Lawry’s the Prime Rib will permanently close at the end of 2020 after nearly half a century of serving downtown diners on Ontario Street. Lawry’s Inc CEO Ryan Wilson told the Tribune that the closure is a result of a lease expiration, the pandemic, and recent protests and vandalism downtown. The steakhouse’s neighboring gastropub, SideDoor, will also shutter. More than 100 employees were reportedly informed on Saturday.
Many downtown restaurants have struggled after the pandemic brought about a mass exodus of office workers and visitors in March. Lawry’s tried hard to stay solvent despite its empty dining room, offering dinners and family-style meals for delivery and carryout, as well as cooking kits complete with steaks, seasoning, potatoes, ingredients for its signature “spinning salad bowl,” and instructions. Many may recognize the brand from its spices, salts, and seasonings, which are now sold in grocery stores. The restaurant reopened for dine-in service in early July, serving its signature well marbled slabs of prime rib.
Despite its efforts, hospitality workers who have made a living at historically high-volume downtown steakhouses now face a bleak employment landscape as tourists, conference-goers, and power lunchers stay away.
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Ownership has also worked to capitalize on the restaurant’s historic location inside the McCormick Mansion, built in 1889, by hosting mansion tours. Originally home to writer, inventor, and phrenologist L. Hamilton McCormick and his wife Constance, the space housed several restaurants over the years, according to the Lawry’s website. These include the Kungsholm, a fancy Scandinavian establishment with a “lavish” smorgasbord and puppet theater from well-known local restaurateur Fredrik A. Chramer in 1937, and a short-lived establishment called Shipwreck Kelly’s in the early 1970s. Lawry’s took over the lease in 1972 and opened the Chicago location two years later.
In comments to the Sun-Times and other media sources, Wilson has referred to the closure as hitting “the pause button.” He wants to remain optimistic and leave room for the possibility of bringing Lawry’s back to the Chicago area, but didn’t provide specifics. He does, however, promise safe events over the coming weeks and months leading up to the closure on December 31, including Christmas decor and carolers in costume.
Lawry’s is part of a chain of steakhouses founded in 1938 in Beverly Hills. The company operates additional locations in Dallas and Las Vegas, as well as Jakarta, Japan, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and South Korea.