Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux Breaks Ground For Lakeland Location
by James Coulter
What could be better than watching the kick-off at a great sports bar? How about watching the big game while enjoying a meal with a kick of Cajun flavor?
Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux isn’t your normal sports bar. It’s a family-oriented eatery that serves great drinks and food, especially food packed with the taste of Louisiana.
Of course, you have sports bar favorites like hand-pattied burgers and sliders, grilled tacos and wraps, and boneless buffalo chicken wings. But you also have genuine Cajun cuisine including shrimp po boys, gumbo, and fried boudin balls. Only at Walk-On’s can you expect plenty of South in your mouth for the big game!
“There’s no better way to describe the uniqueness of Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux,” their website states. “We start every dish from scratch and use fresh ingredients to bring our mouthwatering, Cajun cuisine to life. And whether you’re here for dinner with the family, date night, cocktails with the girls or to watch a game on the big screen, we’re always happy to share our Louisiana culture with you.”
Walk-On’s Sports Bistreaux recently broke ground for their newest location in South Lakeland along US Highway 90. Their new eatery will be located outside of Lakeland Square Mall where the former Toys R’Us store was located.
Aside from being the first eatery of its kind in Lakeland, the new building will also be the first of its kind for the nationwide chain. Its building includes a long open bar, covered patio area, and outdoor big-screen televisions.
The spot was dedicated last Thursday with a groundbreaking ceremony, hosted by the Lakeland Chamber of Commerce. Attendees had the opportunity to sample of the eatery’s select menu, including blackened catfish, burger sliders, and shrimp gumbo on rice.
Brandon Landry, Founder and CEO, started WalkOn’s in 2003. The name of the eatery was inspired by his brief career as a college basketball walk-on. He only played seven minutes of his senior year basketball season when he decided to try another career path, he said.
Landry and his college friend decided to run with an eatery idea that they conceived during a plane trip from a big game. They would later pitch that idea for a college project, but only managed to receive a C for it, he said.
Landry took his idea to seven different banks. The first six turned him down each time. Even more humiliating, he pitched his idea following 2001, when every bank was willing to hand out a loan to stimulate the post-9/11 economy, Landry said.
“It was a time when many banks wanted to get the economy stimulated,” he said. “If you had a pulse, you could get a loan.”
Upon pitching their idea to the seventh bank, they were finally approved for a loan, and they used it to open their first Walk-On’s eatery in 2003.
They later opened their second location in LaFayette in 2006, and another in New Orleans in 2012. Their sports bar won the title of ESPN #1. More than 43 locations have since opened across the country, with a total of 106 franchises sold.
The secret to their success has been their dedication to the local community. They don’t simply set up shop and start advertising. They meet people on the local level by attending church groups, school teams, and other community get-togethers.
“We will come in and be part of this community,” Landry said. “We are not just the next chain coming to town. We had to get involved in the community.”
Mike Lester, Manager for the upcoming Lakeland location, looks for several things when considering a restaurant chain: great people-first company with a great culture, great support system for their franchisees, great business model, and great food. Fortunately, Walk-Ons had all four.
Lester, as with Landry, had a similar success story. He started in the restaurant business at 14 years old washing dishes in Kentucky. His time in the industry inspired him to shift gears from microbiology to the hospitality industry.
He started running his own eatery at 22 years old. He later served as a joint venture partner at Outback Steakhouse, and then in 2006, became vice president of a restaurant chain in Tampa.
“It’s a story we can all identify with,” Lester said. “At some point in our lives, when the odds are stacked against us, you still persevere and work hard, we still prepare and train.”
As for Walk-On’s, he was drawn to the brand by its overall magic. He especially loved the food, as it’s the food that makes or breaks a chain, he said.
“Walk-On has that magic,” he said. “There is something magical about this brand. The feeling, the vibe, the atmosphere. You feel magical, you feel good when you go in. The food is great. You get great service. It’s really good.”
Billy Gram, an associate with WalkOn’s, has a long history working with restaurant chains. He had previously worked with Outback for 18 years, running 22 locations in West Virginia. He assumed he would retire on Outback, until he discovered WalkOn’s.
“It is passion,” he said. “It is about quality, food, love. It is something here, it is a passion for it. I love the interaction with the people, and the interaction is what it is all about.”