When the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States in early March, it didn’t take long for Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor to jump into action to protect both the lives and the livelihoods of his employees.
Taylor, who also founded the popular restaurant chain, bought latex gloves, masks and eyewear for the workers in his nearly 600 restaurants, and also got to work creating a sort of stimulus package specifically for the Texas Roadhouse family.
“It’s how I was raised. I did what I felt was right,” Taylor, 64, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “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.”
For starters, Taylor donated his yearly salary and bonus, totaling more than $800,000 — and even as business has slowed amid the shutdown, the company has so far not had to lay anyone off or cut pay.
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He also contributed another $5 million to an emergency fund called Andy’s Outreach, which he set up for his employees 18 years ago to help with things like rent and mortgage payments, utility bills and funeral expenses.
“We were doing that to take care of our people that might have a loved one die that needed money for a funeral or an operation,” he explains of its origins. “It would transition to where people gave part of their paycheck, whether 10 cents of $10, to help our people during times of need.”
Taylor says he noticed that many of his workers were looking to the fund for help, and that its funds were quickly getting depleted, which prompted him to donate millions of his own.
“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 says 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.”
Taylor knows what it is to struggle, and his experiences are a big part of the reason why he feels a push to help others; during the early days of Texas Roadhouse in the early 1990s, Taylor was a single parent raising two daughters, and had to lean on his parents for financial support and, at times, housing.
“When you’re down and out, that sticks in your head,” he says. “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.”
So far, Taylor says the response to his efforts has been great, and that he’s received hundreds of thank you letters – some of which have even made him shed a few tears.
The businessman — whose company is based in Louisville, Kentucky — says that when all is said and done, he hopes his generosity will be something his employees take with them.
“I want them,” he says, “to transfer the love we’re showing them to other people.”