In this episode of Memphis Type History: The Podcast, Rebecca tells Caitlin about how TGI Friday’s is where people meeting at bars basically originated. You’ll learn the story of how Memphis made it a franchise, and how without TGI Friday’s, Caitlin may have never been born.
In 2016, TGI Fridays announced that they would be adopting a new, modernized aesthetic atmosphere. It seems to be in a trend, older chain restaurants are becoming more industrial and minimalistic in design to compete with the current competition such as Panera and Chipotle.
So all the restaurants that I grew up with like Chili’s, Fuddruckers, and Joe’s Crabshack may all start losing that hoarder style aesthetic if they haven’t done so already. Oh by the way, that hoarder-style aesthetic happened because of TGIFridays. The initial concept was to make it feel like you were visiting someone’s basement for a cocktail party.
How it all began…
Alan Stillman lived in an area of New York where there were a lot of airline stewardesses and models and basically a lot of single people. So he the best way to meet girls was to open a bar.
At the time, cocktail parties were the thing. People would bounce from one place to another and of course the parties would get wild. But Alan noticed there wasn’t really a public place for these 23-37 year olds to meet. The current bars around were more like places for guys to meet up and drink beer.
So he opened TGI Fridays in 1965 and just five years later, FDA approved the pill. The timing happened perfectly because the sexual revolution waves in and Alan essentially becomes the founder of the first single’s bar.
Alan purchased a former corner bar near where he lived, had the building painted blue, hung up fake Tiffany lamps and dressed the waiters in red and white striped soccer shirts. He didn’t know anything about restaurant business, interior design, or architecture… he just knew how to create an experience.
Eventually, someone from Memphis Tennessee approached Alan and said they had an area with room for one of these and asked him if he would sell them a franchise. At the time, Alan didn’t know what a franchise meant. But he agreed to being a partner, show how to work it, and split it 50/50. A year and a half later, T.G.I. Friday’s in Memphis was open in Overton Square.
This was right after Overton Square Founders & Developers James D. Robinson, Jr. (23), Ben Woodson (25), Charles H. Hull, Jr. (24), and Frank Doggrell, III (25) led the efforts to pass a referendum to allow establishments to sell liquor by the drink. You couldn’t dine in a restaurant and have an alcoholic drink with your meal. You could apparently bring your own bottle of wine or liquor, which they called Brown-bagging, and places like Pete and Sam’s had lockers where you could keep your liquor, but you couldn’t buy a drink.
Then on November 25, 1969, the issue of “liquor by the drink” came to vote in a special referendum, and the measure passed. Friday’s opened on May 21, 1970 and it was a ridiculous success. One of the owners said if they could make $800 a day, they would break even. The first day, it brought $4,800 and it did the same every day until they expanded it, in which they went up to $7,000 a day. One of the waiters said it would be so crowded, they had to fight through customers. People would stand three and four deep at the bar, and he knows somebody had sex at the bar one night but nobody noticed because it was so crowded.
The waiters were all men because as mentioned before, the goal was to get women in the door, and most of the bartenders and waiters had nicknames such as Gringo, Harpo, The General, Shakey, Chick, Pace, and Rufus. I made sure to ask Caitlin’s mom if she knew who any of these bartenders are. She didn’t remember the names, but she does still own one of the original tablecloths. (not for purchase)
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