photo courtesy Dave Simmons

Dave Simmons said he tends to get a seven-year itch. The span is how long he stayed at his previous two gigs, but as he’s surpassed the seven-year mark as executive chef at Lawry’s Prime Rib, he’s pretty comfortable. At 63 years old, Simmons has been around the restaurant business since he was 5 when his parents bought their first restaurant. At Lawry’s he’s found a place that’s comfortable enough, with just enough innovation to keep things new as he keeps an eye looking forward.

What was your progression in the
family business? 

When my brother and I came home from school, we’d just go to the restaurant, a burger joint. There was a back room; that’s where we would hang out and do our homework. The biggest responsibility I had from 5 to 7 was folding to-go boxes. Every now and then, I could draw a root beer. This is going back 58 years and back in those days we had the root beer barrel, and it had a tap on it.

Where’s that step you knew it was
your career?

At age 7, we moved to Southern California and bought another burger joint. That’s when I got to be the owner of the root beer barrel. They gave us something in the restaurant to keep us interested in and we took care of that. They had several little places like that: chicken and shrimp joints, donut shops. So I learned to peel shrimp and potatoes. But they sold them and my dad went to work for Howard Johnson, and ran the restaurant across the street from Disneyland, the busiest one. He was always at work, so I asked can I come to work. So I spent the weekends doing that. Long days, 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. After graduating high school, one afternoon looking at Disneyland, I said I don’t know what I’m doing with the rest of my life, but I know I’ll always earn a living no matter where I go. I progressed and became a restaurant manager at Howard Johnson and at that time they (managers) ran the kitchen too.  

Finally in my early 20s, I moved up to Salt Lake City, transferred up there. I was a snow skier and decided I’ll transfer up there and ski while working, but by my early 30s, I decided I needed to make a decision of what am I doing the rest of my life? Well, I’m already doing it and love it and I’ll just keep doing it.

How’s your experience been at Lawry’s?

When I was at Gallagher’s Steakhouse [at New York New York], I burned through the cooks. We did 15 million in revenue, cooking all steaks in big mesquite broilers and it was hot, really hot. So I burned through the line cooks, so I’d go on to Craig’s List and would see this ad for executive chef at a steak house. I’d been there for seven years, I tend to get seven-year itch. I didn’t think much of it, few weeks later, all of a sudden they put a name to it. I’m familiar with Lawry’s and said, ‘Shoot this ad’s been up a couple months, well, I’ll just throw my hat in.’

Two and half months later, interviews and tasting, they offer me a job—prime rib that’s putting me out to pasture, I don’t know if I’m ready for that but it turned out to be very different: private parties, banquets, receptions, we have all those meals I get to deal with. Then they told me they wanted to expand the menu. Shoot that’d be great at such an iconic name as Lawry’s after 80 years to help change the menu. We’ve been busy doing that, adding to the menu, evolving the whole thing. 

What’s the best way to enjoy Lawry’s? 

The best way to enjoy Lawry’s is to enjoy it often, number one. Make sure your first experience is with the prime rib cart, that’s where it all started, what we’re known for. My goal with that is get people here for that experience but get them coming back culinary experience. People love the dining room, but let’s face it, you can only eat prime rib so often, it’s looked at as a specialty type meal, so we’ve tried to add some fun things to the menu.

You said you have a seven-year itch,
what’s next?

This summer, Beverly Hills is our flagship location, been 82 years, they’re launching their revitalization menu and that’s a very broad, more typical steakhouse menu than our previous single entree. I’m looking forward to being a big part in launching that menu. Here I am, 63 years old, cooking for more than 50 years and I feel very blessed I’m able to do what I’m doing, and what I’ve done.