvenirs.

“I brought a real understanding of the restaurant business, and Isaac brought a lot of creative attributes and together we made the Hard Rock Cafe,” Morton once said. The appeal of this restaurant was high but few could explain why. Ken Western of the Arizona Republic newspaper tried to get Morton to offer tips for success, but Morton, a private person who avoids public attention, merely credited the success to good food at an affordable price offered in an environment with great memorabilia. The primary audience tends to be age 18 to 40, a varied and diverse group.

In 1979 Morton left England and returned to his hometown of Los Angeles. Shortly after, he launched the trendy Morton’s restaurant, one of Hollywood’s exclusive locations for power dining. It was tough overseeing the original Hard Rock Cafe from abroad, and Morton’s interests were gradually shifting elsewhere. However, Tigrett seemed interested in continuing the business in London. So in 1982 Morton “sold his stake in the London cafe for $800,000,” according to Richard Martin of Restaurant News and, “with a host of celebrity investors, launched the first U.S. branch of Hard Rock Cafe a short distance from Mortons.” In the mid-1980s, Morton and partner Tigrett decided to part ways and argued over Morton’s rights to Hard Rock. Morton eventually won the legal dispute, and the two ex-partners split the globe for future expansion, and divided the United States along the Mississippi River. Morton ended up with the Western part of the United States to develop and Tigrett developed the name in the East.

Morton opened a slew of Hard Rock Americas from Los Angeles, the headquarters for his operations, to Chicago, New Orleans, and Aspen, Colorado. It was not long before Morton was branching out across continents again, and he opened cafes in Sydney, Australia and Tel Aviv, Israel.

In 1983 Tigrett took his Hard Rock faction in England public, launched a New York Hard Rock Cafe in 1984, and then, in 1988, sold his controlling interest for $108 million. Morton, however, held on much longer. Finally, in 1996 he sold 13 restaurants and four franchised cafes, mostly in the West, for $410 million. He sold to Rank Organization PLC of Great Britain. Rank had already acquired Tigrett’s former shares in 1990 from the company Tigrett had sold his shares to in 1988. Thus Rank completely owned the Hard Rock Cafe franchise, with the exception of Morton’s West Hollywood restaurant. Even still, Morton realized a substantial profit. According to James Bates of the Los Angeles Times, “Morton’s share of the proceeds is about $300 million, with the remaining amount going to his numerous partners who were passive investors, including TV mogul Barry Diller and actor Tom Cruise.” Bates continued on to say that “sources said that the investors came away with a staggering return, having invested only about $18 million total over the years.”

Social and Economic Impact

It was quite a run for Morton and Tigrett, who had no idea of what they were starting in London. Hard Rock grew to inspire a whole slew of entertainment-theme restaurants, all trying to copy the burger and rock-n-roll aura of the Hard Rock Cafes. Without Hard Rock Cafe, restaurants such as Planet Hollywood, which Morton sued claiming the restaurant stole his entertainment-theme concept, and Fashion Cafe might not have opened. Morton, however, is very modest about his success with the American icon restaurant. “I just got lucky,” he told Restaurant News in 1996. “If you would have told me that it would lead to a $100 million hotel-casino, I would have told you were crazy.”

Chronology: Peter Morton

1948: Born.

1971: Cofounded first Hard Rock Cafe.

1979: Opened Morton’s Restaurant.

1982: Sold stake in London Hard Rock Cafe.

1985: Morton and founding partner split Hard Rock name.

1992: Filed third suit against Planet Hollywood in Chicago.

1995: Hard Rock Hotel-Casino opened in Las Vegas.

1995: Morton’s company made $26 million profit.

1996: Opened 16th Hard Rock America restaurant.

1996: Sold stake in original Hard Rock Cafe restaurants and rights to the chain for $410 million.

Yet, a hotel-casino is exactly what Morton gained when he finally parted with the Hard Rock Cafe restaurants. In the deal divesting Morton of the restaurants, he still retained rights to the name and the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino. In 1996 his partner, Harveys Casino Resorts, owned 40 percent of the casino/hotel. After selling the restaurants, Morton said that he was ready to “refocus my energies in different areas.” This time he had his eye on the potentially lucrative but risky hotel and gaming business. In 1996 Morton estimated that the casino-hotel was worth $300 million. A year later, however, Morton found himself, once again, breaking with his partner. The Hard Rock joint ventures partnership, of which Morton was a part, bought Harvey’s interest for $45 million. Philosophical differences were cited as the reason for the split.

“Opening a spectacular hotel and casino is a dream come true”, said Morton with no delusions about what it will take to make the operation a success. More important, he is not looking to cash in on the Hard Rock name. “I don’t look at this hotel as a field of dreams, where just because we opened people are going to come,” he says. “Vegas is a city that’s dominated by great showmen like Steve Wynn and Kirk Kerkorian. To succeed, we’re going to have to deliver.”

An article in the Arizona Republic newspaper said of the hotel: “Its casino will probably seem like a foreign country to the average Las Vegas visitor. It will feature slot machine handles shaped like guitars and roulette tables in the shape of pianos. An electronic tote board above a bank of Save the Rainforests slot machines that contribute their winnings to environmental organizations counts down the acres of rainforests remaining on the planet.” Indeed, not a typical casino but one that may appeal to the 40 years old and under crowd, the group that Morton hopes to win over. “The place will probably have a unique tendency to attract a younger gambler,” Morton explained. “I think it will help to attract a new customer to Las Vegas, because we’re offering an alternative.”

But it is not typical of Morton to follow conventional standards or norms. This very private, low-key man is very much a trend-setter and continues to influence the entertainment industry, challenging owners in this business to go beyond the obvious and the conventional. His advice for young entrepreneurs is simple: dedicate, focus and commit. When it comes to predicting what works and what does not, Morton leaves that up to the consumer. "I wouldn’t assume anything is a success until the customer proves it to you,’ he said.

Moseley, Henry Gwyn Jeffreys [next] [back] Morton, Joe (1947–)

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