East Cobb LongHorn is longest-standing in U.S.
by Megan Thornton
August 05, 2013 12:00 AM | 618 views | 0 0 comments | 0 0 recommendations | email to a friend | print
LongHorn Steakhouse 30-year patrons Bill and Martha McConnell receive refills on their drinks from server Sierra Campbell. (Staff/Kelly J. Huff)
LongHorn Steakhouse 30-year patrons Bill and Martha McConnell receive refills on their drinks from server Sierra Campbell. (Staff/Kelly J. Huff)
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EAST COBB - Bill and Martha McConnell usually have dinner at the LongHorn Steakhouse on Lower Roswell Road about three times a week. Most often, they split the chicken. But on Fridays, they'll spring for a steak and sometimes a dessert.

"We live just right down the road," said Martha McConnell, who is retired from the federal court system. "We've gotten to know a lot of the waiters and servers over the years."

Bill McConnell, an Army veteran who works as a court security guard, said the regulars are like family. The couple has gotten to know many of the restaurant's staff so well that they visit them when they transfer to other LongHorn restaurants.

Each holiday, they bring the staff cakes and fudge treats. Martha McConnell even helped the restaurant's valet parking attendant pick out his fiance's engagement ring.

The McConnell family is just one example of the community of longtime LongHorn fans that have kept the longest-standing LongHorn restaurant going. They, along with several of their friends, helped the oldest LongHorn restaurant in the country celebrate 30 years of service earlier this year with a community breakfast event benefiting North Fulton Community Charities.

"We just get attached," Martha McConnell said. "I guess we're like the mother and father figures here and they just get really close to us. We just really feel kind of like they are our kids."

Bill McConnell said another plus is that the staff knows what he and his wife want to order.

"We don't even use menus," he said.

They made a new friend while dining one night, a young server they hadn't run into before. She hailed from Summerville, just like Martha McConnell. The couple has been making new friends since the restaurant was still a little white house and patrons were encouraged to throw their peanut shells on the floor. The former building's front door is framed at the entrance, welcoming both old and new customers inside to take in some of the tradition.

"The food was good and hasn't changed," Bill McConnell said. "So you gotta keep comin'."

Miguel Roman, an employee of 15 years, fires up the restaurant's grill each night and has kept his own mementos over the years.

"I have a menu in my house - the old menu - the food (used to) run like $12," Roman said. "Long time ago ... like 20 years ago!"

Jamie St. Denis, managing partner for the restaurant for the past two years, said it's people like Bill and Martha McConnell that make her love working at the restaurant.

"The great thing is that is not unusual here," she said of the restaurant's loyal customers. "A majority of our guests are repeat visitors, just great loyal guests. Being in the oldest LongHorn, that pride that you feel is amazing because the guests feel that pride, too."

St. Denis said a recent breakfast was about celebrating the restaurant's success by giving back to the nonprofit they support year-round. Tickets were $5 and provided a breakfast of steak and eggs. Over the past few years, the east Cobb LongHorn has donated more than 23,000 pounds of fresh food to local nonprofits, part of the nationwide LongHorn program called Darden Harvest.

Last year, Darden restaurants throughout metro Atlanta came together to donate more than 2 million pounds of fresh food, including fish, meats, soups and vegetables - not leftovers, just unused, fresh food.

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