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Jim Allen reflects on Hard Rock at 50

Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen speaks during a press event June 10, 2021, at Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood. Hard Rock is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. (Photo Damon Scott)

HOLLYWOOD – When Peter Morton and Isaac Tigrett opened the first Hard Rock Café in London in 1971, no one could have imagined that 50 years later it would be a global brand that serves more than 100 million people a year at not only cafes, but hotels, casinos, resorts and live music venues.

Hard Rock International Chairman and Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen recently reflected on his part of the story and that of the Seminole Tribe. He said it began July 4, 2006 – “the real day that changed the Hard Rock.” Allen spoke at a media event June 10 at the Hard Rock Café at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino Hollywood.

Prior to July 4, 2006, Allen said, he had been relentless for almost two years in trying to convince then-Hard Rock owners Rank Group PLC to sell to the Seminole Tribe.

“They told me ‘no’ about 30 times,” Allen said. “But then they called me up and said ‘we’re gonna sell.’”

It was good news, except Rank Group was simply letting Allen know they were putting the Hard Rock up for a public auction. Along with the tribe, Allen said there were more than 72 bidders, including large private equity firms, major restaurant companies, hotel companies and a few casinos.

“We were in the battle of our lives and I assure you they didn’t want to sell Hard Rock to a Native American tribe from the U.S.,” he said.

The first bid was rejected, so Allen called his team together and they worked around the clock to put together another one. Rank Group narrowed the bidders from 72 to 30 – and then to 14.

“And then we literally battled the final three or four bidders, which were large – in one case a private equity group with hundreds of billions of dollars,” Allen said. “How is this little tribe from Florida and this crazy guy from Jersey gonna buy this brand?”

But it happened. The purchase was officially announced about five months later on Dec. 11, 2006. The tribe bought the Hard Rock for $965 million in a deal that became official in March 2007 and included 124 Hard Rock Cafes, four Hard Rock Hotels, two Hard Rock Casinos and two Hard Rock Live venues.

Sixteen years later, the brand has expanded in a massive way and has a presence in 68 countries. There are many more locations and where there was no memorabilia, there are now 86,000 pieces on display; where there was no live music, there are now 30,000 live music events held each year.

“If the Seminole Tribe had not purchased Hard Rock, it would not be what it is today,” Allen said. “I look at Hard Rock today and I think about where it started – to me it’s kind of like ‘wow,’ – you have to pinch yourself. People talk about lifestyle brands, but Hard Rock is really the first lifestyle brand.”

The Hard Rock brand started in 1971 with the opening of a Hard Rock Cafe in London. (Photo Damon Scott)

Milestones, memories

Allen announced a new milestone at the event. He said the tribe recently purchased the building that houses the original Hard Rock Café in London – a location that had always been under a lease agreement.

“The original location can stay there forever, because we don’t have to worry about the landlord anymore,” Allen said. “We didn’t want to lose that iconic location.”

Allen related the story to the Seminole Classic Casino in Hollywood, the tribe’s first. It’s adjacent to the towering Guitar Hotel and its amenities and huge casino. He said the Classic Casino has a special value.

“Because that’s where Native American gaming started; that’s the basis of over three or four Supreme Court decisions and that’s what’s launched a business for Native Americans around the United States that exceeds over $30 billion a year and employs hundreds of thousands of people on an annual basis.”

Allen said there are many fond memories in his Hard Rock journey, but one stands out above all. He said it was when tribal members joined him in Times Square in New York City to announce the purchase.

“We just were overwhelmed. I started doing interviews at 2 a.m. and I lost my voice about 8:30, nine o’ clock,” Allen said. “It was just a world-renowned story. When people think of tribes, they could just never imagine a tribe that is as successful, the unconquered warriors – their story is just truly astonishing and I think the day we purchased Hard Rock that was a pretty legendary deal.”

Damon Scott
Damon is a multimedia journalist for the Seminole Tribune. He has previously been an editor and reporter for digital and print media in Florida and his home state of New Mexico. Send him an email at