Allow me to introduce you to Orlando’s newest restaurant. You know, the one that’s been around for the past 20 years.
On June 2, Christner’s officially dropped the Del Frisco’s from its name and hereafter will be known as Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster. Nothing else has changed. It still has the same owners, still the same skilled, professional staff, and still the same high-quality oh-my-God wonderful steaks.
So why the name change?
Because the original agreement that allowed Russ Christner to open the restaurant with the Del Frisco’s name has come to an end. The company that now owns the Del Frisco’s franchise and the Christner family came to a mutually beneficial agreement that necessitated the rebranding. And when you get right down to it, the steakhouse should have been called Christner’s all along.
I’ve told the story many times before, but to recap: The first Del Frisco’s was started by a man named Dale Wamstad. It was originally in New Orleans, but Wamstad moved it to the Dallas area in the early ‘80s. Russ Christner was a good friend of Wamstad’s, and for years Christner begged his friend to let him open a restaurant under the Del Frisco’s name. In 1993, Wamstad finally agreed, and Christner opened Del Frisco’s Steak House in a restaurant space on Lee Road.
The Orlando restaurant was an instant hit, and Christner was a big part of its success. He was very much a hands-on owner, always wandering the dining room in his blue denim shirt, white apron, and a thick terrycloth towel over his shoulder so that he could grab one of the super-hot plates to help out a server if necessary. It wasn’t just for show, as indicated by the singe marks on the towel.
Russ died in 2005 after an extended battle with melanoma. HIs wife, Carole, and son David and his wife, Alice, continue to run the business with the high standards that Christner had established.
The restaurant has been known for the past year as Christner’s Del Frisco’s Prime Steak & Lobster. And then, on Sunday, June 2, the last vestiges of the old name were dropped and the restaurant officially became Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster.
To celebrate, the Christners threw a party at the restaurant, which now is a sprawling complex with the original dining rooms and comfortable old bar on one end and a piano bar and lounge and private dining rooms on the other end. (The restaurant hosts numerous gatherings in the private rooms throughout the year.)
It was called the C Party (as in Christner’s and Celebrations), and guests wandered throughout, visiting rooms that were themed with the letter C: Champagne & Chocolate, Crab Cakes & Chardonnay, Cheese & Craft beer -- you get the idea. More than 600 guests nibbled on the crazy-good prime strip other favorites from the menu (all of the recipes will remain intact). There was also a silent auction with proceeds going to benefit Florida Hospital Diabetes Institute.
My favorite moment came when Carole, David and Alice posed in front of a framed tribute to Russ that featured his signature “uniform” of blue denim shirt, white apron and terry cloth draped over the shoulder. I thought the towel should have had some singe marks on it.
I have no doubt that the early success of the restaurant was due in no small part to Christner’s dedication to quality, both in the food and the servers, and also to his presence. The most successful restaurants have owners that are there, looking over things, ready to step in when needed.
Carole, David and Alice know that, too. Christner’s Prime Steak & Lobster will continue to be the fine restaurant that it has been for the past 20 years. Only the name will have changed.
As part of the agreement, the Del Frisco’s corporation will be allowed to open a Del Frisco’s Double Eagle in Central Florida. They’ll have a pretty high standard to match if they hope to succeed here.