NOW Suaya's influence as a landlord or operator extends to 15 restaurants, including eight Gaucho Grills. Memphis and Bella Cucina, both in Hollywood, are the latest, and two more are on the way — Goa, an Indian/Middle Eastern/Moroccan fantasy he plans to create on Cahuenga Boulevard, and BlackSteel, an Asian-French fusion restaurant.
The point is to create a place that appeals to Hollywood investors. That's different than, say, Koi or Asia de Cuba or Social Hollywood. Those restaurants appeal to Hollywood players, but are owned by individual entrepreneurs.
And then there's Table 8, a twist on the Hollywood investor formula. Suaya wasn't associated with Meridian when it opened the Melrose Avenue restaurant. And he wouldn't have approved when managing partners Chris Heyman and Joshua Woodward turned over the kitchen to well-known chef Govind Armstrong. Still, the partners had been able to attract the entertainment industry insiders Suaya coveted.
The restaurant opened in August 2003 to critical acclaim. With two sources of "heat," Table 8 was a home run."Table 8 didn't start out as a Hollywood restaurant," says Woodward, a film producer. Partner Heyman wanted to replicate his New York restaurant Match. "And I needed a place I could entertain," he says.
"Everyone in the entertainment industry is looking to open a restaurant," Woodward says. So right now, the most difficult part of the business is finding good locations.
And that's where it pays to partner with Suaya, their landlord and partner in the nightclub Rok Bar, where rocker Tommy Lee is an investor. In another of Suaya's Hollywood buildings, they opened a Mexican restaurant and tequila bar Scorpion Bar this month. Though Scorpion started out a food-first place, they flipped it to Suaya's "make-it-simple" formula. "It's recognizable comfort Mexican food," Woodward says.
Next door in the same Suaya building near Las Palmas, chef Jason Harley plans to open BlackSteel, a restaurant he insists will be a mecca for food lovers. Of course, with Pamela Anderson as his partner, the scene is a given, he says.
Suaya learned the value of Hollywood investors with Sushi Roku, but he first saw the full potential of the financial model at Dolce, where he was a partner as well as the landlord. A dining room better known for having actor Ashton Kutcher as an owner than for any of the chefs who have cooked in the kitchen, Dolce was hot beginning the day it opened its doors in April 2003.
When Dolce's general managers Lonnie Moore and Mike Malin needed to raise money to open their next two restaurants, Hollywood's Geisha House in 2004 and Bella Cucina last year, a ready pool of entertainment industry players queued up for the chance to be on the inside of the next hot dinner spot. And they put both restaurants in Suaya buildings.
The revival of Hollywood itself as a restaurant destination has come about largely because the young entertainment professionals and stars who live near the once seedy strip need restaurants such as Geisha House and Bella Cucina. Like everyone else, they love to have dinner in their own neighborhood.
And despite the conventional wisdom that celebrities like to be tucked away in a corner, being an investor actually helps them stay center-stage.
On a recent Tuesday, actor and Geisha investor Chris Masterson and his "Malcolm in the Middle" co-star Frankie Muniz, hosted a dinner party at Geisha House, taking the most visible table in the restaurant, right in the center. "Young Hollywood wants to be in the middle of the action," says Moore, a former television executive. "They want to be seen."
Mike Garrett, a managing partner in the group that owns Falcon, and his partner Tommy Stoilkovich have always courted Hollywood investors for their restaurants. And they're doing it now for places they plan to open later this year in Hollywood and Santa Monica. But "a little goes a long way," says Garrett. Hollywood hype can overwhelm a restaurant. They remember what happened when the late Jay Moloney of Creative Artists Agency convinced fellow agents and celebrity friends to invest in a late '90s revival of Dominick's in West Hollywood. The place quickly burned out from over-exposure, and everyone lost money.
With a now-endless supply of eager young Hollywood players racing from one hot restaurant to the next, the danger of repeating that history has never been greater, says Garrett. "We've been in the business for 15 years. Longevity is difficult to maintain."
Suaya isn't worried. Enchanted by the potential he sees, he's busy identifying which young stars he will approach next to invest in Goa. Jake Gyllenhaal, the star of "Brokeback Mountain" and "Jarhead" is at the top of his list.
"He's very hot right now, and I'm trying to get him," says Suaya. "We will get him."