By Melissa Slater, Hughes Agency
November 10, 2023
Endeavor’s September 2023 Collaborators & Cocktails featured Tom and Lisa Perini, ranchers at Perini Ranch and the owners of the most coveted meat in America. Now celebrating its 40th anniversary, Perini Steakhouse is a small business with a big reputation and a big brand – but it wasn’t always that way.
A full house of attendees had the joy of hearing firsthand from these entrepreneurs and master storytellers – who kept us spellbound, from their introduction right through to the tasting of their excellent tenderloin at the end of the night.
Picture yourself in a small town in the middle of Texas called Buffalo Gap. You’re 2.5 hours west of Dallas/Fort Worth, 4 hours north of Austin, and 7 hours from Houston. There are only 500 people in the town, and you are surrounded solely by agriculture and big ranches. This was Tom Perini in 1965 after receiving a phone call from his mother, instructing him to come home and take over their 600-acre family ranch.
Although he was equipped with a horse, a cowboy hat, boots and spurs, Tom quickly learned the hard way that having those items did not automatically make him a cowboy, or successful. To those unfamiliar with ranching, a 600-acre ranch was not nearly enough ranch land to create an income, let alone make a living.
What followed was a story of perseverance.
Besides the fact that he wasn’t automatically a cowboy, Tom additionally learned that in the ranching and agriculture business, doing everything right doesn’t always get you on top. Lack of rain, cattle prices, and bugs are all uncontrollable, common, and can make you lose. Tom was making ends meet by operating a chuck wagon and cooking for parties that the near-by big ranches hosted, when a close friend and mentor suggested he sell out of the ranch, stating, “You can do more for the beef industry by cooking it than you can by raising it.”
Tom sold. His next big break? Meeting his now wife, Lisa (a Clemson grad), and opening a restaurant.
Many restaurateurs would tell you there are a few non-negotiables to follow when it comes to opening a restaurant. Rules one, two, and three are: location, location, location.
Instead of opening a restaurant in a city, on the corner where cars would drive by and actually see the place, Tom and Lisa set their sights on an old hay barn on their ranch land in “the middle of no-where.”
As expected, it was a struggle. “People didn’t know who we were, or where we were. When people stumbled upon it, they were pleasantly surprised. But once we were able to get food critics and press there, the bar was raised, and we had to exceed what they considered the bar to be.”
In 1995, the perseverance began to pay off. Then Governor of Texas George W. Bush asked the Perinis to cook for him, and at the same time, the James Beard House called and requested they come cook for them in New York. Of course, getting to New York was no cheap fare, so the Perinis had to decide whether it was worth it. The test? They cooked and vacuum sealed 20 of their signature beef tenderloins, and sent them to 20 publications. As Tom said, “If one or two pubs would write a story about us, it would warrant us spending the money and going up to the James Beard House.”
Months passed before a phone call would again change their lives. The Perinis were told to look in the New York Times. Perini’s beef tenderloin was chosen as THE mail order gift of the year.
The only problem? The Perinis didn’t have a mail order company.
It turned out, when Tom and Lisa sent the vacuum sealed tenderloins to publications to determine if it was worth them going to the James Beard House, staff at the New York Times assumed the box was for a contest they were holding; a contest for Mail Order Gift of the Year, which the Perinis had no idea about. Out of 2,000 submissions, their tenderloin was selected and won.
Fast forward to today, the Perini Ranch ships thousands of tenderloins all over the world and cooks for world leaders. Their restaurant is a destination in spite of its remote location, and the winner of a coveted James Beard America’s Classic Award.
Tom and Lisa earned every victory they have had by striving for excellence, innovating, and ensuring their customers have an unmatched and memorable experience with their brand. There were more business lessons in their story than just about any classroom case study, and it was definitely more fun.
As an audience member at Collaborators & Cocktails who listened to their story, witnessed their loving banter, and tasted their world-famous tenderloin, I can attest that these two live up to their personal motto that everything in life must hit three values: hospitality, quality, and consistency.
So, if you ever find yourself in the small town of Buffalo Gap, you’d be remiss to not stop by the ranch, chat with Tom and Lisa, and savor the phenomenal meat that put them on the map.
And if a trip out to Texas isn’t in the cards, a mail order gift of the tenderloin is sure to be a hit for the upcoming holidays!