A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 28, 2007
“Home of the free 72-oz. steak” (Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo)

The Big Texan Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo has advertised “Home of the free 72-oz. steak” since 1963. You have to prepay your meal, eat the whole thing within an hour, plus bread and butter, a large baked potato, ranch beans, shrimp cocktail, and a salad. The gimmick is world-famous.

Wikipedia: The Big Texan Steak Ranch
The Big Texan Steak Ranch is a steakhouse restaurant and motel located in Amarillo, Texas, United States which opened off of Route 66 in 1960 and moved to its present location on Interstate 40 in 1970. Fire gutted the west wing of the restaurant in 1976, destroying $100,000 in antiques, but in 1977 it was reopened as a bigger facility. 

The Big Steak
Its reputation revolves around its 72 oz (4.5 pounds or 2 kg) steak ("The Texas King"), which is free if one can eat the entire meal (which also includes a bread roll with butter, potato, ranch beans, shrimp cocktail, and salad) in less than one hour. Otherwise, the meal costs $72.00. Several individuals annually are able to eat the steak and are listed at the restaurant.

According to the official website, “You don’t have to eat the fat or gristle (if you can find any), but we must judge this. Again, we want you to win but we do know our meats and will judge accordingly.”

The building is painted a bright yellow, with blue trim. A large cow statue advertises the free 72 oz. steak. The now-closed Texas Tornado Museum resided off in a far corner of the parking lot on the property.

In the center of the large open floor of the main dining room of the restaurant is a raised platform. On the platform is a single chair and a table for one, with a bucket beneath the table. There are two full shakers of salt on the table, and nothing else. A digital timer stands at the back. On the wall behind the platform hangs an enormous cattle skull. This platform is the “stage” upon which those who choose to accept the steak-eating challenge eat their meal.

As the steak finishes cooking, the cook tells the host staff to encourage the participant to go to the bathroom. Before eating the steak, a manager explains the rules of the dinner, then the participant signs an agreement of health liability.

Big Texan Steak Ranch - History
Back in the late 1950s a Midwesterner named R.J. “Bob” Lee made his way to the Texas Panhandle.  He came to Amarillo with his wife Mary Ann and their growing family.  Bob, whose family roots went back to the four-star Savoy Grill in Kansas City, grew up on stories and movies about cowboys, Indians, horses and Texas cattle ranches.  The Texas mystique drew him like a lodestone.  It didn’t take long for Bob to embrace the Lone Star State and to claim its persona as his own.  He had no idea in those early days that he was destined to become a part of the Texas legends and lore that he loved.

Bob’s business as a food purveyor at the local airport provided a solid foundation for his exploration of the Panhandle.  His only disappointment was that he couldn’t find a first-class Texas-style steakhouse in an area of the country best known for cowboys and cattle.  In true Texas spirit, Bob decided to create a place that would satisfy the world’s hunger for good steaks and the ambiance of the Old West.

The original Big Texan Steak Ranch opened its doors in 1960 at a location on Old Route 66 on the east side of Amarillo.  The building had formerly been a location for Underwood’s barbecue.  Its distinctive architecture soon became recognized across the Mother Road as a good stopping place for great steaks grilled over an open flame. The towering sign of a long-legged cowboy that Bob erected next to the building became a major landmark on Route 66. From the beginning, the Big Texan welcomed weary travelers and migrating families whose roots spread all across America.

The 72-oz. steak came to life not long after Bob opened the doors to the Big Texan Steak Ranch.  In those days, cowboys still worked the area ranches and came into town on their days off to get a good meal and have some fun.  Both of those needs could be fulfilled at the Big Texan.  One day a cowboy came through the front door bragging that he was so hungry he could “eat the whole, darned cow.”

Bob grinned as he put the first one-pound steak on the grill and the contest was on.  When the cowboy finally yelled, “calf-rope” he had consumed 4½ pounds of tasty Texas beef.  Bob vowed from that day forward the dinner would be served “free” to anyone who could complete it in one hour.  In those days, the dinner – shrimp cocktail, salad, baked potato, bread and 72-oz. steak – only cost $9.95.  Today, challengers pay $72.00 for the experience.

Beginning in the mid-1960s signs began cropping up along the Mother Road inviting travelers to come in for a 72-oz. steak dinner that was FREE if it could be eaten in one hour.  Thousands of road-weary youngsters practiced their ciphering as they converted 72 ounces into four and one-half pounds.  Those Big Texan signs became as much of the nation’s culture as the old Burma Shave signs.  One company has long-since disappeared with the dust of the old road, but the other still flourishes. Big Texan Steak Ranch billboards can still be seen to the east and west of Amarillo along Interstate 40 and on major north-south routes that run through the Panhandle.

72oz Steak - Facts & Stats
(As of April 2006)

About 7,000 people have succeeded in eating the 72 oz. steak (since 1960)

Almost 42,000 people have attempted to consume the Free 72 oz. steak (since 1960)

About two women each year successfully eat the steak (About 50% of the women who try are successful.  So about four or five women make the attempt each year.)

Frank Pastore, who was a professional pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds, ate the complete steak dinner in 9 and 1/2 minutes. (May 3, 1987) Pastore actually has eaten the steak dinner seven times.  On his first effort, in February 1976, he finished the steak in 21 minutes.

The oldest person to eat the steak was a 69 year-old grandmother.

The youngest person to eat the steak was an 11 year-old boy.

4 February 1964, Amarillo (TX) , pg. 18, col. 2 ad:
4515 East Amarillo Blvd.

5 June 1974, Delaware County Daily Times (Chester, PA), “My kind of town” by Ed Gebhart, pg. 3, col. 1:
THE FIRST TIME they saw the sign was heading west on Interstate 70 in Indiana. “Free 72-Ounce Steak,” the gaudy billboard proclaimed, and in smaller letters, “If You Can Eat It All.”
The big free steak, according to the sign, was available only at the Big Texan Steak Ranch in Amarillo, Tex., in what cowpokes refer to as the panhandle.
On the way back, on U.S. Route 66, the signs became more frequent. All across New Mexico and Arizona the sign appeared in ever increasing numbers. With each turn of the wheel, they got a little hungrier.
“I’m sorry,” the waitress said, “but you’ll have to sit at a special table.” Then she ushered them to a large round table in the middle of the room.

“I’m sorry again,” she said, “but you have to pay for the meal in advance. If you finish it, you get your money back.”

The boys marched reluctantly to the cashier and shelled out $16.75 apiece.
THEN CAME the “ground rules.”

In addition to the 72-ounce steak—a juicy 4 1/2 pounds—the boys had to eat five jumbo shrimp, a tossed salad, a huge baked potato, and a roll with butter. They didn’t have to eat any gristle or fat on the meat. But the cook would be the judge as to what was fat and gristle and what was good Texas steak.

There was one last detail. The meal had to be consumed in one hour and you weren’t permitted to leave the table for any reason. If you did, you lost.

Unknown to the proprietor, Valuck and friend had planned their assault well. For a week in Los Angeles, they had stuffed themselves with pancakes every morning, hoping to stretch their stomach. And for 21 hours prior to sitting down at the table, they hadn’t eaten a thing.
The cooks and the waitresses and even the proprietor congratulated the boys. They gave them a certificate and, even more important, they gave them their $16.75 back.

Then, Valuck and his pal staggered out to the parking lot and walked it off for a half-hour. That was about 7 p.m. Wednesday. They didn’t eat again until 2 p.m. Friday.

14 April 1985, Syracuse (NY) Herald American, Stars Magazine, pg. 34, col. 3:
A free 72-ounce steak
By Mary C. Bounds
Dallas Morning News

AMARILLO, Texas—(...) He became the 3,864th person in the last 22 years to eat a 72-ounce steak at the Big Texan Steak Ranch and walk away from the table without paying a dime.

On billboards from Arizona to Missouri, restaurant owner Bob Lee dares travelers to stop in at his steakhouse on Interstate 40 in Amarillo and attempt the meat-eating feat. Anybody who can eat the 72 ounces (4 1/2 pounds) of beef gets it free. Those who can’t pay $29.95.

It’s all part of a gimmick Lee came up with two decades ago to promote beef and to distinguish his raucous restaurant from other Panhandle steakhouses.
The youngest person to eat the whole dinner within an hour was 11 years old; the oldest, a 63-year-old woman. The record time is 11 minutes.

And with 21,785 accepting the challenge since 1963 by ordering the 72-ounce steak, lee has somewhat refined his rules.

Lee’s steak dinner doesn’t stop with the steak. To win the free dinner, the challenger also must polish off a shrimp cocktail, baked potato, salad, roll and butter. The whole meal must be eaten within one hour. The diner can’t leave the table. And most importantly he had to put up his $29.95 before the challenge can begin.

11 March 1990, Elyria (OH) Chronicle-Telegram, “Four-and-a-half-pound steak? It’s free if you eat it all,” pg. E11, cols. 1-4:
At the time of our December visit, signs advised that 3,977 men and 642 women had accomplished the feat out of 21,347 men and 1,995 women who had tried.

Goods and Services IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: RESTAURANT SERVICES. FIRST USE: 19630100. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19630100
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 75727437
Filing Date June 11, 1999
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition April 3, 2001
Supplemental Register Date September 6, 2000
Registration Number 2463276
Registration Date June 26, 2001
Attorney of Record John P. Courtney
Affidavit Text SECT 15. SECT 8 (6-YR).
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

Goods and Services IC 025. US 022 039. G & S: Clothing, namely, aprons, bandanas, baseball caps, cloth bibs, hats, jogging suits, sweatpants, pullovers, golf shirts, sweatshirts, shirts, t-shirts, and infant wear, namely, t-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants, cloth bibs and pullover. FIRST USE: 19970225. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19970225
IC 042. US 100 101. G & S: Catering, motels, providing banquet and social function facilities for special occasions, and restaurants. FIRST USE: 19630100. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19630100
Mark Drawing Code (1) TYPED DRAWING
Serial Number 76099284
Filing Date July 31, 2000
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition October 2, 2001
Registration Number 2608755
Registration Date August 20, 2002
Owner (REGISTRANT) Galaxy Catering, Inc. CORPORATION TEXAS 7701 I-40 East P.O. Box 37000 Amarillo TEXAS 791207000
Attorney of Record Christian D. Stewart, Esq.
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

Goods and Services IC 043. US 100 101. G & S: Restaurant services. FIRST USE: 19630101. FIRST USE IN COMMERCE: 19630101
Standard Characters Claimed
Serial Number 78824479
Filing Date February 27, 2006
Current Filing Basis 1A
Original Filing Basis 1A
Published for Opposition October 17, 2006
Registration Number 3193554
Registration Date January 2, 2007
Attorney of Record John Courtney
Live/Dead Indicator LIVE

Posted by Barry Popik
Texas (Lone Star State Dictionary) • (0) Comments • Friday, December 28, 2007 • Permalink