Former Equestrian Olympian and Famous Restaurateur Norman Brinker Dies at 78
RELEASE: June 10, 2009
AUTHOR/ADMINISTRATOR: Sarah Evers
Norman Brinker, who served as an alternate with the United States show jumping team at the 1952 Summer Olympic Games in Helsinki, passed away due to pneumonia while on vacation in Colorado.
Brinker was born in Denver, CO, on June 3, 1931, to Kathryn and Eugene Brinker. He helped his family at a young age by buying and selling horses and a variety of other jobs. He attended the New Mexico Military Institute in high school, served in the Navy, and graduated from San Diego State University in 1957. In 1954, he competed in the pentathlon world championships in Budapest. In June 1955, he married Maureen Connolly, who was the first female tennis player to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same year.
The couple had two daughters, Cindy Brinker (Simmons), who was born in 1957, and Brenda Brinker (Bottum), who was born in 1959. Maureen passed away in 1969 from ovarian cancer. Brinker had a brief second marriage to a woman named Margaret, whom he divorced in 1976. They had two children together, Christina and Mark. In 1981, Norman married a third time, to Nancy Brinker (nee Nancy Goodman), with a stepson, Eric. In March 2003, Norman married his fourth wife, Toni Chapman, but the couple eventually divorced.
Brinker contributed greatly to the restaurant business, which he got into in the 1950s. He worked for the drive-in chain Oscar's, helped expand Jack in the Box, and was named president of that company. He started up Steak and Ale, popularized the salad bar concept, and later sold the chain to Pillsbury. At Pillsbury, he ran Steak and Ale and also Bennigan's Grill and Tavern. He also took over operations for Burger King as chairman of the second-largest food-service operator.
But his greatest contribution was taking a group of hamburger restaurants and developing them into Chili's Grill and Bar. In 1991, Brinker International was born, which also included Maggiono's Little Italy and On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina.
In 1993, a polo accident at the West Palm Beach Polo and Hunt Club in Wellington, FL, left him with 32 broken bones, in a coma for several weeks, and paralyzed on one side for almost three months. But he was back at work within six months. In 1996, Donald Phillips helped him publish his memoir, "On the Brink: The Life and Leadership of Norman Brinker." The famous restaurateur retired in 2001.
In addition to his daughter Cindy Brinker Simmons of Dallas, he is survived by his fourth wife, Toni; his daughter from his first marriage, Brenda Brinker Bottum of San Francisco; stepson, Eric, of Peoria, IL, from his third marriage; two children with his second wife, Margaret, Christina Brinker Aschtgen of Seattle and Mark, of Portland, OR; and five grandchildren.