Richard N. Frank, whose family created Southland restaurant staples such as Lawry's the Prime Rib and Tam O'Shanter, expanded the business into spices that introduced innovative flavors to American taste buds.
But to football fans, Frank was perhaps best known as the brains behind Lawry's Beef Bowl, an annual Southland tradition where rival Rose Bowl teams are pitted against each other in an eating competition that precedes the big game. Teams who can out-chow the opposition have won 70% of Rose Bowl games.
Frank died Wednesday at his Pasadena home from natural causes, said his daughter, Susie Frank. He was 92.
Born May 5, 1923 in Pasadena, Frank was the eldest of two children. His father, Lawrence Frank, was a pioneer in Los Angeles dining, co-founding several restaurants including the original Lawry's in Beverly Hills; he also invented the seasoned salt that became a draw for diners seeking out prime rib.
Frank joined the family business after graduating from business school at Stanford University. He pushed the family into the spice trade after noticing the huge appeal of his father's herb-and-spice mix at their restaurants, son-in-law Jeff D'Angelo said.
"It became so popular that people started stealing it off the tables," D'Angelo said. "When Richard Frank came into the business … he went to his father and said 'I'd like to take the seasoned salt and really make it a nationwide business.'"
Frank took over as chief executive of the family business in 1956. He ended up splitting the business into two separate ventures. The eateries were grouped into Lawry's Restaurants Inc. Lawry's Food's Inc. started with that seasoned salt and pioneered products such as dehydrated spaghetti sauce and taco mix, changing the way busy Americans made lunch and supper.
"Lawry's Foods was the one that invented all that stuff," D'Angelo said. "Not only product but packaging."
After the food company was sold in 1979, Frank focused on the restaurant side. Once known as the "king of theme restaurants," he opened a number of dining spots in California, including Five Crowns, which was inspired by the inns in the British countryside. He also expanded Lawry's the Prime Rib into new cities such as Las Vegas and Chicago, and licensed operations overseas in countries such as Singapore and Japan.
Lawry's Restaurants is still a family endeavor. His son Richard R. Frank, took over as chief executive in 1997, and daughter Susie Frank works as the director of design. A grandson, Ryan Wilson, is the executive chef.
Some of the restaurants contain antique furniture that Frank restored by hand. "He spent many weekend hours in his grubby torn clothes covered with stains working on projects," daughter Susie said. "Many of them ended up in the restaurants."
Frank is survived by three children, five grandchildren and two great grandsons.