Do one thing and do it well. That's the guiding principle at Lawry's The Prime Rib. You can probably guess by the restaurant's name what that thing is: beef. Huge, honking, slabs of the stuff, carved to order at your table, drizzled with au jus and served with crisp Yorkshire pudding. Whether it's National Prime Rib Day (April 27 and yes, there's a holiday for everything) or any time of year, it's always a good time to rediscover this L.A. classic.
When brothers-in-law Lawrence L. Frank and Walter Van de Kamp debuted Lawry's in Beverly Hills in 1938, it wasn't their first foray into the restaurant business. The duo had opened the successful Tam O'Shanter Inn in Atwater Village in 1922. The historic Scottish-themed pub is said to be the oldest surviving restaurant in Los Angeles. Lawrence Frank's grandson, Richard R. Frank, is Lawry’s president and CEO. His nephew, John Van de Kamp, is the company's chairman.
Lawry's originally served only one entree: roasted prime rib. The beef was wheeled out to the dining room on a custom "silver" cart and carved to diners' specifications at the table, a novelty for that era. The meat came with a side of creamed spinach, a baked potato and a dollop of whipped cream horseradish.
The original stainless steel carts were designed by Lawrence Frank and were heated by pans of charcoal in the lower section. A fully loaded cart weighs nearly 900 pounds, so heavy that asphalt tile had to be installed in the original restaurant to make sure the floor wouldn't collapse. In 1937, one of these carts cost $3,200. Today, it costs $32,000.
It takes six months of training for staffers to learn how to hand-carve Lawry's prime rib and join the Royal Order of Carvers, which allows them to work in the main dining room. They wear a medallion to signify their status.
In 1938, a meal of prime rib with Yorkshire pudding and mashed potatoes at Lawry’s cost a mere $1.25.
Lawry's is famous for its seasoned salt, which millions of Americans have used to spice up their meals when they couldn't make it into the restaurant. But the famous herb blend came before the restaurant. Originally named Seazn-all, it was developed by Lawrence Frank at the Tam O'Shanter and was initially served only to customers of that restaurant. In 1938, Ralph’s became the first major grocery chain to carry the spice blend.
The original seasoned salt has inspired dozens of seasonings, marinades and breading mixes. On all of them, you'll see a fanciful "L" logo. It was created in 1959 by Saul Bass, who was famous for designing the titles for classic movies like Vertigo and West Side Story.
Lawry's claims to have invented two services that are now standard in the restaurant world: valet parking and the doggie bag.
Lawry’s was one of the first fine dining restaurants to hire only women as servers. They wore brown dresses with white pinafores, a design that was modeled after the uniforms worn by waitresses at the Harvey House, a chain of restaurants originally built along railroad stops in the late 1800s.
Except for the four years of World War II, when beef was rationed and Lawry’s served roast turkey, the restaurant didn't make it its first major menu change until 1993, when lobster and fresh fish were added.
The beef served at Lawry's has been aged for 25 days and is roasted on a bed of rock salt to maintain its tenderness.
Lawry's most famous annual event is the Beef Bowl, which occurs every year before the Rose Bowl Game. The tradition dates back to 1956. The two teams competing in the game are invited to the restaurant (on different nights) to see how much meat they can consume. A Beef Bowl "victory" doesn't always translate to the actual game - before the 2016 Rose Bowl, Iowa players ate 612 pounds of prime rib compared to 504 pounds for Stanford — but the Hawkeyes still got trounced by the Cardinal, 45-16.
Lawry's The Prime Rib in Beverly Hills still stands on its original site although it's in a newer, more modern building. For 46 years, between 1947 and 1993, it was located on the other side of the street. It's no longer the only Lawry's. The chain now has 10 outposts including locations as far-flung as Taipei and Osaka.
Lawry’s The Prime Rib has served over 10,000,000 pounds of beef during its nearly 80-year history. Every month, the Beverly Hills flagship serves an average of:
- 1,500 pounds of creamed corn
- 1,000 pounds of creamed spinach
- 1,900 pounds of baked potato
- 9,750 pounds of mashed potatoes