Restaurateurs are, by their very nature (and whether they realize it or not), optimists. They have to be, to go so blindly and so bravely into their most difficult and unpredictable profession. But no restaurateur is more optimistic than one whose restaurant hasn’t yet opened. These are people still in the infatuation stage . . . people who still believe all the blue-sky projections they have worked up to attract investors. And these are people who are still usually willing to tell you, with admirable precision, exactly when they’ll start construction, and when they’ll open their front doors.
They are usually wrong. As the year draws to a close, I’ve been looking back on my columns to see how many of the in-the-works restaurants announced herein have actually opened. The answer is, not very many. In some cases, they have merely (inevitably) been delayed. In other cases, they have evaporated like the dreams they probably were.
The Edgemar Grill, for instance, was supposed to open in September or October of this year at Edgemar, the Frank Gehry-designed retail and museum complex on Main Street in Santa Monica. The principals were to have been businessmen Larry Klosowski and Frank McKevitt and chef Peter DeLucca. The team had detailed plans for the place, down to working construction drawings, an interior decorator, a tentative menu, and a well-thought-out philosophy. (“We want to try to make the place part of the community,” DeLucca said. “We’re going to really try to accommodate people’s special diets and whims.”) Now the deal is dead. What happened? After putting up their own money to get the project started, Klosowski and company were unable to attract enough outside investors fast enough. “We made some bad decisions when we were negotiating the lease,” De Lucca said. “We could have stayed alive but we were incurring penalties from the landlord and it just didn’t seem smart to stay with it. It would have been throwing good money after bad.”
In June, Stephen White, chef and co-proprietor of Magdalena’s in Bellflower, revealed plans to open his version of a country French bistro August or September on the site of the defunct Justina’s in Long Beach. He hasn’t yet done so.
What happened? “We just got approved finally for redevelopment funds last week. Now it looks like it’ll be April or May,” he said recently. The name, undecided until recently, will be Amis.
Noa Noa made its first appearance in this column in October, 1988, when the irrepressible Kenji Seki, former maitre d’ of Teru Sushi and Chinois on Main and co-creator of New York’s China Grill, said it “must open by March, 1989.” In May, he reported that construction on the Beverly Hills restaurant had been delayed for a time but had finally begun, and that he was anticipating an August debut. In October, he predicted a November or December opening.
Now, he says, it will be the first or second week of February. “We have been in construction for one year!” he said. “Can you imagine? And every day we are not open, it costs us $2,500! We’ll have to be very good and make a lot of money very fast!”
Remi--a West Coast version of the chic Manhattan Venetian trattoria owned by chef Francesco Antonucci and restaurant designer Adam Tihany--was initially supposed to open next month. Unfortunately, construction on the restaurant, to be located in the newly resuscitated Santa Monica Mall, didn’t begin until late October-- and Tihany now says that it won’t open until April. Meanwhile, the original New York Remi, which was supposed to close this month, will stay open until the end of February. (It reopens in a new location, also in April.)
Tihany, whose interiors include those at our own Bice and Bice Pomodoro and at Bice (among other high-profile restaurants) in New York, added that he has just started work on two new projects in Paris: Still another Bice, to be opened in late spring in the Hotel Balzac on the rue Balzac in Paris; and a sophisticated cocktail bar in another hotel to be opened by the same proprietors just across the street.
It was first announced that a San Fernando Valley version of Beverly Hills’ Bistro Garden was in the works back in August, 1987. But the project has been repeatedly delayed. Work on it is finally almost finished, though, and Feb. 5 has been set as a firm opening date.
Chino Latino sounded like great fun--an offshoot of the lively El Mocambo in West Hollywood, featuring a mix of Cuban, Central and South American, and Chinese food in an interior described as resembling “a Chinese restaurant in the middle of the Amazon.” El Mocambo boss Perry Santos and his consulting chef, Toribio Prado (also co-founder and proprietor of Cha-Cha-Cha), promised a late November opening, on the site of the old Chinese Kitchen on Beverly Boulevard.
So far, there’s no sign of the place. But it’s still very much in the works, Santos said, and noted that, contrary to rumors, Prado is still involved. “There are several different reasons why it’s not going to happen at the original location,” he says, “but we’ve found two other possible locations, one in Santa Monica and one at Sunset Plaza.” Once a location is found, he expects that the restaurant can open by May or June, since most of interiors have been prefabricated. (Prado himself, incidently, says that if he is still involved with Chino Latino, it will be only on a consulting basis--not as a partner, as was originally announced. “I don’t want to be involved in anymore partnerships,” he says. “And anyway, I’d like to open something of my own, probably a Cha Cha Cha in Santa Monica.”)
The most realistic of local restaurateurs with new projects in the works has got to be Ken Frank, chef/proprietor of La Toque on the Sunset Strip. Since the beginning of 1988, he has been planning to convert his upscale establishment into a larger and more casual place, to be called Fenix. At one time, he thought the change might take place as early as mid-'88. For various reasons, though, he says, he has continued to run La Toque in its original form. But he has by no means given up the idea of Fenix.
“It’s going to happen, and I’m very excited about it,” Frank said. Can he offer a tentative opening date, or even a planned date for the start of construction, then? “I honestly can’t,” he replied. “If I could predict something like that, I would have already moved to Las Vegas and made my fortune. The only thing I know for sure is that it will take longer than we think.”