In honor of its 75th anniversary this year, Lawry’s The Prime Rib will begin rolling out a new grilled rib eye steak next month, marking the chain's first new entrée addition in about 20 years.
The addition of the rib eye is a bold move for a chain known for sticking to traditions dating back to the opening of the original Beverly Hills, Calif., location in 1938. Lawry’s The Prime Rib has long been known for its menu almost entirely focused on slow-roasted prime rib, which is carved at the table from rolling silver-domed carts.
Ryan Wilson, corporate executive chef of parent company Lawry’s Restaurants Inc., and a fourth-generation representative of the family-owned business, said the decision to add the rib eye was an attempt to eliminate a veto vote,while still trying to stay true to his great-grandfather’s very focused brand concept.
“We knew that guests weren’t coming in to the restaurants because we weren’t serving a traditional steak,” said Wilson. “Adding a rib-eye steak, done our way using our product, doesn’t diminish the brand in any way. I think it will broaden the appeal of the brand.”
The rib eye is made from the same cut as the prime rib, so it’s more a matter of presentation, said Wilson.
To make the new steak, a whole standing rib roast is slow cooked to very rare over a bed of rock salt, then chilled. Using a custom-built meat saw, the roast is portioned into 24-ounce bone-in or 12-ounce boneless steaks and seasoned.
Then the steaks are charbroiled to order and finished in the oven with a brush of basting butter. The result is a tender steak with a seared, caramelized crust. Served with crispy fried onions and scalloped potatoes, the rib eye is priced at $46 for a 12-ounce steak and $54 for the 24-ounce version.
The steak has been tested as a special in Las Vegas and Chicago, but it will be rolled out as a permanent menu item systemwide, starting in August in Beverly Hills. International locations will add the item in the fourth quarter and into 2014, Wilson said.
Steak lovers should not start looking for a petit filet or other additions to the menu anytime soon, said Wilson.
Renewed focus on growth
Los Angeles-based Lawry’s Restaurants Inc. is also poised for new growth in the U.S. and overseas. The company currently operates and licenses nine Lawry’s The Prime Rib locations, as well as two units of The Carvery and the one-off restaurants Five Crowns, with its adjacent gastro pub SideDoor, and Tam O’Shanter.
The company is in the process of bringing a new Lawry’s The Prime Rib location to Seoul, Korea — a first for the chain, which has seen success in Asia with licensed locations in Japan, Singapore, Hong Kong and Taipei.
The company is also looking for more corporate locations in the U.S. in addition to growing its other concepts, such as its fast-casual sandwich concept, The Carvery, which currently has two units in Southern California.
In 2009, Wilson added the SideDoor gastro pub concept to the company’s English-themed Five Crowns restaurant in Corona del Mar, Calif., another landmark restaurant dating back to 1965, which also serves prime rib. The 90-seat gastro pub offers 12 beers on tap, wines by the glass and craft cocktails with a more casual menu, like prime rib sandwiches and prime rib chili cheese fries.
SideDoor has exceeded expectations, and the company plans to add a similar unit to the Lawry’s Prime Rib in Chicago this fall. Wilson said some elements of the concept will also likely be added to the Lawry’s in Dallas, though it may not be called SideDoor there.
Richard Frank, Lawry’s Restaurants president and chief executive and Wilson’s uncle, said the addition of more approachable price points allows the company to compete with steakhouse chains that have been adding more-affordable bar and prix fixe menus. Still, SideDoor won’t come to Beverly Hills or Las Vegas because the Lawry’s there don’t have the foot traffic, he said.
Lastly, Wilson said he is working on menu upgrades at the Tam O’ Shanter, a restaurant the family opened in 1922 that is believed to be one of the oldest in Los Angeles to operate continuously at the same location. Prime rib will remain the focus of that menu, Wilson said, but he is adding more entrée salads, burger and sandwiches at different price points.
“I think it’s a trend we’re seeing and something we learned with SideDoor. You can still build a great dining experience and check average if you give guests more price points to choose from,” said Wilson.