Magazine / People

Yard House founder Steele Platt is the king of kegs

Steele Platt holds 2 half-yard glasses of beer at his bar

Steele Platt's Yard House restaurant chain serves hundreds of beers on tap. Photo: Wayne Armstrong

Steele Platt (BSBA hotel and restaurant management ’82) remembers the day he arrived in Newport Beach, Calif., back in 1990. He had a brand new Mercedes and a briefcase filled with $100,000.

He knew the day marked the end of his successful career in Denver’s restaurant and nightclub industry, but he didn’t know it was also the beginning of something much more lucrative. Platt’s experiences in Denver helped him build the Yard House, one of the nation’s fastest growing and most profitable restaurant chains.

Platt, whose father and grandfather were career Navy men, lived in many places during his youth, but a talk by a recruiter in his high school English class convinced Platt that DU was the place for him. “I had never seen snow before,” Platt says, “and I wanted to see snow.”

After graduating from DU, Platt moved away to work for a hotel company but quickly grew bored. He came back to Denver and worked as a waiter while trying to sell his concept for a Hawaiian-themed stir-fry restaurant called Kailua’s. He got a deal together and in 1985 opened the place in the then-new Tivoli development in downtown Denver. Platt then launched the Boiler Room — a bar with 20 beers on tap in the days before Denver became a beer town — and later sold it in order to start the EFEX nightclub in the Tivoli.

The club was doing well, but the tenant beneath EFEX — a high-end national steakhouse — began complaining about the noise. Platt’s landlords caved to the steakhouse’s demands and forced him to close the club, despite a warning that he’d leave town if they went through with it.

Platt made good on his vow. He paid off his vendors, his employees and his taxes, walked away from his Washington Park home and left for California.

“Probably a rash move,” Platt says. “I got scared and mad, and that’s part of being an entrepreneur. And you don’t think straight when you’re young.”

He tried to get a Boiler Room going in Seattle but ended up selling cars for a few months. He moved back to California and spent the next two years slinging drinks and finalizing a business plan for a new restaurant.

Platt took the plan to three buddies — each of whom invested $50,000 — and the building’s owner, Northwestern Mutual, which chipped in $400,000. Platt found the location while riding his bike in Long Beach and chose the name from about 50 ideas jotted on a napkin. The result was the Yard House, which opened in 1996. The name comes from serving beer in 18-inch-tall glasses called half-yards. The Yard House — which now has 30 locations in 13 states — is known for an extensive beer selection (the first one had 250 beers on tap), classic rock on the sound system and an eclectic menu.

“I wanted to do the Boiler Room again. That’s easy,” says Platt, who serves as the company’s chairman. “And I know what sells. People like beer. People like classic rock.” Platt starts his days by putting together the playlist patrons hear in all restaurants.

Platt has even come full circle in Denver. The Yard House opened at Colorado Mills mall in Lakewood five years ago, and last year, he opened a Yard House in downtown Denver off the 16th Street Mall, not far from the Tivoli.

“We just keep growing,” Platt says. “We’ve doubled our value in three years. A lot of people respect us, and our employees like to work for us. We really are a family here.”


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