Only in America – Hal Smith

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“Only in America”

Hal Smith began his career in the restaurant industry while attending the University of Oklahoma and working at the Across the Street Restaurant.


As a working partner in Crosstimbers Restaurants, he opened and managed the units in Norman, Oklahoma, and Amarillo, Texas in the late sixties & early seventies.

In 1973, Hal joined Steak & Ale Restaurant Corporation (S&A) as a Manager Trainee.  During the next seven years he held the positions of Manager, Supervisor, Area Supervisor, and Regional Associate.  In July 1980, Hal was promoted to President and COO of S&A, a wholly owned subsidiary of Pillsbury.  At that time, S&A consisted of more than 250 restaurants under the names of Steak & Ale and Bennigan’s with sales of $400 million.  During his tenure, the company grew to more than 400 restaurants with $750 million in sales.  Hal was then named Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of S&A and became a Vice President of Pillsbury.  He was also appointed to serve on the Board of Directors of Burger King.  In addition, Hal had the responsibility of overseeing the Haagen Daz Ice Cream Stores and Poppin’ Fresh Pie Shops with total system wide sales of over $1.0 billion.

Two years later, Hal was selected to become President/ Chief Operating Officer of Chili’s, Inc., (now Brinker International) a young, dynamic, fast growing, and highly profitable restaurant chain known for its casual, fun atmosphere.

In the later part of the 1980’s, Hal accepted a challenging role as Chairman/Chief Executive Officer/President of the publicly held company, Chi-Chi’s Mexican Restaurants which was in need of a turn around.  Chi-Chi’s was a full service restaurant chain and a leader in the Mexican dinner house segment of the restaurant industry with more than 200 restaurants throughout the United States and Canada.

In April 1990 the turnaround was complete and Chi-Chi’s, Inc. was acquired by Foodmaker, Inc., a San Diego based restaurant Management Company which owned and operated Jack in the Box restaurants.  Hal remained C.E.O of Chi-Chi’s, Inc. while serving on the Foodmaker Board of Directors. He held these positions until June of 1992. He then left the company and founded Hal Smith Restaurants, a restaurant management company headquartered in Norman, Oklahoma. Since that time, his company developed and grew the following multi-unit concepts: Charleston’s Restaurant, Red Rock Canyon Grill, Mahogany Prime Steakhouse, Krispy Kreme, Ted’s Café Escondido, Louie’s Bar & Grill, Toby Keith’s I Love This Bar & Grill, The Garage, Upper Crust and Pub W, as well as three other single unit concepts. In addition, he opened nineteen Outback Steakhouses and three On The Border Mexican Cafes as a franchisee in the early nineties and subsequently sold the twenty two units to the parent companies for capital to help fund future growth for Hal Smith Restaurants.

Hal was born in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  He attended Oklahoma University and Central State University majoring in Management and Marketing while working his way through school in the Restaurants.

Currently he supports the Oklahoma chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and was a member of the Young Presidents Organization (49’ers).  He has served on the Board of Directors of First Fidelity Bank in Norman, Oklahoma, the Advisory Boards of Oklahoma University’s School of Economics and School of Business, and was a commissioner on the Oklahoma Tourism Committee, and currently serves on the Advisory Board of Directors for Valliance Bank.

Hal and his wife Sandy founded the Norman Youth Foundation in 1997 and to date has raised close to $1.0 million for various youth oriented charities in Oklahoma such as, Center for Children and Families, Ally’s House, Coaches for Cancer, WIN Foundation, Thunderbird Clubhouse and the Bootstrap Program, to name a few. Hal is a donor to the University of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State University Hotel and Restaurant School.

Needless to say, Hal has a deep sense of pride when it comes to Oklahoma and its people. “It’s been a good ride.”

Chair of the Day

 Lee R. Symcox has served as President and C.E.O. of First Fidelity Bank of Oklahoma City since 1993.  Under his leadership, the bank has grown from $160 million in assets to its current size of more than $1.6 billion. The organization has grown from 6 locations in metro Oklahoma City, to 32 full-service banking locations in the Oklahoma City, Tulsa and Phoenix metro areas. Lee has been with the bank since its merger with City National Bank & Trust Co. of Norman, where he served as President for four years.He is a native of Norman, Oklahoma, a 1976 graduate of Norman High School. Lee earned a B.B.A. in Finance from the University of Oklahoma and attended Oklahoma City University Law School.  He is a graduate of the Stonier Graduate School of Banking.

Lee’s banking career began at the age of 14 when he began working at his grandfather’s bank as a teller.  He is a fourth generation Oklahoma banker, following his father, grandfather and great-grandfather into the industry. Under Lee’s leadership during the “bank bust” of the 1980s, City National Bank of Norman was the only Norman bank that did not fail or require government assistance. Lee is a seasoned veteran seeing both the positive and negative in the banking industry.

Lee currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Civic Center Foundation, the Michael F. Price College of Business Board of Advisors at the University of Oklahoma, Oklahoma Student Loan Authority, Bizzell Library Society and the United Way of Central Oklahoma.  He has served on the Community Depository Institutions Advisory Council for the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank.  Lee has served as President of the Central Oklahoma Work Force Development Board, Chairman of the Integris Baptist Medical Foundation Board, President of Leadership Oklahoma, President of the Civic Center Foundation, President of the Economic Club of Oklahoma City and Treasurer of the United Way of Central Oklahoma.   Additionally, he serves on the Board of Directors for InvesTrust and Life Assurance Insurance Co.  Lee is a past President of the Norman Chamber of Commerce and has served on numerous business and non-profit boards during his career including the Greater Oklahoma City Chamber of Commerce and the Oklahoma City Area YMCA.  He is a member of the Downtown Rotary Club, World Presidents Organization (WPO), Leadership Oklahoma Class II, Leadership Oklahoma City and is a Lifetime member of the OU Alumni Association.  Lee lives in Nichols Hills and has been married to Suzanne for over 38 years, has two grown children and two grandchildren.

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