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Malone’s Celebrates 25 Years and Counting

Even prior to the pandemic’s challenges, including the shortages of food industry workers, the statistics painted a grim picture of restaurant longevity, indicating that an estimated 60% of establishments would fail within their first year of operation.

But Malone’s restaurant has stood the test of time and is celebrating its 25th year in business this year. Amidst expansion plans, its leaders share a few keys to thriving in a competitive industry.

Debuting in 1998, Malone’s steakhouse is part of the Lexington-based Bluegrass Hospitality Group (BHG) family of restaurants. Founded by Brian McCarty and Bruce Drake, BHG’s concepts also include Drake’s, Malone’s Prime Events & Receptions, Harry’s, Aqua Sushi and OBC Kitchen.

While Malone’s has three locations in Lexington and a presence in Louisville, the brand has expanded Drake’s and Aqua Sushi into Louisville, Florence, Nicholasville and Owensboro in Kentucky, as well as locations in Indiana, Tennessee, Illinois, North Carolina and Alabama.

Malone’s is renowned for its prime steaks, fresh seafood and the famous Lexingtonian salad.

BHG Chief Operating Officer John McNamara said one thing that continues to make Malone’s relevant is its commitment to continually evolve to meet customers’ needs and strive for a perfect dining experience.

“Throughout the 21 years that I’ve been a part of it, the two owners have never settled for ‘good’ and have always pursued being better,’” he said.

According to McNamara, a crucial aspect of that credo is to remain relevant by closely monitoring competitors, observing emerging trends and understanding the desires of guests, all while staying faithful to Malone’s core values and identity.

BHG Marketing Director Amber Cook, who has been with the company for seven years, largely credits a loyal workforce for Malone’s success and staying power over the past 25 years.

“It really starts from the top and works its way down,” she said. “The co-founders and leadership team are very much invested and have a passion for the industry and their people.”

McNamara highlighted that Malone’s has always had a robust carryout and curbside business, and “COVID only allowed us to double down on those efforts and be at the forefront of utilizing it even more for our success.”

Even when the beef cattle industry faced shortages, Malone’s was still able to continue serving the same high-quality steaks without compromise, he added.

“We never, ever wavered on the USDA prime beef,” he said. “We stayed true to what the brand was and recognized that we were going to come out on the other side of this.”

Embracing a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mindset, Cook said the challenges of recent years have sharpened BHG into a highly efficient, daring and innovative company.

“The team often views obstacles as opportunities to grow and elevate rather than staying stagnant and figuring things out,” she said. “That has been another huge advantage for the brand.”

To commemorate Malone’s 25th anniversary milestone, BHG earlier this year offered a special anniversary menu featuring a 25-ounce porterhouse steak for two, as well as some $25 menu items. Other special gifts and giveaways will be offered throughout the rest of the year.

Malone’s plans to open its first location outside of Kentucky, in Chattanooga, Tennessee, in the second half of 2024.

“We truly believe in that market,” McNamara said. “We already have a Drake’s in that market.”

A fun tradition at Malone’s is hosting celebrity guests who have “dined and signed” their menus, including Tyler Childers, Drake, LeBron James, Sally Field, Jay Leno and John Elway.

“It’s a fun program for us, and we always look forward to seeing who’s going to come in and sign that next menu,” Cook said.

McNamara said that, in addition to the number of menu options, a variety of price points also contributes to Malone’s success in o¡ering diners flexibility.

“It allows for folks on any occasion to appreciate the menu,” he said. “If it’s a dinner celebration and you’re wanting to experience something on the higher end, you can certainly do that. If it’s something you want to go in on a Tuesday night or eat for lunch, you can do that. … There are so many different price points that allow each guest to find something they’re looking for and for what occasion they’re looking for.”

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