The Tony Roma’s Story
From Miami to the world, Tony Roma’s legendary ribs launched an iconic brand
An Italian businessman who began working at the age of 13 launches an American ribs restaurant that achieves international fame — it’s the stuff American dreams are made of. The successful restaurateur was born in New York — the youngest of six children — and he loved to throw a great party. He surrounded himself with good times and good friends that included celebrities such as Tony Bennett, Ed McMahon and the infamous Rat Pack.
Tony Roma launched the original concept as “Tony Roma’s Place” in North Miami, Florida, in 1972. The restaurant was known as a great neighborhood bar where you could always find good music, delicious steaks and waitresses wearing go-go boots. A charming business owner, Tony’s passion was creating a fun and laid-back vibe for his customers and serving great food and drinks. His one restaurant gave birth to the brand that would later be revered worldwide as “THE place for RIBS.”
Tony rolled up his sleeves and worked hard to expand Tony Roma’s, and today fans worldwide roll up their sleeves, tie on a bib and dig into delicious racks of ribs that only Tony Roma’s can deliver. Our famous fans include the Bush and Sinatra families, and Tony even took a call from the White House for a takeout order of his famous ribs after President Ronald Reagan’s Inaugural Ball.
“I love parties,” Tony was known to say. “So I serve partyin’ food. When you’re eating ribs with your hands, whether you’re a Rockefeller or a Roma, you’re on the same level.”
Weekend whim becomes a worldwide sensation
It was just a typical North Miami weekend in the early 1970s at Tony Roma’s when a casual decision forever changed the fate of Tony’s namesake dining establishment. Chef David Smith threw a rack of ribs on the grill and slathered it with his secret barbecue recipe. It was only going to be a temporary addition; on Monday, they’d go back to grilling their great burgers and steaks and business as usual.
Customers, however, fell in love with the baby back ribs and started coming from all over to get them. Whenever Dallas Cowboys’ owner Clint Murchison Jr. was in Miami, he’d stop in at Tony Roma’s. He finally bought the restaurant concept in 1976, and domestic expansion began. New restaurants opened in Tennessee, Texas, California, Nevada, New York and Hawaii.
Our mouthwatering ribs go global
We opened our first international Tony Roma’s in Japan in 1979, and worldwide expansion has continued. In 1983, Tony Roma transferred the development rights to Roma Corporation, and Murchison sold his interest in the company to his children the following year. By then, the Tony Roma’s original menu had expanded beyond ribs to include steaks, seafood, signature appetizers and cocktails such as our Romarita®.
Today, Tony Roma’s has more than 150 restaurants in more than 30 countries. We have created an international phenomenon with our wood-grilled ribs, steaks, chicken and seafood. American food is hot internationally, and our brand affinity has never been stronger.
“Always a pioneer, Tony Roma’s led the movement for upscale casual dining concepts to franchise outside the United States in the 1980s and 1990s,” says Jonathan Benjamin, Vice President of Franchise Development for the U.S. and Canada. “We are excited about expanding in the United States and Canada and bringing our delicious ribs and our amazing customer experience to longtime, as well as new, fans.”
The future of Tony Roma’s
CEO and President Stephen K. Judge took over the leadership of Tony Roma’s in 2015, bringing with him more than 25 years of restaurant industry experience. Stephen is one of the most respected food leaders in the industry. Not only does he honor the brand affinity for Tony Roma’s, but he is also poised to push Tony Roma’s into new areas that really drive the revenue of franchisees.
Stephen ran Bonefish Grill starting in 2013. Prior to leading Bonefish Grill, he was with Darden Restaurants, Inc.,where he served as president of Seasons 52. A professional chef with a reputation as a successful operator of high-end, innovative dining concepts in luxury and high-growth hospitality venues, Stephen also served in leadership positions at MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas and Rosewood Hotels and Resorts. Stephen began his career in senior management roles leading the food and beverage operations for Princess Cruises and Premier Cruise Lines. He has assembled a world-class team of experienced growth leaders to take Tony Roma’s to a new level of success for franchise owners.
So what makes Tony Roma’s ribs better? We can’t really say much without giving away some major trade secrets, but it’s the result of our special cooking process that seals in the smoked flavor, and our selection of only premium rack cuts that are more tender and meatier than the ribs most other places use. Tony Roma’s has served award-winning ribs and mouthwatering grilled meats with signature sauces in a casual, friendly atmosphere for decades, and we’re excited to introduce a new generation of fans to our quality menu, inviting atmosphere and stellar customer service.