Many professional wrestlers don’t know when to call it quits and leave the business. Perhaps this is in part due to the fact WWE classifies their wrestlers as independent contractors, and therefore doesn’t properly prepare most of them for retirement. It isn’t fair to blame WWE, though, because it’s actually a problem throughout most of professional sports. Athletes become typically become successful at a young age, and based on physical attributes that aren’t going to stick with them forever.
Many wrestlers chose to combat this by simply never leaving the wrestling industry, but that isn’t always the case. Surprisingly, one of the most popular post-wrestling career choices has been to open a restaurant. In a few instances, it actually kind of makes sense—no, there haven’t been any wrestling chefs that we’re aware of, but a well-known Italian wrestler opening an Italian restaurant isn’t that exactly a stretch. That said, most of these restaurants make a heck of a lot less sense, and it seems like the wrestlers opened them for no other reason than they like making food. Read on to learn which 20 wrestlers opened restaurants, and decide for yourself whether or not their career path made any sense.
20. Big Anthony’s – Owned By Tony Parisi
Tony Parisi probably isn’t a familiar name with most of the WWE Universe, but he was a former WWE World Tag Team Champion with Louis Cerdan (who also probably isn’t that familiar, in all fairness). They won and lost the titles from WWE Hall of Famers, gaining the belts from The Blackjacks and holding them until they were defeated by Killer Kowalski and Big John Studd. After retiring from wrestling, Parisi purchased the Niagara Family Inn on the Canada side of Niagara Falls. He opened a restaurant and lounge within the hotel, known as Big Anthony’s, and ran the business successfully until his sudden death in the year 2000.
19. Ilio DiPaolo’s Restaurant and Ringside Lounge
If anything, modern wrestling fans probably only remember Ilio DiPaolo as the namesake of WCW’s yearly Ilio DiPaolo Memorial Show. Even those events weren’t hugely promoted at the time, but that doesn’t change how beloved DiPaolo was by his fans during his heyday in the 1950s. DiPaolo is probably also better known for the Restaurant and Ringside Lounge he opened in Buffalo, New York after his retirement. The restaurant opened in 1965 and is still run by DiPaolo’s family to this day. DiPaolo is also the namesake of a scholarship fund dedicated to high school wrestlers.
18. Shoney’s – Location Owned By Scott Steiner
Scott Steiner is a one half of arguably the greatest wrestling tag team of all time alongside his brother Rick. Shoney’s is a chain of family dining restaurants popular in the Southern and Mid-Western United States. You wouldn’t think these two facts are necessarily related, but they’ve been directly linked ever since Steiner purchased a Shoney’s franchise in his native Minnesota sometime in 2015. Not only does Scott run the franchise, his famous brother and tag partner Rick appeared in early promos for the spot that were uploaded to YouTube in anticipation of a remodeling that occurred when Steiner purchased the restaurant. Several other former WCW stars attended the grand opening, including Buff Bagwell, Jeff Jarrett, and The Outsiders.
17. The Squared Circle – Owned By Victoria
Former WWE diva Victoria, who also wrestled for Total Nonstop Action as Tara, is one of the few wrestlers on this list to own a restaurant while still an active wrestler. She’s actually owned two—there was Fat Tony’s Pizzeria, which she sold in 2007, and The Squared Circle, which her husband and a friend still run to this day. Although she is no longer one of the primary owners of the restaurant, she and other wrestlers still make regular appearances. Like Fat Tony’s, The Squared Circle is a pizzeria, but they have a wide variety of other entrees as well. A few of the dish names are even wrestling inspired, including the Gail Kim-Chi and the Four Horsemen Challenge.
16. The Friendly Tap – Owned By Tim White
Tim White was a referee for WWE for nearly 20 years before a shoulder injury forced him to retire in 2004. The majority of the time he worked for WWE he was also the owner of a bar in Rhode Island called The Friendly Tap. Especially during the Attitude Era, plenty of wrestlers would show up to get their drink on, sometimes even during Monday Night Raw. Superstars such as The APA and “Stone Cold” Steve Austin never turned down a beer from anyone, and Tim White was no exception. The Friendly Tap was also the focus of several vignettes posted to WWE.com surrounding White becoming depressed and attempting suicide. The highly controversial segments have rarely if ever been mentioned on television.
15. Bam Bam Bigelow – Owned By Bam Bam Bigelow
Yes, the wrestler once known as The Beast From The East apparently simply named his Pennsylvania restaurant the same thing people called him when he was in the ring. Sadly, outside of his great career as one of wrestling’s most talented big men in history, Bigelow was pretty well known for having money problems later in life, and a big part of that problem started with the opening of his restaurant. Although it featured a two-pound “Beast Burger,” it didn’t take off, and cost Bam Bam a lot of money in very little time. Bigelow passed away due to a drug overdose only a few years after his restaurant failed.
14. Baby’s Steak & Lemonade – Owned By Armando Estrada
We ragged on Bigelow for naming his restaurant after himself, but at least he didn’t call himself Baby. That’s what former WWE manager Armando Estrada did when he was fired from the company and decided to open up a steakhouse in Glendale, Arizona. The man who once managed Umaga and briefly was the General Manager of ECW seemed extremely excited about his post-wrestling business venture, but like many others on this list, it seems like it quickly went out of business. Perhaps the problem was letting kids eat free.
13. Dennis Knight Catering Company
A catering company is basically a restaurant that comes to you, or at least that’s our justification for including the company owned by Dennis Knight on this list. Dennis Knight is probably best known to wrestling fans either as Mideon, Phineas I. Godwinn, or even Tex Slazenger. Regardless of what he was called in the ring, it’s pretty hard to picture him delicately crafting wedding confectionaries, but that’s exactly what he’s doing these days. The former WWE European Champion’s company operates out of Florida, where Knight’s family has actually been in the restaurant business for years.
12. Abdullah The Butcher’s House of Ribs and Chinese Food
The idea of Abdullah the Butcher opening up a restaurant is a pretty shady one. He came to fame in the wrestling world by stabbing people with a fork. Hopefully, those aren’t the forks used at the WWE Hall of Famer’s House of Ribs and Chinese Food, located in Atlanta, Georgia. The menu seems to be a strange combination of soul food, Chinese food, and whatever else Abdullah felt like throwing on the menu, but it’s actually one of the more successful restaurants on this list. Plenty of pictures from Abi’s career fill the walls, and the Madman From Sudan himself is said to still make regular appearances and chat with fans.
11. Maria’s Mexican Restaurant – Owned By El Mongol
El Mongol was a Mexican wrestler from the 1960s who obviously claimed to actually be from Mongolia. Mongol was one of the most hated heels of Georgia Championship Wrestling, and through this association he also made appearances with AWA and NWA. Despite inventing a brand new stereotype in the world of wrestling, El Mongol’s real name was Raul Molina, and once he retired he fell back on his actual heritage and opened a Mexican restaurant in Griffin, Georgia with his wife, Maria. El Mongol was quite possibly the first wrestler to use the Mongolian stereotype as a gimmick, and coincidentally, someone who followed him in doing so also opened a restaurant…
10. Killer Khan Restaurant – Owned By Killer Khan
Following the Mexican El Mongol’s lead, the Japanese Masahi Ozawa decided to rely on the invented Mongolian stereotype for his famed wrestling character of Killer Khan. Younger fans might not recognize the name, but older fans will never forget when Khan “broke” Andre the Giant’s leg leading to a heated rivalry and a series of stretcher matches, possibly the first in America. Today, Khan is long retired from wrestling, and owns a restaurant in Tokyo, Japan. Hulk Hogan and Jimmy Hart were seen dining alongside their long ago rival, enjoying beers at the appropriately named Killer Khan Restaurant some time in 2014. Starting a restaurant is actually pretty normal for a former Japanese star, considering the successes of…
9. Toshiaki Kawada’s Noodle Shop
Toshiaki Kawada never made the leap to America, but he is one of the biggest names in the history of Japanese wrestling. Best known for his work in All Japan Pro Wrestling, Kawada is a former five-time All Japan Triple Crown Champion, and has wrestled in 19 matches. He was also given the coveted 5-star rating by Dave Meltzer. He is also known for his legendary tag teams with Mitsuharu Misawa and Akira Taue (pictured with Kawada above at his restaurant). Kawada’s Noodle Shop is located in Setagaya, Tokyo, Japan, and although Kawada never formally announced his retirement from wrestling, it seems like he’s very happy in the restaurant business and won’t be making a comeback any time soon.
8. Big Daddy – Owned By The Great Kabuki
Akihisa Mera, better known as The Great Kabuki, only wrestled one single match for WWE, but he still managed to become a wrestling legend in both the United States and his native Japan. In the US, Kabuki is best known for his appearances in World Class Championship Wrestling, where he was a regular member of Gary Hart’s various corporations. Kabuki still makes occasional appearances for New Japan Pro Wrestling, but has mostly retired to run his restaurant Big Daddy in Tokyo. Like most restaurants on the list, Big Daddy is filled to the brim with wrestling memorabilia, and Kabuki himself is usually nearby to tell stories of his time in the ring.
7. Sakabar – Owned By Antonio Inoki
With a large number of Japanese wrestlers becoming restaurateurs, it makes sense that perhaps the biggest name in Japanese wrestling history would own a few spots of his own. Antonio Inoki is a WWE Hall of Famer and the founder of New Japan Pro Wrestling. Inoki is still marginally involved in wrestling from a promotional standpoint, but has mostly retired to the world of politics. In addition to his storied career in Japan’s House of Councillors, Inoki also owns a bar and restaurant in Shinjuku, Tokyo called Sakabar. The unique location includes tables made out of wrestling rings lined with actual ropes, and while Inoki is probably too busy to stop by the restaurant himself like some other names on this list, a giant statue of his visage stands at the door greeting customers.
6. Jerry Lawler’s Slamburgers
Jerry Lawler has downplayed his ownership stake in the burger franchise that featured his name and image, but he was so all over the place it deserves mention anyway. The King obviously got some cut of the profits, too, considering photos exist of him at the restaurant when it opened in 1976, and even the food was plastered with his influence. The menu included asides towards Lawler’s opponents and co-workers of the era, and was clearly a fun destination for any wrestling fan. Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly take off as a concept, and Slamburgers only existed in Memphis for about a year and a half in the 70s. Lawler has recently discussed the possibility of opening a new restaurant, but perhaps the fast food wrestling market is already flooded…
5. Mean Gene’s Burgers
Similar to Lawler, WWE Hall of Fame announcer “Mean” Gene Okerlund didn’t actually own the burger joint named after him and marketed with his image, but his connection runs deeper than just an endorsement deal. Mean Gene Burgers, along with Mean Gene’s Pizza, is a chain of restaurants owned by Okerlund’s nephews. The restaurant business can be a shady one, and reports indicate that Okerlund’s nephews basically forced him out of the company, but legally they’re still allowed to use his image in advertising. It seems like a moot point, though, since it looks like most of the locations have since gone out of business.
4. Hogan’s Beach
Okay, we’re cheating here—similarly to Lawler or “Mean” Gene, Hogan didn’t have any controlling interest in Hogan’s Beach in Tampa, Florida. Unlike those two, he didn’t really have any connection to the business at all, aside from his name and likeness appearing all over the walls. The restaurant was only named as such in January of 2012, so it’s not like it existed at the height of his popularity, either—it’s a clear and blatant cash-in on his fame. That’s why it’s at least a little bit funny how quickly that backfired on them, when Hogan came under fire for making racist comments in his sex tape that leaked in 2015. The actual owners of the restaurant quickly began a rebranding process, but that wouldn’t even be the most embarrassing moment in Hogan’s career as a restaurateur…
3. Hulk Hogan’s Pastamania
When Hogan first joined WCW in 1994, the company made a very concerted effort to brand absolutely everything he touched, in continuing with a long tradition of WWE making millions by doing the same thing. WWE kept it to wrestling gear, though, and WCW decided to brand outwardly by creating Pastamania. Pastamania was more of a hub in a food court than a full-blown restaurant, but when that food court exists in the Mall of America, it’s kind of a big deal. Granted, no one thinks selling glorified Spaghetti-O’s is an idea worthy of making a big deal out of, and that’s why Pastamania ultimately failed. It wouldn’t be WCW’s only attempt at taking their superstar brand into the culinary world…
2. The WCW Nitro Grill
WCW was never a company to stop throwing money at a terrible idea. Typically, they just threw more money at their worst ideas and made them bigger and bigger, which is how Pastamania was in some ways the precursor to the Nitro Grill. The Nitro Grill had an equally grandiose location to the Mall of America—the top floor of the Excalibur Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas. The Nitro Grill had some cute menu items, including the Goldberger and the Booker T-Bone Steak, but it opened in 1999, which was the year WCW began its rapid downfall, so it didn’t have much hope as a long-term business venture to begin with. History would prove WCW going out of business might not have been the only problem, though…
1. WWF New York – Owned By Vince McMahon
The ultimate wrestling restaurant was obviously owned by the ultimate wrestling personality, Vince McMahon himself. Technically, the restaurant once called WWF New York and later The World was a subsidiary company of WWE, but ultimately, as with all things WWE, that meant Vince was the man in charge. WWF New York opened a few months after The Nitro Grill, and was initially far more successful than its WCW counterpart. WWE held broadcasts of all live television and Pay-Per-Views from the location in Times Square, and Michael Cole and Tazz even hosted live episodes of Heat from the location, starting in late 2000 through 2001. The restaurant switched names from WWF New York to The World Entertainment when WWF became WWE, but irrelevant of the name change, the company closed the restaurant and sold the location to the Hard Rock Café in 2003.
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