Walk-On’s Founder and CEO Brandon Landry Shares Success Story and Future Plans at BREW Keynote


With several dozen corporate and franchised locations in the Southeastern U.S. and $150 million in annual revenue, Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar is one of the most impressive Baton Rouge-made entrepreneurial success stories.

But 12 years ago the company was a single struggling sports bar near the LSU campus, plagued by inefficient service and mediocre food, co-owner and CEO Brandon Landry recalled during his keynote talk at Baton Rouge Entrepreneurship Week.

The problem was so bad that Landry and his co-founder would walk the restaurant floor at lunch and hand out gift certificates to customers. “We didn’t make any money at all because we had to buy everybody their meal,” Landry says. “It was that bad, but we knew how to take care of people — and that’s the only thing we could do in the very beginning. We knew about team; we knew about leadership.”

Burying the Past

Landry says it was clear the company was going down the road of a typical sports bar, where most customers watch a game and have a few drinks and only order food if they’re really hungry. Those types of establishments, he says, rarely have good systems or good service. He says Walk-On’s needed to make a profound change in order to break free of that typical model and take the next step.

“We had to look at ourselves in the mirror and say ‘let’s not be the normal sports bar,’ ” he says. “You had to face the brutal truth.”

Landry and the company leadership decided to literally bury the past with a ceremony outside the original Walk-On’s on Burbank Drive. “We took our team out there and we had a tombstone and we dug a grave,” he says. “We said … get all the stuff that we’ve been doing wrong for the past 10 years and let’s bury it. As corny as that is, it was a statement. We had to let our team know that we were going to make a change and we weren’t going to be a typical sports bar.”

The company retooled as an upscale family sports bar with a focus on Louisiana cuisine and Americana, a decision that would pave the way for the growth that continues today.

Taking The Next Step

In late 2010, the company opened its first location outside of Baton Rouge, in Lafayette. Despite initial skepticism from critics, Landry says he knew it could succeed if they put the right processes in place.

“The biggest step when you’re growing is one to two,” Landry says. “When you’ve got one [location] you can sit there and strongarm everything every day — ‘if there’s a problem I’ll go fix it.’ When you’ve got two, you better have a system and a process for those guys to rely on.”

The location near the University of Louisiana at Lafayette proved successful, prompting an even more ambitious foray into New Orleans. “We kept elevating our food and culture and focusing on the details each and every day, trying to get better,” he says.

A big break came in 2012 when ESPN named Walk-On’s the No. 1 sports bar in America. The exposure that came with the award led the company to explore franchising.

It also led to a substantial investment from New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who today owns 25% of the parent company and who Landry says takes an active role. “He’s more than a face; he’s more than a marketing play for us,” he says. “He’s a true partner.”

Ambitious Plans

Walk-On’s has continued to rapidly grow throughout the U.S. and has plans for substantial expansion, Landry says. The parent company operates five corporate locations — three in Louisiana and two in San Antonio — and has its sights on ambitious growth.

“It’s all about picking the right franchisee,” he says. “Sometimes it can get away from you if you don’t do your homework on the front end and make sure it’s the right partner. We made some mistakes in the beginning, I’ll be the first to admit. But you have to learn from them and make sure these people share the same passion about your brand you do.”

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