The popularity of the Hard Rock Cafes grew exponentially from the inception of the first cafe on June 14, 1971, in London. Two young Americans, Isaac Tigrett and Peter Morton–who were the quintessential odd couple–borrowed money from their parents to open a quirky restaurant. They were only 22 years old at the time, and they selected Park Lane in London’s fashionable Mayfair district as the site of their ‘Hard Rock Cafe.’ The decor and menu contrasted sharply with the lavish hotels lining posh Park Lane, where strictly enforced dress codes were the norm, and hamburgers, milk shakes, and the music of the Rolling Stones most certainly were not.
Tigrett, son of a wealthy Tennessee financier named John Burton Tigrett, had moved to England with his family at age 15, attended private school in Lugano, Switzerland, and then later spent his days in London selling used Rolls Royces to Americans. Morton came from a wealthy and venerable Chicago restaurant family, a heritage he tapped into when he opened The Great American Disaster, an American-style restaurant located in Chelsea, London. As a restaurateur, Morton was immediately successful, but his first venture was all but forgotten after he hooked up with Tigrett.
The excitement generated by the first cafe, an opening that quickly drew queues of patrons eager to take part in the Hard Rock Cafe’s carnival-like atmosphere, was duplicated with each additional opening of restaurants in other cities and other countries, becoming, if anything, more intense, as the restaurants themselves became grander and earned the reputation as popular gathering spots for celebrities.
Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett established the first Hard Rock Cafe in London in 1971. Today, Hard Rock International is one of the most globally recognized companies in the world and has venues in over 74 countries; Cafes, Casinos and Hotels. Hard Rock is also known for its collectible fashion and music-related merchandise, memorable dining experiences, Hard Rock Live performance venues and more.https://www.hardrock.com/our-history
The story of Hard Rock’s growth took on a contentious flavor early. Outside of youth and family wealth, Tigrett and Morton had little in common. Morton was later described as aloof, reserved, and a ‘business-first businessman,’ personality traits that initially complemented and then later butted against Tigrett’s impulsiveness. A self-described ‘raving Marxist,’ Tigrett became legendary for his flamboyance and recklessness, renowned for being an eccentric figure who played the principle role in many of the titillating stories composing Hard Rock Cafe lore. One such story put Tigrett behind Hard Rock’s public address microphone after London had been devastated by an Irish Republican Army bombing, announcing to the cafe’s patrons that anyone holding an Irish passport could eat and drink for free. Another described Tigrett stamping across the Hard Rock’s tables shouting at patrons, ‘This is my restaurant! What are you doing here! Get out! This is my restaurant!’
Such incidents, as well as the storied sightings of celebrities, added to the mystique and unpredictability of a visit to Tigrett and Morton’s establishments, creating invaluable marketing material for an organization that invested little time or money on traditional advertising. In fact, reports of celebrities seen imbibing or eating at a Hard Rock Cafe, coupled with Tigrett’s fabled antics, began working to the two restaurateurs’ advantage soon after they opened the initial Hard Rock Cafe. It was a time when the rock-n-roll genre from which the business took its name was just emerging. The eatery needed the luminaries from rock’s list of idiosyncratic entertainers to make its definitive leap from a popular London restaurant to the internationally recognized nexus of celebrities, celebrity-watchers, and celebrants the Hard Rock later became, but initially it prospered as a welcome alternative to the otherwise reserved atmosphere pervading Park Lane. Its menu diverged from typical Park Lane fare as well, offering customers a simple, decidedly American selection of food and drink that included hamburgers, barbecued ribs, milk shakes, sundaes, corn-on-the-cob, and apple pie, in addition to a wide variety of beer, hard liquor, and suffusive rock-n-roll.
Before long celebrities began patronizing the cafe; the rock group Led Zeppelin reportedly sent whiskey bottles crashing against the walls one evening, and Carole King wrote a musical tribute to the rock-n-roll haven. Eric Clapton’s guitar found its way onto a hook on the cafe’s wall, and then Pete Townshend, of The Who, donated his guitar in riposte, along with a note that read, ‘Mine’s as good as his.’ The two guitars became part of the cafe’s growing rock memorabilia collection, while the magnetic power of the Hard Rock to attract celebrities also pulled in notable personages from outside the world of music: the Duke of Westminster stopped by, director Steven Spielberg ate lunch there every day during the filming of Raiders of the Lost Ark, and numerous other celebrities made widely reported visits to the raucous anomaly on Park Lane.
The publicized reports of who did what at the Hard Rock benefited Morton and Tigrett commensurately. Soon, the London restaurant was the destination for tourists and local denizens, a site to pay homage to the famous and the peculiar. Although the Hard Rock was a marketing boon, the swell of excitement it generated created one obstacle for Tigrett and Morton to hurdle: customers lingered, dawdled, and gawked, remaining for hours to take part in the paparazzi-filled days and nights, but they purchased little, engendering a debilitatively slow customer turnover rate stunting profits. The solution Tigrett and Morton reached, however, was relatively simple; they turned up the volume of their music, increasing the decibel level in the cafe and, as a result, increasing the patron turnover rate. Louder music meant people talked less, ate and drank faster, and loitered less, a change that quintupled the cafe’s turnover rate and lifted its profit performance to match its popularity. Tigrett and Morton also moved into merchandising during this time, offering shirts, hats, watches, and coffee mugs with the Hard Rock logo, which contributed significantly to Hard Rock’s bottom line.
As the restaurant became increasingly popular and successful, however, the relationship between Tigrett and Morton was becoming increasingly strained. In 1974 Tigrett made an about-face in his personal life, when the former ‘raving Marxist’ became a Hindu convert and devoted follower of spiritual leader Sai Baba. Espousing a ‘Love All, Serve All’ tenet, Tigrett moved in with Ringo Starr’s ex-wife, Maureen Starkey, in 1976. He later married her, referring to her, with typical Tigrett bravado, as his greatest piece of rock memorabilia. By the end of the 1970s, however, Tigrett’s all-inclusive doctrine of love excluded Morton, and the two partners went their separate ways, beginning with Morton’s return to the United States in 1979.