Dan ''Hoss'' Blocker opened the first Bonanza steakhouse in an old bus station
Back then, it was called the Bonanza Sirloin Pit.
Images: Paul Ehrismann via Facebook / The Everett Collection
This week, Bonanza celebrates its 60th anniversary! To celebrate, we are offering a bonanza of content about the beloved Western.
When U.S. Route 1 cuts through the middle of Westport, Connecticut, it becomes Post Road. Drive east down this commercial strip and you will find your standard American chains — Starbucks, Barnes & Noble, Crate and Barrel, another Starbucks.
Before you hit the turnpike and cross over into Fairfiled, you pass a Goodwill store at 1700 Post Road E. It hasn't only been a Goodwill. That opened earlier this decade. The lot used to be the home of the Peppermill Steak & Fish House, a local institution that was demolished in 2011.
The Peppermill helped pioneer the whole steaks-and-all-you-can-eat-salad-bar concept that became so popular in the 1970s and 1980s. But prior to that, the building housed another famous meat emporium, the Bonanza Steakhouse.
First, let's get this out of the way in case you were wondering. Yes, the Bonanza Steakhouse chain is indeed related to the Western television show Bonanza. More closely than one might imagine.
In 1963, after four seasons of Bonanza, series star Dan Blocker, the towering former college football player who portrayed Eric "Hoss" Cartwright, opened the first Bonanza steakhouse in Westport, Connecticut. Though, back then, it was technically called the Bonanza Sirloin Pit. Yee-haw! A whole pit of sirloins!
The chain began to grow, undoubtedly due in some part to Blocker's fame and popularity. The actor promoted the brand and made appearances at local franchises, including that Westport location. In 1965, a trio of businessmen started a similar Bonanza-inspired steakhouse in Kokomo, Indiana. They called it the Ponderosa Steakhouse. The following year, two brothers named Wyly purchased Bonanza Steakhouses. By 1989, Bonanza Steakhouses could proudly count 600 restaurants dotted across North America.
The brand's history from that point on has been one of decline, marked by ownership changes and Chapter 11. The Bonanza and Ponderosa brands fused in 1997. Today, there are about 75 of them, including a handful in Qatar and the UAE. It's still a big hit on the Persian Gulf, apparently, not to mention in Puerto Rico.
But let's go back to that old Westport location. The building has an interesting story in its pre–Sirloin Pit days. The structure was built in 1925. Surprisingly, before selling steaks, it was a bus station, as documented on the 06880 blog (that's the Zip Code for Westport, naturally). Head over there to see the joint in its Greyhound days.
The station was called the Greyhound Post House, and it apparently served food. So it's not so strange that it eventually became a steakhouse. That's a lot of vintage Americana packed into one property off I-95.