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January 25, 2017

The Weird Connection Between Tony Romo and Tony Roma’s

By: W.F. Strong

When Tony Romo joined the Dallas Cowboys back in 2003, some people confused his name with that of Tony Roma’s, the restaurant chain. They thought maybe Tony Romo was related to the Tony Roma family, perhaps heir to the baby back ribs fortune, even though there was an important one letter of difference at the end of the names. Everybody knows by now that there is no relationship between Tony Romo and Tony Roma’s, but there is quite a deep connection between the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Roma’s that few people know about.

Back in 1976, the Dallas Cowboys played the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl X in Miami, a game the Cowboys lost by four points. After the game, Clint Murchison, Jr., owner and founder of the Dallas Cowboys, went to dine at the only Tony Roma’s restaurant in existence at the time. It was in North Miami. He was so impressed with the ribs and the cole slaw, that in legendary Texas style, he said to himself, “I like this restaurant. I think I’ll buy it and move it to Texas.”

These quick draw decisions were not unusual for Murchison. He was once forced to spend a good deal of time with bankers in New York City and soon found himself frustrated that he couldn’t get a decent bowl of chili or good smoked brisket. So, he did the only rational thing a rich Texan could do. He opened his own restaurant there in Manhattan. He called it The Dallas Cowboy. It served classic Texas chili and smoked brisket. Problem solved.

Back to Tony Roma’s. Clint Murchison couldn’t buy the original Tony Roma’s because Tony wouldn’t sell it. But Clint did buy the franchise rights. Within just a few years, there were Tony Roma’s in Manhattan (giving Murchison a second place to get food he liked when he was stranded in New York), Hollywood, Dallas – and the headquarters soon moved to Dallas (well, Plano to be exact) where it remained until just last year.

It could be said that Clint Murchison, Jr. started two great franchises in his life – the Dallas Cowboys and Tony Roma’s. The Dallas Cowboys are today the most valuable team in the NFL. In fact, at $4 billion, Forbes says the Cowboys are the most valuable sports franchise in the world. Worth more than New England or Green Bay. Worth more than the New York Yankees. Worth more even than Manchester United or Real Madrid.

Jerry Jones must be given his due for creating a good deal of that value, but Murchison did build the Cowboys into a marquee name in the NFL before he sold the team. As for Tony Roma’s, it is privately owned so I don’t know its value, but I do know the restaurants have gross sales of over $300 million a year. That’s a lot of ribs, y’all. And now they’ve added lamb ribs to their newest menu.

Just as the Cowboys are known worldwide, Tony Roma’s is, too; 150 restaurants in 30 countries on six continents. You can eat at Tony Roma’s in Madrid, in Tokyo, in Bangkok, Lima, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, where there are eight to choose from, or at locations right here in Texas. Yes, Clint Murchison, Jr. gave us the sacred tradition of watching the gladiators of the gridiron on Sunday afternoons and he gave us the food to watch ‘em with, too. Now, that’s a mighty fine accomplishment. A mighty fine man.

Tony Romo may have no official relationship with Tony Roma’s. But I think he should buy a franchise so we can say I’m going to Tony Romo’s Tony Roma’s. That would be hard to say three times real fast, which I’m sure you’re gonna try as soon as you’re done reading, which is now.


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