“After a battle with post-Covid related symptoms, including severe tinnitus, Kent Taylor took his own life this week,” his family said in a statement shared with The Washington Post. “Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was, but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable.”
His company celebrated him as the hands-on founder of a chain that now counts more than 600 locations, noting that as the pandemic wreaked havoc with the restaurant industry last year, he gave up his base salary and a nearly $1 million bonus and donated another $5 million to “help support his frontline workers.”
“This selfless act was no surprise to anyone who knew Kent and his strong belief in servant leadership,” Greg Moore, the chain’s lead director, said in a statement referring to Taylor’s donation. “He was without a doubt, a people-first leader. His entrepreneurial spirit will live on in the company he built, the projects he supported and the lives he touched.”
Born on Sept. 25, 1955 in Missouri, Taylor was raised in Louisville, where his mother worked for a boutique and his father was employed by General Electric, the New York Times reported. A gifted distance runner, Taylor won a track scholarship to the University of North Carolina before striking out in the restaurant business.
For years, he spitballed plans for chains and failed spectacularly to win over investors, he told the Courier-Journal in 2003. He once pretended to have a Christmas present delivery to see the founder of Rally’s and sprinted after NBA star Larry Bird in an airport to pitch them on plans, which both rejected.
“I think you have a better, more open mind when you fail,” he told the newspaper. “Too much success in the beginning makes you fall a lot harder later on when things don’t go so well.”
He drew up a concept for the Texas Roadhouse chain on a cocktail napkin, he said — but once again, he hit a brick wall, with at least 45 investors turning him down before he finally won over a local cardiologist in 1993. Three of his five first Texas Roadhouse restaurants failed, and he soon piled up debt and sold off other restaurants to keep the chain afloat.
After tinkering with the menu and locations, though, Texas Roadhouse grow exponentially. When the company went public in 2004, Taylor made $60 million and kept millions more in stock, according to the Courier-Journal.
It’s not clear when Taylor contracted covid-19, but his family said that he suffered increasingly dire symptoms in the wake of the virus, noting in particular his struggles with tinnitus. There is evidence that covid-19 can worsen the syndrome — a study published in November in the peer-reviewed journal Frontiers in Public Health reported that 40 percent of those with the condition reported that it grew more severe after having the coronavirus.
Thanks to outmoded and delayed reporting systems, it will be years before public health experts can conclusively say whether suicide rates have risen in the U.S. during the pandemic, The Washington Post’s William Wan reported. But federal surveys show that roughly 40 percent of Americans have reported grappling with mental health or substance abuse issues since the pandemic began.
Taylor was mourned by Kentucky leaders as a visionary businessman.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) pointed at Taylor’s decision to give up his salary last year, telling the Courier-Journal that “like always, he put his people first. He dug deep into his own pockets and covered healthcare and bonuses for thousands all while keeping his stores open to make sure workers got paychecks when they needed them most.”