TGI Fridays' founder invented the chain as part of his 'business plan to meet a lot of women'

Hollis Johnson/Business InsiderAlan Stillman, TGI Fridays’ founder.
  • TGI Fridays wasn’t founded as the sit-down, family-centric chain it is today, but instead as one of the first bars where singles could mingle in the midst of the sexual revolution.
  • “My business plan was to meet a lot of women,” founder Alan Stillman said in Business Insider’s new podcast “Household Name.”“It’s a hell of a business plan, I’ll tell you that.”
  • TO HEAR THE FULL STORY, subscribe to the podcast for free here.

When TGI Fridays’ founder created the chain, he had just one thing on his mind: women.

The year was 1965. Alan Stillman was a 28-year-old living in New York City, selling essential oils and trying to meet girls at cocktail parties. Then, came an opportunity to buy a schlubby, neighbourhood bar on the Upper East Side.

In the midst of the sexual revolution, people were looking for somewhere to mingle unchaperoned, a seismic shift in how Americans were dating. Stillman was convinced that he could turn the bar into just that place.

FridaysCourtesy of Alan StillmanAlan Stillman, the founder of TGI Fridays, outside the original location in Manhattan.

“My business plan was to meet a lot of women,” Stillman told Business Insider in an interview for our new podcast “Household Name.” “It’s a hell of a business plan, I’ll tell you that.”

Stillman borrowed money from his mother to repaint the bar, which he named TGI Fridays. After it opened in March 1965, the customers quickly followed.

“It became more similar to what a mosh pit is,” Stillman said. “It was so crowded that you didn’t have to walk up to anybody to get a name or a telephone number. You bumped into them.”

The success produced imitators – so many that New York Magazine dubbed the strip of the neighbourhood on the Upper West Side the “Fertile Crescent” as singles flooded the area looking for dates. Stillman franchised his concept, allowing Fridays to spread across the country, bringing alcohol and an excuse to meet people to the masses.

Today, TGI Fridays is a far cry from the singles bar of the sexual revolution. The chain is more likely to draw in families than a 28-year-old trying to pick up some women. But, according to Stillman, that’s the natural progression of things.

“You don’t need a TGI Fridays bar scene to meet somebody,” Stillman said.

“We’re back to all the electronics around here,” he continued. “It’s just not a necessity, whereas at the time, although I didn’t know it, we invented a necessity and we solved what was a really big problem.”

To hear more from Stillman and others who dated at TGI Fridays back when it was one of the first singles bars in America, subscribe to “Household Name,” a new podcast from Business Insider premiering July 25. Subscribe for free on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, or your favourite app. Next week’s episode tells the story of how Donald Trump saved Pizza Hut’s stuffed-crust pizza, and how it saved The Donald, too.

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