Ponderosa

This restaurant, situated in the corner of a shopping mall on Jefferson Boulevard in Culver City — was unrelated to the chain of Ponderosa Steak Houses that now dot the nation.  This one was a huge “all you can eat” emporium that my friends and I loved in the seventies and eighties.  It was set up cafeteria-style with a large salad bar and then a carving station where several chefs would dispense about six different entrees including prime rib, baked ham, roast turkey and corned beef, and as many side dishes.  The food was pretty decent but of course, the best part was that you could go back for more and more and more, and you could try everything.

What fascinated me about the place was that while the outside advertising emphasized how you could stuff yourself on meat for a modest price, once you were inside, all efforts were devoted to getting you to eat the cheap foods.  Servers would place baskets of very fine, thick-sliced sourdough bread on your table and tell you how yummy it was.  They were also apparently instructed to never take away a dirty plate until you’d eaten every possible scrap of edible material on it.  If you tried to get them to remove a plate with one more bite on it, they’d look at you like you couldn’t possibly be serious and ask, “But…aren’t you going to eat that?”

In the meantime, you had to pass the salad bar to get to where they carved the prime rib and if you hadn’t already put a lot of lettuce on your plate, the carvers would look at you in astonishment and mutter, “No salad?”  Like they were very concerned you get a balanced diet.  As you went back for your third or fourth helping, the slices would get thinner and they’d hurriedly toss a huge scoop of rice or mashed potatoes on your plate even before you asked for a side dish.

Once, I talked to the manager about booking a banquet there for C.A.P.S., the cartoonist group of which I was then president.  He told me they loved private parties and explained to me that private parties were not on an “all you can eat” basis.  The way it worked, when our group was ready to dine, they’d close off the serving line to everyone but us.  We could then go through and each of us could have our pick on any of their entrees, which would be carved for us in portions larger than the usual serving size for the Ponderosa.

After I left, I realized two things.  One was that our members would complain about the cost per plate, which was higher than the “all you can eat” price to eat the same food if you were dining in the next room.  Also, I realized that we’d become part of the restaurant’s efforts to get their patrons to not go back for more food.  It would take our group at least twenty minutes to go through that serving line, during which all the other folks dining in the restaurant wouldn’t be able to get seconds or thirds or ninths.  I think that was the main reason they liked private parties.

22 Responses to Ponderosa

  • IVANWAXMAN says:

    i wuold like to say i grew up at the pondersosa house of prime rib my father that passed last year at the age of 101 he was the headchef leon waxman.that company was a good place going in with father and eating ice cream for breakfast on saturdays. and all of the chrristmas parties all of families had lots. there are so many memories but the roll.n rye is in the place where the ponderosa.
    im sorry but thinking about my father makes me cry.thank you my father was the late leon waxman

  • IVANWAXMAN says:

    correction christmas parties.other gathering.our family had our parties there and the staff was great sure do miss it

  • Craig Printup says:

    Good food and happy memories. I got a Flexo mini-bike for X-mas 1970, and I went to the parking lot surrounding the Ponderosa to ride it that day. When eating there, I used to always ask for the end pieces because I like the well done crunchy crust, and no one ever wanted well done prime rib, so the would give you a huge portion, just to get rid of the ends.

  • Kathie says:

    I loved going there for lunch when they had a menu rather than the buffet. I would always get the prime rib bones left from the night before drenched in a really nice barbeque sauce. Those are still the beef ribs I compare others to.

  • Neill Kovrig says:

    Oh … my … gosh – I remember the Ponderosa so well. I was just a kid when we lived in Culver City (right on Overland, at the Grecian Gardens), and we would go to the Ponderosa for dinner sometimes. My uncle was friends with a bartender there, whose name was Kitty … she would ply me with cherry cokes haha :)

    Between this one, and the page on Ship’s (where we would go ALL the time), I’ve slipped back into my childhood – it’s a nice feeling. Thank you for having this nice trip down Memory Lane available.

  • LE$ says:

    I can still remember the pictures of spurs, horseshoes, and other ranch related objects around the rim of the plates. My Mom & Dad always ordered the prime rib. Me, SPARERIBS!

  • Cindy says:

    Loved this restaurant! But I want to know if anyone might know the salad dressing from the salad bar. It was so good. It was a french dressing but it was thin, and like a vinagrette. Could never duplicate it, but would love to hear if someone might know what ingredients went into it. My favorite part of the Ponderosa!!

  • Pam (Pitti) Turner says:

    Coming from a Cowboy movie family this place was a favorite for my family and then later some great date nights. Loved the Prime Rib. My steady boyfriend worked at Stern’s Barbeque but he took me here. We went to Stern’s too (great baked beans there!) but the Ponderosa usually was the first choice…maybe it was the all you can eat(?)…for sure…we were hungry and growing teens back then. Thanks for the memories!

  • J. says:

    I always made up names of drinks based on famous people, usually athletes, when I would be taken there as a child. It was better than ordering a Shirley Temple. Sometimes they’d take the easy way out and bring a Shirley Temple but other times they’d be creative in the bar and serve me an interesting non alcoholic concoction. The best of these was the Too Tall Jones which I came up with when I remembered Ed ‘Too Tall’ Jones from the Dallas Cowboys.

  • Charley says:

    We had a friend who would head directly for the prime rib, skipping all the salads. We used to joke that he ate so much that he put them out of business.

  • brian trester says:

    is this the same ponderosa that is also know as Bonaza? we have both here still in Iowa but most are now Bonanza’s they are not bad esp the steak but have gone down hill in quality in the last years

  • gary says:

    Was a kid when my grandfather work here….can remember as a teen taking my dates here to eat…good food and cheap…lol

  • Steve says:

    To brian trester, I think this Ponderosa was a one of a kind and not a chain. I have seen other Ponderosas, but it’s a common name and not related that I know of.

  • Bill says:

    As a kid in the late 60s early 70s our family would go there for dinner before we went across the street to see a movie at the Studio Drive-In……………remember?

  • Sondra says:

    I remember taking my family there after church. That was the place to
    eat after church. The prime rib (end cut) was the best!

  • Michael Fuhrman says:

    I remember going there and the prime rib was good but every time you went back the big server would give you the stink eye and serve you a thinner piece.

  • Elise says:

    Grew up in Culver City and drove past Ponderosa many times, but I never remember eating there.

  • Phil A. says:

    ~ Elise ~
    I know you from your ” RJ’s for Ribs ” posting. I still smile every day about you not remembering eating as you were so hungry.
    Anyway, you must have been a patron of Woody’s SmorgasBurger.
    I worked there from July of 1964 until July of 1966. I was then promoted to manager of the El Segundo unit.

    Today I would bet my wife’s retirement that I had served you at the CC store. I would also bet you filled out a Birthday Club Card with your address on it and then handed it to the cutest guy on the line that day.
    Boy, did we have fun with that advertising promotion.

    Phil Ankofski

  • Susan says:

    I agree with Steve from July 22…I just stumbled across this article while trying to find Ponderosa in San Diego where I grew up. It was unique and NOT the Ponderosa Steakhouse chain. If I remember correctly, the interior was red with red wrap-around table booths and red décor. I fondly remember their prime rib.

  • LE$ says:

    My Mom & Dad and I used to go there. I remember brown ranch-style symbols around the rim of the plates.

  • Tim Wells says:

    I liked the Ponderosa, but there was one issue. The place was nice, the staff friendly, the food was good and the price reasonable. However, the buffet line was usually long and slow. I went there for the prime rib, and they sliced it very thin. When I asked for a thicker slice, they said I could come back as many times as I wished for more and they were not allowed to deviate from policy. The explanation was too many patrons left too much on their plates uneaten when served large portions This makes sense, but at 6′ and 300 lbs., it was obvious anyone I never left food on my plate or anyone else’s at my table. So instead of just going back to the carving station, one had to go through the whole line again just to get another thin slice of meat. On a busy night it took too long, especially if going to a movie after dinner. I finally gave up and went to other places to avoid the aggravation.

  • mcfly1982 says:

    Hmmmm I wonder if this is the same all you can eat restaurant that use to be on Sepulveda/Jefferson across the street from Toys R Us in Culver City. I use to come here as kid in the 80′s with my parents. The prime rib was just as others have described. I remember the booths being red and the smoking section was near the front, you’d have to climb a step or two to sit in the area. I also remember there being a surly old woman who ran the place, or at least, ran the cash register. The pancakes were good too.

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