Inauguration Performer Toby Keith’s Restaurant Chain Is a Failed Mess. Sad!
Country music star Toby Keith spent this weekend defending his decision to perform at Thursday’s “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration,” an official part of Donald Trump’s presidential inauguration festivities, where he’ll be joined by washed-up rockers 3 Doors Down and fellow country artist Lee Greenwood. “I don’t apologize for performing for our country or military,” Keith told EW. “I performed at events for previous presidents [George W.] Bush and [Barack] Obama and over 200 shows in Iraq and Afghanistan for the USO.”
Toby Keith is here for Trump’s America! But Keith has another thing in common with the president-elect: Attempting to enrich himself via licensing deals with questionable business partners who ran operations into the ground, racking up hundreds of thousands in tax liens, unpaid rent, contractor bills, and bounced paychecks in the process.
Beginning in 2005, Keith licensed his name to Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, a sit-down dining establishment you may have glimpsed in a mall off a freeway. Known for guitar-shaped bars, live music, and mechanical bulls, the restaurants took their name from a 2003 Keith hit, “I Love This Bar.” It was a profitable enterprise for Keith; in 2013, Forbes estimated he pulled in $12 million a year from the bar and grills.
At its peak, most I Love This Bar locations were operated by an Arizona-based company called Boomtown Entertainment, which opened 20 restaurants nationwide. An additional 19 bar and grills were promised but never materialized, and in recent years, Keith’s franchises have been dogged by sudden closures and unpaid bills. Local news outlets across the country report that Boomtown-operated restaurants owed sizable sums in unpaid taxes: $14,000 in Michigan, $31,000 in Texas, $112,000 in Minnesota, $3o0,000 in New York. In October 2015, Denver auctioned off an I Love This Bar’s equipment and mechanical bull in an attempt to recoup $70,000 in back taxes.
Sales, property, and liquor taxes weren’t the only bills piling up for the I Love This Bar operators: A since-closed location in Oxnard, California reportedly owed its mall landlords more than $600,000 in unpaid rent. The I Love This Bar in Newport News, Virginia racked up a reported $554,000 in delinquencies before shutting down. In 2016, a mall in Syracuse, New York won a $10.5 million judgement against its former tenant for breach of contract.
Contractors who worked on the restaurants’ equipment and interiors said they were owed money, too. And when grills went belly-up, some closed without notifying workers, then stiffed them with final paychecks that bounced, as reportedly happened in Cincinnati in 2015.
Again, Keith never owned any of Boomtown’s restaurants—he merely licensed his likeness to the company, and turned up for the occasional in-store performance. He’s never made any public comment about his partners’ spectacular run of failures. Today, Boomtown has just one remaining Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill location, in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Separate restaurant groups operate four other locations: three in Oklahoma, and the original at Harrah’s Las Vegas.) Rumors of the Foxborough Toby Keith’s closure floated around town in recent months, according to a local Patch report. That same story contains a clue as to what the hell went wrong: “There was some gross mismanagement and grand theft at the corporate level and it caused them to start to fall like dominoes,” the Foxborough store’s former manager, Barry Birks, said.
For now, the last location is still open, with a two-star rating on Yelp: “The worst food in [M]ass.”; “Got all excited for this place and it was a total dump”; “Holy living hell…this place is absolutely disgusting.” Mismanagement, alleged corporate graft, unpaid contractors, a mountain of lawsuits, subpar food, and a soundtrack of unfettered, chauvinistic patriotism—if Trump Grill is the worst restaurant in America, then Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill isn’t far behind.