In 1978 I was a recently graduated veterinarian working in country Victoria. I came to Melbourne occasionally and on one memorable visit, my girlfriend suggested that we go to a well known steak restaurant called Vlado’s. The meal was wonderful, and the experience has stayed very firmly in my memory ever since. I left to work in the Northern Territory at the end of that year and my return visits to Melbourne since then have rare. On a holiday visit from Indonesia last December, I discovered the restaurant was still open and made a booking for my second visit, a little over 40 years after the first.
Almost nothing has changed. The menu, the décor, the friendly personal service, the family atmosphere and of course, the exceptional food. Meat, meat and more meat. Love it!
While I enjoyed the delicious meal, what held me fascinated for the entire evening was the way this ritual keeps playing out, over and over, day after day, year after year. Vlado combined his passion and skill for providing his customers with the highest quality beef with a set menu which guarantees the repeatability of an exceptional eating experience with a delivery process that is simple and inexpensive to manage. There are plenty of high end restaurants capable of delivering an excellent product but I doubt that there is another that can do it so consistently with such a low operational cost.
I couldn’t help chatting with the friendly host, Doug Petrovic (Vlado’s nephew) and the beef chef, Ivan Glavas, who were happy to explain the workings of this amazing operation. One of the only significant changes that has been made to the entire process is that after about 15 years of personally selecting the beef at the abattoir, Vlado found a butcher he could trust to take over this role and he has been providing this reliable service ever since. All the beef is Australian, grass or grain-fed prime ox or wagyu with 9+ marble score. There is no restriction on the breed of the non-waygu ox, just a focus on quality beef. When I asked Ivan about his steak cooking protocols, he was very modest and said that he was relatively new to the role as he had only been there for 35 years. He simply turns the steak over a number of times during the cooking process until it is just right. The meat is cooked over a large charcoal grill which burns permanently from January until the annual Christmas holidays when it is gets a few weeks break before it is restarted again for another year.
Appetizer consisting of a single, large beef and pork sausage while entree is a mixed meat selection. Simply delivered to the table when you are ready.
Doug keeps a practiced eye on each table and at just the right moment approaches with a selection of steaks to choose from for the main course. Once selected, Ivan gets the order and the perfectly cooked steak appears shortly afterwards. No sauce, no chips, just a steak on the plate, a salad and coleslaw on the table with a bottle of Vlado’s mustard on the side. And a pretty handy wine list.
For dessert you have a choice of homemade strawberry crepes and ice cream or just strawberries and ice cream.
The current price for this fixed dinner menu is $105 per person which is not cheap but not over the top either considering it includes 4 substantial courses. The commercial brilliance here is that this faultless delivery takes only Doug, Ivan and one waitress front of house with two more staff in the kitchen. And they still have plenty of time for a friendly chat with the patrons.
Sadly, Vlado passed on in 2012 but the genius of his concept is proven by the fact that the business continues seamlessly and the Gregurek family remains dedicated to continuing Vlado’s passion of providing beef loving customers with an exceptional experience.
I have been to many beef restaurants around the world but what separates Vlado’s from all the others is their unique and incredibly successful business model. Can you think of another restaurant that has not changed its set menu in 54 years?
Their website at http://www.vlados.com.au is their only form of advertising with Vlado’s relying solely on word of mouth to attract customers since 1964.