Can you solve the mystery before dessert?
THE IMMEDIATE SUCCESS of the Beverly Hills restaurant in 1938 didn’t limit Lawrence’s restless imagination, nor did it diminish his focus on offering a unique dining experience to his guests. Even so, what we know today as the world’s most popular spice blend, Lawry’s Seasoned Salt, had a humble start.
“None of us had any idea how popular it would be.”
The restaurant’s whole standing ribs of beef were encased in salt for roasting, but otherwise remained unseasoned when carved and served tableside. Lawrence decided to invent an entirely new seasoning the guests could use on their individual cuts of prime rib.
Lawrence decided to invent an entirely new seasoning
“The creation of Seasoned Salt was only for the purpose of enhancing the flavor of our prime rib. I was striving for a blend of herbs and spices that was so perfectly done that no one would say it’s celery salt, garlic salt, onion salt or just paprika with salt.”
Being something of a “food tinkerer” — and not one to leave his work at the office — he was determined to perfect his latest idea.
“There were so many tests. We worked on the blend from one to three times a week, maybe for a period of 90 days in the kitchen of my residence in Pasadena. It was a case of purchasing small cans of every type of herb and spice and mixing them in a big bowl. We measured each ingredient each time and kept a record.”
We worked on the blend from one to three times a week
Once again a family member was part of the “mix.”
“I say ‘we’ because my wife’s cousin, Mr. Jim Willmas, who was out here at the time, assisted me in the production of the salt.”
After introducing his diners to his new seasoning in 1939, Lawrence, the ever-vigilant entrepreneur, soon recognized the potential in the “third shaker” that now graced the Prime Rib’s tables.
“Patrons inquired whether it could be purchased. So we sold it at the cashier’s desk.”
the seasoned salt routinely disappeared from the tables
(Although discreetly not mentioned in the interview, the seasoned salt routinely disappeared from the tables — another sure sign of its popularity.)
“What really caused us to perk up and take notice of what we had were the letters we received from patrons from all over the United States, especially back east.”
Lawrence’s brother-in-law, restaurant co-founder, and ad man, Walter Van de Kamp, was quick to contribute his expertise and contacts to begin the process of distributing and marketing Lawry’s Seasoned Salt. This would eventually lead to the development of Lawry’s Foods, Inc., which, by the time of its merger with Thomas J. Lipton in 1979, had grown into a multi-million dollar international business.
In the 1963 interview, Lawrence still seems surprised that his “salt” would become so popular and make “Lawry’s” a household word around the world.
“Now that really tells the story of the ‘pipe dream’ we had. I didn’t envision any possibility of its development into a separate corporation that would reach the height and volume our business has today.”
In Part Three we learn of a wartime threat to Lawry’s The Prime Rib’s very survival.