Marilou Lords, a Sacramento restaurateur who co-owned and ran the Broiler Steakhouse, died Aug. 23 of a heart attack in her sleep, her family said. She was 67.
Mrs. Lords was a gracious host with down-to-earth charm at the posh Broiler, a popular eatery among Capitol lawmakers and lobbyists. She welcomed Democrats and Republicans alike with a smile, remembered what they drank and escorted regulars to tables with a gentle touch on the arm or shoulder. She bantered easily with politicians but showed no favoritism in booking reservations.
"Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger's office once called with a last-minute request for a table, and she had to turn him down," said her husband and business partner, Larry. "She just told them, 'I'm sorry but we're completely full.' "
Mrs. Lords and her husband, a former waiter at the Broiler, bought the restaurant in 1985. As executive chef for many years, she updated recipes and retooled the menu. Meanwhile, the new owners preserved the feel of the original steakhouse, which opened at 10th and J streets in 1950.
"She had a flair for style that translated into her appearance and the food and the way she decorated the restaurant," said her sister Sharon Miles. "She was always wanting things to be perfect."
Mrs. Lords ran the Broiler while her husband and a partner opened Gallagher's Bar & Grill in east Sacramento in 1991. The operations were merged when the Broiler moved in 1999 to its present office-tower location at 1201 K St. She continued working until back surgery forced her to retire two years ago.
Born Marilou Gallagher in 1945 in Dearborn, Mich., she moved at an early age with her parents to California and grew up in Whittier and Long Beach. Her father was a school district administrator, and her mother was a home economics teacher who taught her to cook.
She earned a cosmetology license before working in a restaurant at the Dearborn Inn in Michigan, where her grandfather was a top Republican Party activist who introduced her to President Richard Nixon. She later worked at the Disneyland Hotel and married Larry Lords in 1977.
The couple settled in Sacramento and raised a son, Tim, who grew to be an executive chef at restaurants in Sacramento, the Bay Area, Seattle and Anchorage. He died of a brain tumor in 2001.
Mrs. Lords was an animal lover who owned and cared for horses for many years. Her favorite relaxation was riding and feeding carrots to her paint horse, Nuisance, at a stable in Pleasant Grove.
Tom Grof, a friend and sales coordinator for Southern Wine & Spirits, said Mrs. Lords built lasting relationships with generations of customers that have helped the Broiler stay successful amid changes in beef consumption and growing competition from steakhouse chains.
"When you went into the Broiler, you were going into her dining room," he said. "She knew you by name and knew you wanted a Manhattan and took care of you. The chains can put out good food, but they don't have that kind of personal connection."
Born: July 24, 1945
Died: Aug. 23, 2012
Survived by: Husband, Larry Lords of Sacramento; mother, Betty Conner of Wichita, Kan.; father and stepmother, Tom and Lou Gallagher of Long Beach; sisters, Sharon Miles of Wichita, Kan., Patty Cates of Salinas, and Linda Ris of Long Beach; brothers, Scott Conner of Pacific Grove and Tommy Gallagher of Long Beach
Services: Celebration of life, noon today at the Broiler Steakhouse, 12th and K streets, Sacramento
Remembrances: In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Grace Foundation, an animal rescue group