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.