Monday, November 13, 2017

My Mr. Steak Years

Sister’s House--Citrus Heights, Ca

Mr. Steak on Madison Ave (from Sacramento Bee)

It was Easter break, my Junior year, when my brother Bob, who did not live at home anymore, came up to my room after I went to bed and woke me up.  What I remember is this:
“Hey Dave, you awake?”

“”Am now…”

“You want a job at Mr. Steak?  You can start tomorrow if you want to work there.  Hitch is, you will have to be able to be to work at noon each day.”

“Well, don’t know how that could work since I am still in High School.  But there is this thing called “work experience”, I know other kids who leave school early to go to work….ok, sure, what time should I be there?”

“11:30 sharp, wear dark pants, you will get a shirt when you are there….”

Typical 1970's Mr. Steak via Google Images

That started what would be a career which would last until 1986.  From Busboy, to Cook, to Head Cook, to Assistant Manager, to Manager to General Manager.  Back in those days, the typical Mr. Steak…and there were over 270 nation wide, looked like this one above.  It served only USDA Choice steak, used no tenderizers or spices except on the Teriyaki Steak and on the Kebobs.  It was always full service, unlike a Happy Steak, Ponderosa or Sizzler which were “serve yourself” style.

Typical 1970's Mr. Steak sign via Google Images
The sign was bright yellow, with “Family” emphasized because they had a strong push for being a family restaurant.  Kids had their own menus, and kid’s meals would come out first, before the parents meal so that the parents could take care of getting them going on their food without the parents foods getting cold.  (Except for the kids steak, which would be served at the same time as the parents food.)



Mr. Steak Postcard showing 1960-1970 design, via google 

This “vintage” postcard really shows what the interior looked like back then.  The waitresses wore a red uniform, with a white apron and white hat, and white shoes.  The restaurant had 32 tables and booths.  This picture was taken from the Hostess/Cashier Station, and the nearest table was table #1.   In the middle right, where you see the shingled roof, was the kitchen.  Doors on each side of the kitchen  led to the back room.  Each waitress had a number, and when an order was ready, the broiler cook would call her number.  On a Friday night, there would be 7-8 waitresses working, 2 hostesses, 2 busboys, 1 dishwasher, and 3-4 cooks.  When it was full of people, it was pretty loud.

Mr. Steak Ashtray via Google    Mr. Steak matchbook via Google

Mr. Steak kids bib via Google

Along with any restaurant there is always the promotional items.  The most “stolen” item was the Ashtrays (upper left).  Matchbooks were free for the taking (upper right).  And all kids got a “Mr. Steak Bib” to wear.

Mr. Steak new look mid 1970's

The late 70’s brought a “new look” to many of the restaurants.  By now the number of restaurants nationwide had dropped to just over 200.  Those restaurants which remodeled, did do better…but competition from places like Black Angus, Steak and Ale, and numerous other higher end, full liquor establishments were drawing people away.

Mr. Steak new look mid 1970's

The interior’s of those which were new or remodeled had a brown, wood look to them.  To shut down much of the noise, instead of a microphone, a light number system was used…#1 for section 1, #2 for section 2, etc.  The kitchens were closed off to where only a slot for the food to be passed through was open, and the noise level inside dropped dramatically.  In Sacramento though, we were on our second ownership, and by 1980 I was managing my “own” (I did not own it, but I always managed it as if I did own it).  Then, around 1981, the owner decided to sell them back to the company.  MOST Mr. Steak’s were franchised, but the company, headquartered in Denver, owned around 20-25 locations, some of which were turned back to the company from the franchisee who was folding under.  In our case, we were not folding, the owner (who once worked for the company during the 60’s and early 70’s) just wanted to sell…and the company had first rights to purchase…which they did.  With that, I had to go to work in San Jose twice for 13 weeks the first time, and 15 weeks the second time all in a 32 week time period.  That unit was losing lots of money, and they needed a manager real bad….but I would not go there permanently because frankly, I could not afford the bay area, and I did not think the place would survive very long.  Sure enough, they closed it about 18 months after my last day working there.

Mr. Steak new logo mid 1970's   Mr. Steak new logo mid 1970's 

Mr. Steak new logo mid 1970's

Of course, with new look comes new matches, ashtrays, and even a belt buckle which they gave to managers…I still have a few of those somewhere, along with a business card.

Mr. Steak's last logo   Mr. Steak's last logo

Then in the early 80’s they once again changed their logo.  Cooks and dishwashers wore these baseball hats, and they finally started to sell beer and wine in their company stores (before that only some franchises sold alcohol.  A large church about 1/4 mile from my location protested the beer and wine license, but we did finally prevail…and on Sunday after church we did not put out the wine glasses as to not offend the church goers.  Another thing we did was have half or more of the restaurant as non-smoking, instead of the 10% prescribed by California law.  Of course now days, all establishments are non-smoking in California and most states throughout America.

Mr. Steak's menu 1980's 

Although they tried very hard to keep up with the Industry, it was destined to be one of those Restaurant Chains that would die off.  The 80’s introduced one of their better products, the “Steak Lover” menu (those are menus in picture above).  14 oz New York Strip, 12 oz Top Sirloin, 16 oz T-Bone, 14 oz Ribeye and the 8 oz Filet Mignon.  (I think I have the sizes right)  These steaks were as good as any other restaurant except for those who served USDA Prime (and even better than some of those too).  In the early 80’s, with the company owning the Sacramento restaurants, the north store and my store were both converted to the image which they hoped would safe the Mr. Steak concept.  I have pictures, but not with me…I think my daughter actually has them now, and there are none on the Internet.  More up-class than their original remodel, it had etched windows, wooden tables, comfortable chairs…it was real nice. 

Mr. Steak Mascot

In June 1985 I married my first wife, whom I had known through working at Mr. Steak for a number of years.  In late 1985 I briefly went to work for an independent restaurant in Sacramento that was just starting up…just to realize about 6 weeks into it that the guy lied about his financial backing.  My name was on the liquor license, and we made a deal…he lay me off, let me get all the goods back to the purveyors so that they did not lose too much of their money, and I would not report him to the Alcohol and Beverage Commission (ABC).  He agreed, I then wrote ABC a letter letting them know that I no longer worked for the establishment, and within a month it was out of business (I did not report all the stuff he did, but I never said that I would keep my name on the liquor license).  At Mr. Steak, however, the company had decided to sell the three restaurants to a franchisee who had lost his new concept Mr. Steak out in the Denver area.  During this time period I could not go back to Mr. Steak for 30 days after the sale went through…so I have a few months off.  We went to Utah to see my wife’s brother, and I decided I wanted to go to their business school…and that is what we did in late August of 1986 after working for Mr. Steak for another six months (March-August).  While getting my business degree, I worked in the library…where they just happened to have a School of Library and Information Sciences masters program…which is how I became I librarian.  Graduated with my Business degree in August 1989, and with my MLIS in August 1990.  By January 1991 we moved to the Pine Bluff Arkansas area, with three kids, all born in Utah.

As for the Mr. Steaks in Sacramento….before 1986 ended, they closed the south area store, the one I started at.  By the summer of 1987, the Fair Oaks store, the one I managed and worked at the longest, down…and before the end of the year, the north area store was shut down.  In the restaurant business…if the owner does not know how to operate a restaurant, they had better have a REAL GOOD, trustworthy manager…  Mr. Steak as a “Nationwide Company” went bankrupt in 1987, and remaining franchise locations retained the name and did not have to pay a franchise fee any longer.  I don’t think there are any Mr. Steak restaurants, which were part of the Mr. Steak Franchise, still in existence. 

Finley's, converted from Mr. Steak late 80's

In Michigan (Battle Creek, Lansing, Jackson, Muskegon and Okemos) the owners there changed the name from Mr. Steak to Finley's, now Finley’s Grill & Smokehouse, and they still have five restaurants operating, still steakhouse style with a diverse menu…although I am not sure the current owners are the same as when it was a Mr. Steak  (wish I would have known that when we were in Battle Creek earlier this year!)  As we travel and drive through various towns, I see old Mr. Steak buildings.  Some are now Chinese, Mexican, or other type of restaurants, while others have been split up into two or three establishments.   Here in Sacramento, the north area store is a Sub Shop, with another part of the building used as a Goodwill Express, but is now empty.  The south area store is a Mexican Restaurant.  As for the Mr. Steak which I worked at the most…well, it is now a part of the Pavilions Shopping Center, a premier luxury shopping center which first started while I was managing the Mr. Steak on Fair Oaks...and when the restaurant closed down, they expanded right over the entire property.


After Thought added 11/14/2017:  Forgot to add that my now brother in-law Arny and his crew from his auto-body shop use to come into the Madison Avenue Mr. Steak for lunch.  I am POSITIVE that I have cooked their meals before, probably showed them to their table a time or two, and even rang them out when they left at the cash register as I worked at that store off and on for at least two years as a cook, head cook, and was Co-Manager for a few months before I became Manager at the Fair Oaks location.  This was YEARS before he and Sandy even met.

4 comments:

  1. Very interesting especially since I've never heard of Mr. Steak!! No wonder you know all about the restaurant business.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. There was one in Stockton and one in Fresno, but they never opened one in Merced. The thing about being in this business so long is that it is hard NOT to see all the things that are wrong when we go into a place to eat.

      Delete
  2. Mr. Steak was a more high end restaurant in our town in Holland, MI. Always had a good meal there for special occasions. Always busy N it's heyday.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mr. Steak was very successful in Michigan. Nice hearing from you.

      Delete

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