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Celebrating 70 Prime Years

Richard R. Frank found out early how people felt about the family restaurant business.

Frank remembers fidgeting, as a child, while his mother lingered over her after-dinner coffee at his family’s original Lawry’s the Prime Rib in Beverly Hills, Calif., and being dispatched to the coat-check room near the restaurant’s lounge. (He also remembers refusing to eat the restaurant’s iconic creamed spinach, “until I was about 8 years old and actually tasted it.”)

“Penny Jones was the coat-check girl for 50 years,” said Frank, now 53 and the company’s president and chief executive officer. “I’d sit on her stool and watch the world go by. I remember the lounge was always filled with people. I’d think, ‘Wow, we must do a heck of a bar business.’

“Turns out our guests aren’t heavy drinkers and don’t do a lot of drinking in the bar.” What he observed was people waiting for tables — as long as a two-hour wait on a busy night, in the days when the restaurant didn’t accept reservations.

It has been 70 years since that first Lawry’s opened. Restaurants in Chicago, Dallas and Las Vegas — in 1997 — followed, and the company has licensed five restaurants in Asia, with a sixth to open there in September. To celebrate the occasion, Frank and his father, company chairman Richard N. Frank, recently toured the American restaurants to dine with guests and reminisce.

Those attending the dinners, he said, were “mostly fans of Lawry’s — longtime guests who want to hear more about the company and who, frankly, want to share their memories.” At the Beverly Hills dinner, one diner recounted having been a guest at the restaurant’s original location in the early 1940s.

“We have guests going back many, many years,” he said.

So it’s only fitting that much of the dinner conversation revolved around “what sets us apart and has enabled us to be in business 70 years with Lawry’s the Prime Rib, 86 years with the Tam O’Shanter in Los Angeles.”

That, he said, had much to do with the Lawry’s Code of Ethics, formulated by Frank’s grandfather.

“It’s really about doing the right thing,” he said, and it’s “something I didn’t have a full appreciation for when I joined the company. The company culture — the people you hire, how you treat them — is important. Our people are different; they get it.”

Frank said Lawry’s long-standing, very limited menu has pros and cons.

“We haven’t had to change the meal very much over the years,” he said. “Our challenge is figuring out when we do need to make a change.” In Las Vegas, demand led to the addition of a rib-eye steak to the menu, which is dominated by prime rib.

Then again, it has staved off competition.

“Virtually no one has said, ‘We’ll just copy what they’re doing,’ ” he noted. “It kind of stands alone in the marketplace.”

Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at hrinella@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0474.

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