Can you solve the mystery before dessert?
JUST THREE AND A HALF SHORT YEARS after Lawry’s the Prime Rib opened in Beverly Hills, the clouds of war that had been gathering in Europe finally burst and a surprise attack on Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor swept the U.S into World War II on December 7, 1941.
Citizens on the home front were urged to sacrifice and become “soldiers without uniforms.” To conserve tire rubber, drivers observed a national maximum “Victory Speed” of 35 MPH. Within six months, the War Price and Rationing Board imposed strict limits on the purchase of many commodities — from gasoline to typewriters, shoes to silk — all in support of the war effort.
In his 1963 interview about the first fifty years of the Frank and Van de Kamp family enterprises, Lawry’s co-founder Lawrence Frank discusses the potentially disastrous effect of beef rationing on his relatively new but already thriving restaurant.
“During the war, we were confronted with a terrific problem. We only received sufficient meat rationing stamps to keep the restaurant open for a couple hours a week. We only had about two standing ribs a week. Remember, two a week, not a day.”
Lawrence’s unique idea — to base the restaurant’s menu on a single entrée, the supply of which was now severely restricted under pressure of war — presented a dilemma serious enough to scuttle the business. One option, taken by a number of competitors, was the Black Market.
“It was impossible to operate legitimately and honestly and still conform to the government’s regulations, but we did. All around us, you could buy steaks or anything you wanted, but you couldn’t buy them at Lawry’s. We couldn’t operate as a prime rib house because we would not buy from the Black Market.”
Looking back at this crucial moment, Lawrence speaks with justifiable pride — and with more than a faint echo of the hyperbolic menu language used twenty years earlier.
“We went out and bought the finest turkeys in the land and did a job that has never been equaled and served them from the cart.”
The restaurant’s integrity was not lost on his employees or guests.
“That we actually, literally Wartime menu conformed to the regulations made a tremendous impression on the boys and girls with us. We served nothing but turkeys; there wasn’t any deviation. I think the fact that the girls could look people square in the eye and say with sincerity, ‘This company will not resort to the Black Market and we cannot give you roast beef” made a very definite impression on people. It was really something, patriotic or not, but we did it.”
His business-saving idea was intended as a stopgap measure that lasted until 1946 when rationing came to an end and prime rib was available once more. But the turkey had become a favorite with the guests.
“The success we had with the turkeys was outstanding. To this day people come in and ask, ‘when are you going to serve those wonderful turkeys again.’”
Lawry’s had turned a possible catastrophic situation into another success story and established a now 67-year-old tradition of serving the finest roasted turkey in addition to the best in prime rib on Thanksgiving at all Lawry’s restaurants.
Lawry's The Prime Rib — Beverly Hills
100 N La Cienega Blvd, Beverly Hills, CA 90211