Gene McAllister, managing partner of Columbia's newest restaurant, knows the inside joke about the popularity of eating out in the planned town.
"It seems to be a running joke in Columbia that they built all these houses without kitchens in them," he said, happy that while his nearly 6-week-old LongHorn Steaks of Columbia does not yet have a finished parking lot, it does have patrons willing to wait more than an hour on weekends for a table.
On Sunday, children stared in wonder at the stuffed jackrabbit with horns sitting by the waiting area, the fish with horns hanging from the ceiling, the two bovine heads on the back wall, the armadillo and the bunkhouse look throughout, with saddles, horse blankets, horseshoes, worn-looking boots, hats and other beef business paraphernalia.
The staff was friendly and the service prompt, though some tables were empty Sunday while patrons waited because of a temporary lack of servers.
Word of mouth
McAllister said he has not advertised the western-themed, 188-seat eating place and bar, but word has spread, aided by its location next to a huge Home Expo interior-design store, off Dobbin Road.
"We're not the only chain restaurant in Columbia doing a lot of volume," he said. "When Columbia Crossing II gets built out, we expect to just get busier."
A new Red Robin hamburger restaurant is nearing completion next door, and a bank building is getting under way. A warehouse-style golf equipment store recently opened, and last weekend the entire shopping center parking lot was full to overflowing. At 6:30 p.m. Saturday, the predicted wait was nearly two hours. At 4:10 p.m. Sunday, the wait was down to 30 minutes.
Although LongHorn Steaks does not take reservations, patrons may call ahead and add their names to the waiting list before leaving home, McAllister said.
McAllister had more good fortune when he advertised to fill 100 jobs, 75 percent of which are full time.
"To open this unit, we had over 500 applications and we selected 100 to open," he said, speculating that the sluggish economy might have helped overcome Howard County's well-documented problems of filling entry-level retail jobs.
Columbia's LongHorn is one of four in Maryland, with the others in Germantown, Bowie and Waldorf. The LongHorn Steakhouse chain, founded in 1981 in Atlanta, has 175 restaurants from Kansas to Puerto Rico and from Florida to Massachusetts.
The chain is owned in turn by RARE Hospitality International Inc., a fast-growing company that also owns the 22-restaurant Bugaboo Creek Steak House chain, with one store in Gaithersburg, and the 15-restaurant Capital Grille chain, which has an outlet in Washington.
LongHorn features fresh steaks prepared Texas grill-style, seafood, chicken, ribs and a range of side dishes, tea, lemonade, soft drinks, alcoholic beverages and desserts. A dinner comes with a salad and a side dish and warm bread and butter.
A Chestertown, Kent County, resident, McAllister, 43, said he is experienced in the restaurant trade and took this opportunity to invest after working for another chain.
"All the units are owned by the company," he said, but every place has a managing partner.
The restaurant's parking lot will have a finishing coat of blacktop applied as soon as temperatures warm consistently into the 50s, he said.
Where: Columbia Crossing II, 8650 Snowden River Parkway; 410-953-8180.
Hours: 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Monday through Thursday; 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Friday through Sunday.
Prices: Appetizers, $3.49 to $7.49; entrees, $9.29 to $20.99; children's menu, $3.99 to $5.99.
Credit cards: All major cards accepted.