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When my grandfather Lawrence Frank and his brother-in-law Walter Van de Kamp founded Lawry’s The Prime Rib in 1938, they already had close to 20 years’ experience in the restaurant business. The families’ thriving Van de Kamp’s Bakery business was supported by a number of Van de Kamp’s coffee shops. The entrepreneurs had also opened what would become the Tam O’Shanter a few miles from downtown L.A. The Tam had done well, building its reputation on hamburgers and Sunday country-style chicken dinners. But the new restaurant in Beverly Hills would be in a different league altogether, unlike any that had come before. Although Grandpa was told by his peers that a single entrée menu featuring the fanciest cut of beef would never fly, he was convinced that prime rib carved tableside and served from “silver” carts he designed would be a great success. He was right.
Next year we’ll celebrate the 80th anniversary of the innovative restaurant my grandfather boldly created in the midst of the Great Depression. It represents the latest milestone in the long history of a multi-generational business that I feel lucky to be part of.
The new restaurant in Beverly Hills would be unlike any that had come before.
World War II brought an unexpected challenge to the Prime Rib. Strict rationing was in place and, unlike many of his competitors, my grandfather refused to turn to the black market for the beef Lawry’s depended on. Instead, he decided to serve roast turkey from his signature silver carts. His customers supported his principled stand—and loved the turkey. Lawry’s survived to once again offer prime rib when the war ended.
My father, Richard N., joined the family business in 1947, the same year Lawry’s The Prime Rib moved across the street into a new custom-built restaurant that could handle the expanding guest count. Nine years later, he started Lawry’s Beef Bowl, which became a nationally recognized part of the annual Rose Bowl Tournament. It remains a much-anticipated event for the company, my family, and friends, not to mention the city and the championship teams who attend. I’m pretty sure I’ve been to at least 50 of the 60 Beef Bowls myself.
In 1974, Lawry’s took a big step when Dad opened a second Prime Rib in Chicago. This would eventually lead to restaurants in Dallas and Las Vegas. We had come a long way from a small “risky” business my grandfather started seventy-nine years ago.
We had come a long way from a small “risky” business.
I joined the company in 1982, proud to be a member of the third generation in the family business and especially glad to work alongside my father. My grandfather had been mercurial. By comparison, Dad was quieter, someone whose actions spoke louder than words. I’m not saying we didn’t butt heads sometimes, but generally I knew it was wise to follow his lead.
In 1992, I became President of Lawry’s Restaurants. Around that time, I convinced my father to build a bigger Lawry’s The Prime Rib on the property we still owned directly across La Cienega Blvd. and had moved from 45 years earlier. Once again, our restaurant and kitchen were too small to handle the crowds.
I remember staring down into the gigantic hole that was to become the two-story parking garage and foundation of our new Lawry’s. I thought about the risks my grandfather and father had taken over the years and the one we were taking now. I remembered we weren’t just investing in our business, but also in our co-workers, our guests and the city that had made us successful. Early in 1993, with our beautiful multi-million dollar building completed, we wheeled our carts back to the address where it all began in a ceremonial “Crossing” that made the evening news.
We weren’t just investing in our business, but also in our co-workers, our guests and the city that had made us successful.
In the years since, we’ve worked with terrific partners to bring seven Lawry’s restaurants to Asia with plans for more. And we endured a difficult recession that closed many restaurants.
Since Lawry’s The Prime Rib started, we’ve continued to adapt to change while maintaining our values and identity. We still offer the same classic prime rib experience my grandfather believed would be popular in 1938. He’d be thrilled to know that eight decades later we’re still here adding to our history.
From the desk of Richard R. Frank