Sunday, May 3, 2015

Prime Rib & Boxcars: Whatever Happened to Victoria Station? by Tom Blake

Boychik Lit Book Review - No. 30


Here’s my book review of Prime Rib & Boxcars: Whatever Happened to Victoria Station? by Tom Blake.

Some of you may know Tom Blake as a SoCal newspaper columnist, and others will recognize him as the owner of Tutor and Spunky’s Deli in Dana Point. Prime Rib & Boxcars is his personal memoir about another career with Victoria Station Restaurants, which in just eight years grew from a couple of stores to a nationwide chain with $100 million in sales.

It was the 1970s. Remember these restaurants built in renovated train cars? There was one at the top of the hill at Universal City.

This book has two distinct parts – in the beginning, it’s all about Tom Blake the restaurant manager, who started in the bar and worked his way to managing multiple sites, including training staff. The second part shows us Tom Blake, marketing executive, who describes the high life in the top management suite.

Blake the restauranteur tells about the 1970s like it was yesterday – but, oh, how times have changed. Life in the biz was fast-paced and fun – back when binge drinking, hard partying, and skirt chasing were not politically incorrect and more or less legal. Think Mad Men at the steakhouse – red meat and whiskey.

Then as Blake gets promoted into the executive suite, it’s Mad Men literally on a different level at headquarters in downtown San Francisco. And here the lessons learned are more suited to MBAs. It’s a story of literally failing upward. The chain grew faster than its ability to train staff and maintain quality. The executives turned their attention from satisfying customers to feeding Wall Street investment analysts. The goal became to open 25 new stores per year, and after they had 70 locations, it all imploded.

A touching personal subplot is Blake’s friendship with Johnny Cash, who sang the chain’s theme song. And in those latter days as things began to unwind, management turned their backs on Johnny abruptly – without consulting Blake. Apparently the Wall Street types thought the image of the Country-and-Western star was too low-class for their new upscale demographic.

Prime Rib & Boxcars – one more example of the adage, “Nothing fails like success!”

For Boychik Lit, I’m Gerald Everett Jones. My humorous novel about capitalism gone haywire is Mr. Ballpoint. And you can catch these podcasts on BoychikLit.com.

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