‘Bonanza’: How ‘Hoss’ Cartwright Actor Dan Blocker Started Show-Based Restaurant Chains

by Joe Rutland

Just how popular was NBC’s western hit show “Bonanza”? So popular that “Hoss” Cartwright opened up the first “Bonanza Steakhouse” himself.

Well, actor Dan Blocker, who played Eric “Hoss” Cartwright, did just that in 1963 in Westport, Conn., according to an article on ME.tv. Its original name was the “Bonanza Sirloin Pit,” where steak lovers could go and get their fill. The building itself has a pretty cool story behind it, too.

It originally was built in 1925 as a bus station called the Greyhound Post House. It also served food, too. Who could have imagined that “Hoss” would start a string of restaurants in that location?

‘Bonanza’ Star Dan Blocker Makes Appearances At Places

As Dan Blocker and his character became more famous on “Bonanza,” he spent time promoting the brand. Blocker even went to local franchises for appearances.

A trio of businessmen started a similar “Bonanza”-inspired steakhouse in 1965 in Kokomo, Ind. It was called the Ponderosa Steakhouse, taking its name from the land where the Cartwrights lived. In 1966, the Wyly brothers purchased Bonanza Steakhouses. By 1989, there were 600 restaurants across North America.

These days, the total number of restaurants is around 75. Both Bonanza and Ponderosa brands became one in 1997.

Dan Blocker died on May 13, 1972, from a pulmonary embolism after gall bladder surgery in a Los Angeles hospital. He was 43. “Bonanza” addressed the death of “Hoss” Cartwright on the show, which lasted just one more season after Blocker’s death.

Michael Landon Broke Down After Dan Blocker Death

Blocker’s death affected the entire cast and crew of “Bonanza,” not to mention the millions of viewers who tuned in each week on NBC.

Co-star Michael Landon tried to put on a brave face and keep everyone in high spirits. Eventually, the mask slipped, and Landon broke down on set.

The actor became emotional during a speech about Blocker.

“He broke down during it,” said actor Ken Howard, who’s best known for his lead role on “The White Shadow.” “What he was saying to this group, to this crew that had been together forever, was that we all know it’s not the same, and never will be.” 

During the premiere of the show’s 14th and final season, the crew made the decision to kill off Hoss. They wanted to allow the audience to grieve with them.

Landon reflected on the episode and Blocker’s death.

“We try to mention Hoss’ death very simply, in passing … it might not please everybody,” Landon said. “I’m sure that some people would rather have a whole hour memorial to Dan, but we just couldn’t do that. We tried to do what we thought he would have wanted us to do.”