May 4, 2005 - Texas Roadhouse, a new restaurant that has a country-western theme and is known for its sizzling steaks, is slated to open May 16 in Marana.

Managing partner Paul Bigelow said he has no doubts that opening week, a soft open, will draw a crowd because, hey, everybody's a cowboy or cowgirl at heart.

"It's a timeless concept. It's our heritage," he said. "We do expect a huge demand."

To back Bigelow's claims, Texas Roadhouse leads the restaurant industry with a national average wait time of more than an hour. And that's just to get a table from 6 to 9 p.m.

"Four to 5:30 is the time to get here," Bigelow said with a confident laugh.

Visible from I-10 and north of Cortaro Road, the restaurant is taking shape at 8450 N. Cracker Barrel Road.

Through its large doors, Texas Roadhouse offers a timeless look with mostly wooden decoration and almost entirely booth seating. A colorful jukebox offers customers their choice of country tunes at no cost.

Located in the middle of the restaurant is a bar area, which anchors the place with its horseshoe-shaped counter. Other than Lil' Abner's, this is the only restaurant in Marana west of Interstate 10 with a full bar.

Customers will be greeted with buckets filled with peanuts when seated. Bigelow suggests throwing table manners out the door - peanut shells are to be thrown on the floor.

"Willie's Corner," a special booth at every Texas Roadhouse, is a tribute to country legend Willie Nelson. Seating in Willie's Corner will be first come, first serve, Bigelow said.

To keep things entertaining, servers will take a break every hour to line dance.

"We play country music, our servers line dance every hour and it's just fun," Bigelow said. "The atmosphere is just absolutely great."

Though Marana still is behind other local municipalities in adopting a nonsmoking ordinance, Texas Roadhouse is entirely non-smoking. The restaurant markets itself as a place where the whole family can enjoy great food in a lively atmosphere and at an affordable price.

Menu items include hearty hand-cut steaks, fall-off-the-bone ribs, burgers, hand-battered chicken critters, tasty chicken dishes, pork chops, chili, made-from-scratch sides and fresh-baked bread.

"We're definitely known for our steaks," Bigelow said, adding that seafood items such as salmon, catfish and trout also are served.

"We're a very value-driven concept," he said. "Somebody can come to our restaurant two, three times a week and our price point is so good they won't even feel it. Our average check's about $14 nationwide."

This is the first Texas Roadhouse to open in the Tucson area, but Bigelow said there are three in the Phoenix area and one in Yuma. Bigelow's store is No. 204 in a chain that has more than 200 locations nationwide. The first store opened 12 years ago in Clarksville, Ind.

"That sort of growth is really unheard of and it's just driven by the fact that everyone loves it so much," Bigelow said.

Texas Roadhouse, already a member of the Marana Chamber of Commerce, is going to be a welcome addition to the area, said Ed Stolmaker, the chamber's executive director.

"They're going to be great for the community," he said. "They want to give back to the community, whatever they can do for the community. They'll be a good business partner for the town and for the chamber."

Bigelow already has hired nearly 200 employees from the area to join his team, but said he's still looking for a few more.

Server Shawn Brackett is one of several workers who volunteered his time last week working in the kitchen to prepare for the restaurant's opening. Though he just came onboard, he already had the company's slogan down.

"Legendary food, legendary service," he said. "It's gotta be some of the best food in Tucson."

The team will train on May 7 and kick off its practice period next week, making about 75 meals per day that will be donated to local charities.

Bigelow said he hopes Texas Roadhouse will become a part of the local community fabric. As a partner, he said he has put his own money into the business, which gives him a vested interest as an actual owner.

Texas Roadhouse will soon partner in a reading program at local elementary schools, where children will get bookmarks featuring Andy the Armadillo, the restaurant's mascot, Bigelow said. And if they do their reading, students will get a free meal on the house, he said.

A 15-year resident of Arizona, Bigelow said he saw an opportunity to be a part of the Marana community through Texas Roadhouse. Most of Bigelow's ties are in the Phoenix area, including Scottsdale where he operated a brewery for nine years, but he said he's been coming to Marana for 12 years to golf.

"I just absolutely love the area," he said. "Marana is an up-and-coming city. It's just booming."

Texas Roadhouse isn't the only food chain on its way to Marana. Others recently opened or on the way include:

€ In-N-Out Burger at the southwest corner of Cortaro Road and Arizona Pavilion.

€ Eegee's Restaurant at Courtney Page Way and Cortaro.

€ Nico's at 8283 N. Cortaro Road.

€ Dave's Hot Dog Diner at 8283 N. Cortaro Road.

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