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The Host With The Most

Having lunch with Atlanta restaurant legend Doug McKendrick is like being on a late-night talk show. His stories are highly entertaining and he asks smart questions. His enthusiasm for his eponymous steakhouse is contagious and by the end of my perfect salmon Caesar salad, I was one of the team. 

And, teamwork is Doug’s middle name. He and his wife Claudia have been building their business for 40 years, teaming up to open McKendrick’s Steakhouse in 1995. And, to this day, he credits his employees for his success and his customer’s satisfaction. 

His earlier days as a basketball star taught him the importance of leaning on team members and working together to get the win. He played for Rice University on a basketball scholarship, giving up opportunities with the University of Michigan and Harvard, staying on to play two more years while earning his second undergrad degree. He then earned his MBA in finance and accounting from the University of North Carolina, serving in the Navy before landing in Atlanta in 1972.  

He grew up in Illinois and credits his roots for his appreciation of all things meat and potatoes. That, along with experiences dining at some of the steakhouse greats. “Claudia was inspired by the classic steakhouses from around the world when she decorated this place (on Ashford Dunwoody Road). We love the dark wood and clubby atmosphere,” says Doug, who graciously reminds me that it’s Claudia who made “all this happen.”

Doug is a winner of the GRACE Lifetime Achievement Award from the Georgia Restaurant Association. That award hangs in a hallway at the restaurant, where framed photos of all the beautiful people who have dined there are featured along with family photos and glamorous images of Doug and Claudia. He takes great pride in these awards and snapshots, offering him a walk down memory lane when he visits, which is often. 

He still reviews the restaurant’s numbers every week. “I’m a finance guy and the numbers tell me everything I need to know,” says Doug.  His career began with a gig as a CPA with Arthur Andersen, and then as vice president of finance for Mimi’s and Max’s Restaurants—formerly of the Omni Hotel in downtown. He opened élan, a disco-themed club, in 1979, and had a successful nine-year run. Then came Mi Spia and Park Place Café piano bar.

Along the way, Doug has built a restaurant family. Most of their employees have long tenures, some dating back decades. During the COVID pandemic, McKendrick’s made sure employees were taken care of and that loyalty runs deep.

Outside the restaurant, Doug enjoys family and yes, basketball. He carries basketball nets in the trunk of his car. “There’s nothing sadder than seeing a basketball court in a city park with empty rims, no nets,” he says. “So, I stop and give them a net so the kids can keep playing.”

Reflecting on his good fortune, I asked about the best investment he’d ever made. “This restaurant, for sure. And, I’m lucky to feel that way.”

The worst investment?  “Hopefully, not this interview,” jokes Doug, the host with the most.