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.

80 Responses to Victoria Station

  • Mike Moran says:

    I worked at VS Universal in the late seventies, first as a busboy and then waiter. I remember what a good group of people the employees were.
    I met many celebrities including Steve Alen, Jonothan Winters, and Lynn Swan.
    My favorite time was when the bus loads of Japanese tourists would come in after they went to the Studio: sometimes 300 people would come in for lunch, we served them all prime rib and many had beer. Since we could not understand each other, the wait staff only had to drop the meal and collect our tips. Sometimes I would carry six or eight plates of prime rib on one arm and serve it like dealing cards.
    I have many fond memories of the people there.
    Mike Moran

  • houston striggow says:
  • Linda Friday says:

    Had many a wonderful meal at the Universal VS. Especially loved their Thanksgiving feasts which were served “family style” with a whole turkey and bowls with all the traditional sides. I was heartbroken when that store closed.

  • Debra McLean McKillop says:

    This is a fun site!!! Names to remember….Kix Nistom…Michael Herst…SAL…LOL Lisa Nelson omg so old can’t remember names Noel…Rich…lol I do remember that the Soo bros worked there and being in Las Vegas I still run into a carver who worked there probably as long as I we called him Issy!


  • Debra McLean McKillop says:

    To Debbie.. I remember Tommy very well he married my long time high school friend and room mate for several years. She worked as a waitress at VS her name was Katie Shelly

  • Debra McLean McKillop says:

    Dear David Ho I worked for VS Universal from 1979 to 1987…I hope I was that hostess!!! It was a great time and I remember how sweet you were…love Deb…by the way the beautiful hostess you may be referring to was Cindy Cox who went on to marry a stunt man

  • Todd Horton says:

    Hey Sam
    I suddenly had a fond memory of going to VS in the western suburbs of Chicago in the late 70’s. I recall a menu with UK pound and US dollar prices (but the pounds were way less in price). Is that what your ’73 menu shows?

  • David Ho says:

    VS Universal was my first job after moving to Los Angeles. I have so many fond memories from the two short years (1987-88) I worked there. Being close to Hollywood it’s not surprising that I worked with a waiter Glenn who’s now an accomplished actor, and a bartender Bob who’s a very successful screenwriter. Once I had a group of four young guys in my station, and a co-worker came over and asked me “do you know who you’re waiting on?” I said I did not, and that’s when I learned who River Phoenix was. I remember hating the Entertainment Card, because it meant having to hunt down a manager which was a huge time killer with a restaurant so huge and overcrowded. VS wasn’t called the “house of volume” for nothing. If I remember correctly we had four train dining cars, and the last car was in the far rear, I think it went up to station “S”. I remember thinking how cool it was to serve intermezzos in those paddles full of holes before the main course, but they were a PITA to remember. I’m still good friends with a couple of cocktail waitresses who used to work in the Indicator Bar under the giant clock. One night a woman posed as a cocktail waitress in the nightclub wearing an outfit very similar to their uniform, and stole a bunch of tips! There was also the crook in a suit who posed as a manager and asked a table if he could take their check (with a wad of cash) up for them. They both got away unfortunately. I remember the night the head chef told me at the end of my shift to bail out a co-worker from LA County jail who got arrested for drunk driving. I shared a lot of prime rib and lobster meals with a beautiful hostess, they were half price for employees so I ate with her often. I remember the cable car that took you up the hill from the parking lot below, now it’s a multi-story parking garage with part of the Universal Tour on top. I remember going across to Womphoppers to hang out after a shift. One night when there was a concert I waited on a very pretty girl on a date who worked at Womphoppers. A couple years later I was hired to work on a show tour overseas and she was a dancer in the same show and remembered me. There was that night when a group of us had to work the MTV Awards reception party on the Universal Tour lot and I got to serve John Stamos a drink. I fondly remember the guy who started on the same day as I did, and one of our managers, who both passed away far too young. I have enough memories to write a book, how I wish I had pictures of my time there and the restaurant before it closed forever.

  • John M Clark says:

    After dining at the VS in Atlanta, I was delighted when one opened near my home in Southfield/Detroit MI. Kids loved playing in the caboose. Adults loved the beautiful “Dead Red” display cases. It was a fanciful experience to dine there. Had one of the last dinners with my mother there. I guess all we have left is Lawry’s The Prime Rib now. So sad…


    The were 2 in Denver/Lakewood, CO. Loved to going there with my Dad. The cheese spread & crackers were awesome. Wish VS & my Dad were still around!

  • Ron Smith says:

    Hey-Bob Finnigan-I have a Flying Scotsman mirrored artifact…408-366-1900-Ron

  • Sam Archer says:

    A sidenote: I recently found one of our VS Menus from ’73 in Houston when they were deco paged onto the wooden planks. Man what I’d give for a Track 3 right now with a side of Mushrooms! Draggin’ a Mush!

  • Sam Archer says:

    I opened up the first Houston VS in December of ’73 as a bus boy. Worked my way into the kitchen and eventually became KS, Kitchen Supervisor. Got to go to San Fran for training afew times to Corp….way cool facility. Transferred to Kansas City in May of ’74. I met my wife of 45 years the first week in town. Eventually left and went to work cutting steaks for Williams Meats, who we bought our meat from, to get away from working nights. That began a 45 year carreer in Meat Managment and Deli/Bakery Managment before retiring in ’12. The fun times I had at VS are what I miss the most. A funny side story: One night we had an after party for a Manager that was transferring to a different city. These parties were both frequent and legendary. Got way drunk and ended up waking up the next morning, blurry eyed, looking at 5 or 6 figures in white robes kneeling in front of lit candles. I was SURE I had gone, but to where? Ended up that a fav busboy, Hindu, drove my GTO and took me home with him to the apartment he shared with the other busboys at the store. Man, I was sure that I was gone! What fun days.

  • Ron Michael says:

    My wife & I used to go to the Victoria Station @ Universal Studios. They had the very best fresh seafood salad I’ve ever had. My wife used to laugh at me when I would take a bite of prime rib with their fresh killer horseradish. It used to make my glasses immediately fog up!!! Great memories…

  • Kevin Kelley says:

    How funny to stumble across this site! I was involved in opening 5 VS locations from Washington DC area to New Brunswick NJ, then Westchester County NY. ’76 to ’79, approx. Had a blast, nice to hear that others felt the same sense of camaraderie that I remember fondly. Easy to blame management for the demise of this chain, but I’d guess it had more to do with changing tastes, away from hearty prime rib/steak.

  • Bob Finnigan, Salem, OR says:

    I often visited the VS at Boston harbor. I had and lost a Flying Scotsman repro mirror bought at VS. Does anyone have any idea how/where I might replace it.

  • Roy says:

    I moved to the US from London and was delighted to find the Victoria Station chain. As a British railway fan, I felt very much at home there, in addition to the decor and the very friendly staff, When the local VS closed in Framinghamd MA I tried to negotiate with the manager to purchase one or two of the hundred or so enamel signs in the restaurant. He said that some company had signed a contract to buy them all. I tried several other locations before they closed, but the story was the same.
    I often wonder where they all ended up – in private collections rather than another restaurant or other for the public to enjoy.

  • Barbara D. says:

    I never went to the restaurant in Universal City but I did go to the one that they had in Westminster, CA in the late 70’s early 80’s. The retailer my husband worked for was taken there by one of the manufacturers of one of the products they sold in their store for being the top seller of their product in the USA. The date we were suppose to go, the manufacturer had to cancel so the boss took the managers of all the stores out anyway and the following month we went again all at the expense of the manufacturer. It was the best prime rib I ever had. I was saddened when they closed that location as I would have went back many more times.

  • Debbie says:

    Does anyone remember a waiter at the Universal City Victoria Station restaurant by the name of Tom Panella? Probably about 1979-80 era.

  • Mike Stipher says:

    I started working at VS Cincinnati & then transferred to Newport Beach, CA in May 1974. All three owners used to frequent VS/Nwpt. Sometimes Johnny Cash would stop by to say hey. Met so many fun folks & celebrities. It was a blast!!! I noticed one comment above from Deacon Brown. He was a great Manager and good guy. I see Tom Blake all the time. Tom wrote a best seller book about VS. Hope everyone is doing well. Maybe they will have another reunion soon. Peace.

  • Jon Stock says:

    I don’t know how the food was there but the Nightclub up at the Universal location Studios was the shit back in the late 80’s early 90’s!

  • Donna Gayle says:

    We had a lot of fun at the one in Torrance, Ca. It was the only place to get prime rib. It was great we really miss it.

  • Tom M. says:

    I remember the Victoria Station in Columbus, Ohio on State Route 161. Beside the obvious boxcars – the restaurant waiting area was a rare mixed Cupola and Bay Window Caboose. (A Train caboose was either a Cupola or Bay Window design – NOT both, unless the railroad did the alterations themselves.) I was too young to remember eating in the Victoria Station or what the food was like – being a train buff, I was too engrossed and excited to run through the restaurant looking at EVERYTHING – and probably disturbing some other diners too. I still remember driving by it on many occasions on my way home with my family after going out someplace. I really wish this restaurant would make a comeback and open another location here again. Like Zantigo – the BETTER than Taco Bell restaurant.

  • Nancy says:

    I worked at VS Newport Beach for 13 years….it was the best time of my life!! Everyone was like family…we shared our happiness, our pain, our friendship!! Thank you for such a memorable time!!

  • John Hurley says:

    I was in the one on Sepulveda in the early 80’s. I wasn’t far from another gone place, the Velvet Turtle.

  • GabrielS says:

    Remember the Larkspur and San Francisco locations very well, went there many times in the 80’s. Loved the uniqueness and food, was very disappointed in learning of their closing. At least the one in Salem, Mass. remains!

  • Mike Roberts says:

    Re: Mike’s comments 3/5: Who was your sister that worked at VS Woodland Hills? I worked there from ’76 to ’81.

  • Mike says:

    I went to probably the nicest Victoria Station, the one next to Universal Studios, for my parents 25th wedding anniversary in 1979 and my sister worked at the VS in Woodland Hills on Ventura Blvd, up the hill from Winnetka in the late 70’s. Great memories!

  • John Weeks says:

    Amazing period in my life at VS, ’79-’84. True to Chris Budges’ post, played in the inter-VS softball tourney with West Covina losing to Universal by a run and missing out on Tahoe. Also spent a lot of time covering in Northridge when John Ganley got sick. Had a MAJOR crush on Bonnie Krohn (Crohn?), hope she still remembers it fondly? Worked all over SoCal, but best party stores were West Covina, Laguna Hills and Northridge hands down! Hope you are are well and enjoying your lives/families.

  • Sharon says:

    Victoria Station in University Studios, was among one of my favorite restaurants.

    My boyfriend and I (now my husband of 31 years) would go early around 4:00p.m. have a wonderful dinner and drinks, then go over to Universal Studios Amphitheatre and purchase last minute concert tickets (front row seats) which were the best seats at half the price.

    The food was good, the waiters friendly, the atmosphere very laid back and relaxing.

    I miss Victoria Stations uniqueness riding up to the restaurant level in this sort of cable car straight a straight up steep incline.

    Now these places are gone forever: 1. Victoria Station, Hungry Tiger, Brown Derby, and the Ambassador Hotel, which me and my best friend worked in for several years. Sure wish I would have kept he pictures and menus from these places.

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