Victoria Station

At last report, there was only one outlet remaining of this once-proud chain…in Salem, MA stands the last of the railroad-themed restaurants known as Victoria Station.  The first of them, which was opened in San Francisco in the late sixties, was an outgrowth of a graduate project by three students at Cornell University Hotel School, Bob Freeman, Peter Lee and Dick Bradley.  Their new eatery, colorfully decorated with pieces of old trains and London-style phone booths, caught on big and soon there were approximately a hundred of them in existence, including the one I frequented.  It was at Universal Studios, not far from where the famous studio tour commenced.  The Victoria Station there was huge and it was said to be one of the top-grossing restaurants in America.  Based on the crowds, I wasn’t surprised to hear that.

The specialty of a Victoria Station was prime rib but you could also get a steak or ribs or roast chicken or Shrimp Victoria, which was like scampi but without vast amounts of garlic.  The food was all pretty good but I recall some long, long waits for a table and if you weren’t going on the Universal Tour (and I never was) the parking could be quite inconvenient.  It was a place I’d never choose to dine but business associates kept asking me to meet them there for meals, and its banquet room housed many a party I felt I had to attend.

One nice feature of that Victoria Station (and perhaps others) was the employee morale.  The folks who worked there liked working there, and the chain was often written up as one of the more benevolent employers in the country, offering its workers stock options and other unusual benefits.  In keeping with the railroad theme, Johnny Cash did their commercials.

So what happened to this successful chain?  Its one-time Director of Marketing, Tom Blake, authored a whole book on the subject that charged arrogance and mismanagement at the company’s highest levels destroyed the business.  News reports at the time seemed to substantiate his view, which was a shame.  All the folks who worked there seemed so happy to be working there.

42 Responses to Victoria Station

  • Craig D. Smith says:

    Another restaurant I never patronized and still have a comment on. Mark mentions the employees at V.S. really seemed to like it there and it must be true. Back in the 80′s I worked for an art retouching studio in Hollywood and the Office Manager would put in a full day there on Friday and then cheerily change into her Victoria Station waitress uniform and do another shift up there.

  • Bill Cotter says:

    The food at Victoria Station was good, but getting there was a real pain. You had to fight the traffic trying to get into Universal Studios, then ride that dumb little funicular car up the hill from the parking lot. It had a habit of breaking down all too frequently, which sometimes left you stranded up at the restaurant looking down and your car off in the distance.

    The bar area was a nice spot to sit and wait for your table to be ready, as they had crocks of cheese with crackers to help pass the time. Well, they did at first, but crowds of people waiting for the Universal Amphitheater came over to the restaurant and started eating the cheese like locusts devouring crop fields. Sadly that put an end to the crocks of cheese…

  • michael martino says:

    wasn’t ther a Victoria Station in West Los Angeles near Pico and Sepulveda?

  • Joe Ruby says:

    There was one on Rt. 161 in Columbus, Ohio too! I remember it as a destination restaurant with great food!

  • Doug Ewen says:

    There was a great Victoria Station just outside the Coast Guard Base in Alameda, CA. I was there in the 70′s and remember it well…

  • Jim Baldwin says:

    Hi there,
    I am writing a book about the Victoria Station Restaurant at Universal Studios, that was there from 1977 – 1997. Does anyone have any photos of it that I can use and what happened to the FLYING SCOTSMAN cars and railway furniture after the restaurant closed in 1997.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

  • Paul Duron says:

    I fondly remember going to Victoria Station quite often. Especially the one on Sepulveda bld. just North of Pico. I loved eating cheese and crackers as my family and I waited to be seated. On new years eve 1979 I took a date to the Universal Studios Victoria Station. Its sad they no longer exist.

  • Adam Gold says:

    I always went there with dates before concerts at the amphitheatre, back when it was still open-air. The All-You-Can-Eat BBQ Ribs were simply outstanding and almost made the night affordable. The place is sorely missed.

  • Jeff says:

    VS as we called it was an amazing place to work I loved the people we were all like a family together food was great and simple I worked at the one in Newport Beach CA 990 Dove st. 1975 to 1982 I miss those times just an amazing place to work it was sad to see it go downhill in the 80’s

  • Jeff says:

    I strongly believe they could have regained their popularity with some good advertising and a better menu just a few more items not 30 like they tried the one time and failed miserably. They returned to their old simple menu but the damage was done this lost a lot of customers and it looked like they just gave up shriveled and vanished in a whimper very shameful to us hard working employees

  • rel says:

    I worked for VS from 1974-1979, started as a busboy and ended up going to their managment school in Lake Tahoe. Great times. Worked for them in Denver,Salt Lake City,Columbus and Seattle. The reason the employees were so happy is because we smoked pot all the time. Regional managers on down to the the dishwasher. Fun times and beautiful cocktail waitresses especially in Denver.

  • Dave says:

    I just ate at Victoria Station not long ago in Salem, Ma. They still have good prime rib!

  • JOHN ARCHER "RAILROAD" SLOBODIN says:

    I AM SORRY THAT YOUR CHAIN HAS GONE OUT OF BUSINESS. I GUESST THAT WAS PART OF THE ECONOMY DROP. PLEASE GET BACK TO ME IF ANY OF YOUR RESTAURANTS ARE STILL IN BUSINESS IN NORTHERN CALIFORNIA. THANK-YOU.

  • Leigh says:

    Absolutely loved the restaurant. It was such a treat for my son when he was a little boy,and we’d go shopping in South Coast Plaza. He loved ‘eating in the train’. The food – wonderful.

  • Mike Webb says:

    The place in South Coast Plaza was NOT Victoria Station I can’t remember the name of that place but it’s not Victoria Station. I never visited it as to the quality I can’t say but I did hear good things.

    But you are mistaken the only Victoria Station in that area was at 990 Dove St. in Newport Beach, CA

  • Phil ( Mr. A. ) says:

    I had no idea that VS was a national chain !
    I took my girlfriend to the location near our neighborhood ( Franklin, MI )
    for her birthday which was in mid January. We would have froze to death had it not been for their generous cocktails.
    Those train cars had no insulation adjustment for the colder weather climates. It was like having dinner in their walk in freezer !
    Although the drinks were great and food was fine, we just could never go back because we remembered how damn cold we were.
    Phil Ankofski

  • Kevin says:

    It was a great place to dine. I went to the the one on Ventura Blvd just west of Winnetka. For me it was part of a successful formula. Get Mom’s and Dad’s car, take a date to Victoria Station, then to the drive-in for some Paradise by the Dashboard Lights. Good times.

  • Chris says:

    In response to Mike Webb, there was a Victoria Station on Beach Blvd. near Westminster Blvd, across from the traffic court. I know this because I worked there, as did a few of my friends. It was one of the early stores, too.

  • Richard says:

    I needed a job,so worked as a dish washer at the Tahoe City location.
    Ended up teaching meat cutting to hotel school grads and preparing staff meals. circa 1978

  • Mike Webb says:

    To Chris

    That was not a true Victoria Station yes they did open it up as a Victoria Station but it was another restaurant before that. The real Victoria stations were train cars welded together that was an afterthought by them this store on Beach and a bad choice I trained a number of the employees when it opened up and this was close to the end of the company. This was one of the last places they tried to open up.

    That store was opened up around 1979 or 1980 I think and it never made money and was considered a joke by most True Victoria Station employees.

    I trained the back of the house employees for around one week interesting store but not a true Victoria Station Chris.

    I think they even had a different menu than the True Victoria Stations

    It was an experiment that FAILED you may have been working for someone that purchased it and kept the name I do think that is what happened they sold it but allowed the new owners to keep the name as they were in big money troubles at that time.

  • Mike Webb says:

    To Chris

    I think I remember what that place was before They slapped the name Victoria Station on it a Ha’penny Inn

    Check this out an old Ha’penny Inn post card listing Westminster CA. on it

    http://www.ebay.com/itm/Westminster-CA-Postcard-Ha-Penny-Inn-Keystone-Square-Ink-Drawing-Print-Unused-/370726673358

  • Michael Khandelwal says:

    I absolutely loved the Victoria Station in Universal City… In the ’80s and ’90s, I would sometimes take a day off an go watch movies at the Cineplex Odeon, and have lunch or dinner there. But, this was not my first Victoria Station experience–I am from Virginia Beach, VA, and we had a Victoria Station that closed in 1987 or 1988. It was a smaller version of the Universal restaurant–train cars welded together to form the dining rooms. I was friends with the manager and the head waiter there, and they did a great job up until the place closed.

  • Mike says:

    To Chris Webb:
    Are you SURE that there wasn’t a Victoria Station in South Coast Plaza? I was just thinking about this place tonight, couldn’t think of the name, then found this website, and the name clicked.
    If the restaurant in SCP wasn’t Victoria Station, can you remember what it WAS called?
    Thanks

  • Mike Webb says:

    The Station is what comes to mind

    It was always assumed to be part of Victoria Station but wasn’t I know as I worked at the Newport Beach location from 1974 to 1982 and know SCP well as it was a hangout for me till I moved to AZ in 2006. I also was a trainer for Victoria Station most of those years at Victoria Station I trained most new stores and subbed at most of the other stores when needed.

    A few Pic’s I have of our store http://www.in30.net/VICT.html

    Funny how I never visited that place and missed it when it vanished it was their for a long time.

    But no not part of Victoria Station

  • Phil ( Mr. A ) says:

    A comment for Mike Webb,

    Just a big ” thanks” for your postings and the extra photo link. What fun !
    Phil Ankofski

  • Mike Webb says:

    Thanks

    I only wish I had kept everything I had from Victoria Station I recently 2 years ago tossed a number of things in the trash saying well that’s along time ago I should get rid of most of this stuff.

  • Dennis says:

    Attended grand opening of VS #1 at 50 Broadway San Francisco, Dec 19, 1969, w/ friend Jim Thomsen who soon joined as cook and quickly wkd his way up corp ladder to head food ops for the chain. They also delved into other eateries such as Thomas Lords, but their bread and butter was always the prime rib, they displayed them in a giant glass door refer in the main bar area. I visited them in Oakland, Roseville and Sacramento too (all Northern CA). Not quite as ubiquitous as Starbucks, but they were spread out all over the US. I used to take clients there all the time. They liked the generous portions of food and drink. Tom Blake’s book (Prime Rib & Box Cars) is on target, ck it out.

  • Dennis says:

    See previous post

  • Mr. Zaff says:

    There was a Victoria Station in Wayne NJ. You could not script a worse run place. I’m shocked they didn’t go out of business much, much sooner. I worked there during college. The mgmt had no backbone- people could eat a full meal, lick the plates clean and then complain and the manager would void their bill. You could order an expensive mixed drink, empty the glass then complain and same thing, it was free! Then customers would tell their friends about the “free” food (if you complained) so there friends would come in and do the same thing. They also attracted the CHEAPEST CHEAPEST people ever, they had $5.95 dinner specials (including french onion soup or salad bar) and that’s all people ever ordered, with water of course. They would offer fish specials and then would be out of them. The management would always blame the servers for their downfall rather than look at the root cause (small portions, slow service, sold out menu items, horrible cold food). Seriously, I can’t believe the place didn’t fail years sooner.

  • DocG says:

    Loved the old VS. Went to the one in Honolulu ( on Kapiolani Blvd) for lunch and dinner on a regular basis as well as the one in Newport Beach whenever I was in town. Some good times to be had in both places. Geeze, was that really 30 years ago ?

  • Fearless LeChien says:

    The Victoria Station at Universal City was the best reason for going to Universal! I remember they had the actual REAL old wooden departure board from London’s Victoria Stn – from before it was updated to an electronic version. When in London it used to be updated by a single man with a very long rod who turned each wooden station name by hand. Being a Londoner it made me laugh because at Universal each departure gate (track) on the board always showed every single station on the route – assuming all trains stopped at every station. Some of the routes were impossible because alternative destinations were shown as being consecutive whereas in reality they were in opposite directions. I was stupid enough to attempt to explain this to the staff – needless to say they couldn’t care less! Sad to hear it’s gone, and I wonder where that wonderful board went?

  • Scott J. says:

    My memories of VS were of visiting the one in Salt Lake City in the late ’70s. As I recall it was underground in downtown SLC and I wondered how the heck they got the train cars down there! I especially remember the “experience” of the customer service and the awesome atmosphere. It was without a doubt the most memorable restaurant experience I can remember. My last visit to VS was to the one in Santa Rosa, CA (may have been Rhonert Park area) in the late 80′s. They had just lost their liquor license and the place was DEAD… I think they closed a couple weeks later. So very sad, such nice memories.

  • Mike Webb says:

    As a proud ex employee from 74 to 82 I can say VS was the best job I ever had.

    But when they fell apart they fell apart fast never made a comeback because it was like they became brain dead and lost all common sense. When it first started falling apart we were all ready to do what ever was needed to get the company back on track but when they started striping us of hours and benefits we back tracked and lost all employee support that’s when it crashed bad and we quit in mas waves.

    VS strong employee moral was its strength what made it a good company we wanted to work for VS and do a good for them when that vanished it was crash time for VS.

    When they were great we were the best… don’t piss off your loyal employees it will end bad.

  • richard clark says:

    Hi, what a shame you got rid of a lot of things, have you any of the old enamel signs that were fixed up, I have been looking for these for many years now, many of them were removed when the restaurants closed and stored away. If you have any or know of anyone who may have some can you please get in touch ” clark_richard@btinternet.com ” what a great chain of themed restaurants and so sad they closed!

  • Dee Buchanan says:

    I was one of the original cocktail waitresses at Universal V.S. hired in 1977. I worked there for 3 -1/2 yrs. I was 21 yrs old and loved the experience. I was hired from 1500 applicants I was told. We started out with V.S. T-shirts and skirts until the one woman manager asked all of us cocktail ladies what we would like to wear. At the time, Danskin leotards were in, so we wore the wrap-around skirts with the same color tops. At the time it was very fashionable. And yes, a lot of us partied after hours – with some of the management. All the managers during my time were not much older. Not long after we opened – they built the disco/bar past the retundra on the right. I remember in the summers we would have a rush of people eating/drinking before the Ampetheatre shows. Then, after the shows – again a rush of people for an after dinner drink. Back when everything was just starting to be on computer we were able to work with the bartenders, not charge for coffees or well drinks, and pocket some great extra cash since most of these after show people did not tip very well. Really sorry to hear V.S. is gone. Have not been back in years. It was a beautiful restaurant with a huge rotunda/bar area that the tram would deliver you to. The boxcars were a great area. And the cheese and crackers were a great treat at the time. For all of us in our 20′s it was a fun place to work and I have some fond memories.

  • Brian Bonner says:

    The south coast Plaza was not a VS but was a train concept called the 20th century limited. loved the place.

  • Bill Morelli says:

    I worked for VS ,as we called it, or sometimes “Ma Vic”, from 1973 to 1980. I started as a cook in Darien, CT. and in 1975 I went in the management training program in Marin ,CA. I was sent there instead of North Lake Tahoe because it was thought that I was “too wild” for the Tahoe location. That was probably true, although I got there eventually. My first assignment out of training was as Kitchen Mgr. in Louisville, then back to Darien. I opened White Plains as Kitchen Mgr., then went into floor and bar mgt. and then de facto GM. Transferred to Lake Tahoe & then to Denver. It was a great place to work in the 70′s and the employee morale was high. The company slogan, which was in the training manuals, was “Have Fun, Make Money” which we all took to heart. I have not only fond memories, but my old VS business cards from various locations, and the old original training manuals.

  • Matt says:

    Yes the restaurant in South Coast Plaza was 20th Century Limited.

    I recall eating a couple of times (I was a kid) at a Victoria Station near the train depot in San Juan Capistrano, CA.

  • CraigE says:

    I moved to LA from the midwest in 1979 and was lucky enough to get a busboy job at the Universal City VS a week or so after I arrived–starstruck! Met the girl who played Isis in the Shazam/Isis Hour Saturday morning TV show at the bar; cleaned up Jack Klugman’s table many times as he was shooting Quincy on the Universal lot (stole and saved one of his coffee cups), and saw and served many other stars and celebrities. The big highlight was giving Graham Nash and his wife a personal tour of the restaurant–it made him nostalgic for England and he was very, very nice. It was a gas working there and I will always relish the fond memories of the customers and fellow workers (most who never made it big as actors : ( .

  • Norm Blackburn says:

    There was a Victoria Station in Honolulu on Kapiolani Blvd! My wife and I went there often until one night we drove over and it was closed! What a shock. Loved to read all the comments on VS and other old LA eating places.I dined at most of them.

  • Kelly M Bray says:

    My first job was working as a dishwasher on opening day at the Torrance California VS. Great place, great people, great food. Succeeding restaurants covered up the old RR cars but they were still under there. They finally tore it down about three years ago.

  • Grace says:

    Another restaurant I never visited IN CALIFORNIA, but did after moving to other states. :)

    There was one near my house in the North Dallas area, and we loved going there. There was a rail car out front, and it was okay to go in and look around. Our daughter, who was little at the time, loved that.

    The food itself was good–we regularly went for their all-you-can-eat rib nights. (I’m vegan now…go figure!)

    The atmosphere was friendly and warm, and the servers and hosts were always welcoming and accommodating.

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