Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor gave away his salary in order to help employees during the COVID-19 pandemic. He also committed to fund a clinical study on tinnitus

By Maria Pasquini
March 19, 2021 02:18 PM
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texas roadhouse employees
Texas Roadhouse employees
| Credit: Courtesy Texas Roadhouse

Texas Roadhouse CEO and founder Kent Taylor has died. He was 65.

The popular restaurant chain confirmed Taylor's death on Thursday.

"We are deeply saddened by the loss of Kent Taylor. He founded Texas Roadhouse and dedicated himself to building it into a legendary experience for 'Roadies' and restaurant guests alike," Lead Director Greg Moore wrote in a statement.

"During the pandemic, he gave up his entire compensation package to help support his frontline workers. This selfless act was no surprise to anyone who knew Kent and his strong belief in servant leadership. He was without a doubt, a people-first leader," added Moore. "His entrepreneurial spirit will live on in the company he built, the projects he supported and the lives he touched."

The chain also shared a short post on social media remembering their late CEO. "We will miss you, Kent. Because of you and your dream of Texas Roadhouse, we get to say we [love] our jobs every day," read the post.

In a subsequent statement, Taylor's family said that the businessman died by suicide. 

"After a battle with post-Covid related symptoms, including severe tinnitus, Kent Taylor took his own life this week. Kent battled and fought hard like the former track champion that he was, but the suffering that greatly intensified in recent days became unbearable," his family said in a statement obtained by PEOPLE.  "But in true Kent fashion, he always found a silver lining to help others. Most recently, he committed to fund a clinical study to help members of the military who also suffer with tinnitus."

"He changed the lives of hundreds of millions of employees and guests over the past 28 years. He also impacted hundreds of thousands of people through his generous and often anonymous donations," the statement continued. "We are saddened by the decision Kent felt he needed to make and want to emphasize more than ever the importance of reaching out for help if you or someone you love is suffering. As Kent would so often say, 'keep it legendary.' "

PEOPLE previously spoke to Taylor about the lengths he went to in order to protect his employees after the pandemic hit the United States last March.

In addition to donating his yearly salary and bonus, totaling more than $800,000, the businessman bought latex gloves, masks and eyewear for the workers in his nearly 600 restaurants.

"It's how I was raised. I did what I felt was right," Taylor said. "This is that kind of time where you have to persist and think differently and take care of those that are with you and lift everyone's spirits and march forward."

He also contributed another $5 million of his own money to an emergency fund called Andy's Outreach, which he set up for his employees over a decade ago to help cover rent and mortgage payments, utility bills and funeral expenses.

"I'm 64 years old and I call people under 55 kids. So I have 70,000 kids, and you want to take care of them," he said of his employees. "I relate it to my own personal family and I want to take care of my family, is how I look at it."

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Although his restaurant chain went on to find success, Taylor initially struggled to get his dream off the ground.

Before opening his first location in 1993, Taylor was turned down over 80 times by various investors. Fortunately, three Kentucky-based doctors understood his vision, and provided him with the money to open his first store in Clarksville, Indiana. 

"When you're down and out, that sticks in your head," Taylor told PEOPLE last year. "A lot of people think when you make it later in life it leaves, but it stays in your brain. Later in life you want to give back in the same way."

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text "STRENGTH" to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.