FOR THE RECORD:
Restaurant investors —An article in Wednesday's Food section about entertainment industry professionals investing in Los Angeles restaurants said Lonnie Moore and Mike Malin were general managers of Dolce Enoteca e Ristorante. They are the owners. Also, the article said a building housing the Geisha House restaurant was among the properties owned by Adolfo Suaya. It is not.
Dolce Enoteca e Ristorante. Geisha House. The Lodge. Sushi Roku. Newcomers Bella Cucina and Memphis. You probably wouldn't even think of them as belonging to a genre unless you knew how these places were conceived. Financed by young Hollywood producers, agents and actors eager to own a slice of the city's nightlife, these restaurants are all about the scene, which has to be glittering. The food must be decent, but it can't draw attention to itself or be too challenging. The Hollywood clientele that the investors are eager to attract won't go for it. Salads are good. Tuna tartare. New York strip steak. Sushi.
Hotspot heat source
HERE'S how it works.
Say you're an up-and-coming agent, and, like anyone in Hollywood, you need a place to entertain. You don't have the deep pockets for a hillside mansion. But you do have $10,000 or $20,000.
So what do you do to get ahead in Hollywood? You invest in a restaurant.
You invite clients there, make your deals there or simply enjoy being special. In the restaurant, you're on your own turf. In a town where $50,000 cars are de rigueur, it's a relatively inexpensive way to look like a player.
It's all about access to powerful people, says Carl Bressler, a former talent agent and restaurant investor. "You hear the gossip. You know who is in the restaurant, who is talking about you, and what they've said," he says. Want to know who's coming in that night? A discreet investor can look at the reservations.
And if the place is hot, you're hot, because only investors can get the coveted 8 p.m. Saturday reservation. That's the rule at Dolce and Geisha House. "When people can't get into a hot restaurant, they can, [if they go] through you," Bressler says. Those favors help you build relationships with people who can advance your career.
The concept isn't new; Spago was financed by Hollywood money, as was the Grill on the Alley and Ago. What's new is that Suaya has reduced it to a formula. He buys up real estate, selecting locations that appeal to the glitterati. Next he creates the concept. Then comes the designer. At first, Dodd Mitchell designed them: Dolce and Gaucho Grill in Brentwood. Lately, Suaya has been designing them himself. That's the case with the Lodge, the upcoming Middle-Eastern restaurant Goa and Suaya's future Hollywood steakhouse Charcoal.
Next comes the menu: When Dolce opened, the formula was lots of vegetables, fresh tomatoes and basil and grilled fish. These days, Suaya creates the menu himself. At the Lodge, that means steaks grilled straight up.
Then it's time to pull together the financing. At most of these places, $10,000 or $20,000 buys a share. And there is no more valuable investor than a talent agent. "They need to entertain, they need to talk about where they are going, they need to be out," Suaya says. When they invest, they become regulars, filling the tables with their Hollywood friends and clients.
"You hope it will be a hard-to-get reservation in a cool, hip place," says Aaron Kaplan, worldwide head of the scripted television department at William Morris Agency and a Dolce investor. "Food is less of an issue."
Finally, when everything else is in place, hire a chef.
Suaya and his real estate empire are connected with several restaurant management groups, including Dolce Group (Dolce, Geisha House, Bella Cucina), Innovative Dining Group (Sushi Roku, Boa, Katana) and Meridian Entertainment (Table 8, Scorpion). Another group created Falcon, Pearl Dragon and Voda, with more new restaurants to open soon; also there's the group behind Lincoln Steakhouse, Ivar and Tengu.
Suaya came onto the L.A. restaurant scene in 1986 when he opened the first Gaucho Grill. An aspiring actor when he emigrated from Argentina four years before, he had a chain of 14 Gaucho Grills by 1996.