Odds & Ends Around the Valley
Barry Schwartz is a second-generation restaurateur with an out-of-control habit and a way of fishing for compliments.
Not satisfied that his customers at Mel’s Landing in Valencia are loyal and exude satisfaction, Schwartz--like the college fraternity pledge chairman or the Las Vegas emcee--insists that everyone have a good time.
So he’s providing the background.
Which is why the eatery looks as though it schizophrenically wants to be a fancy French restaurant for the seriously seaworthy as well as a nautical Disney attraction in search of good taste.
“I literally grew up in the first Mel’s Landing that my parents owned in Granada Hills,” Schwartz said, “so when it was time for me to open my version, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
The first thing he did was apply the fresh fish and superior service premise that had made his parents’ restaurant a success.
The second thing he did was start decorating, and that’s when the trouble started.
“I put in a formal restaurant on the lower level so that people wouldn’t have to go to Beverly Hills or Ventura Boulevard to find an elegant place to dine,” Schwartz said.
The formal restaurant has the requisite linens and fancy silver and crystal and wines, and has been a money-maker for Schwartz even in these bad economic times, he said.
However, what happened to the upper space--which features similar cuisine to that downstairs--is a sorry story of Schwartz’s aquatic addiction that all began in the name of fun.
“I started out with a couple of barrels, some nets, a few oars, maybe a few masks and other diving paraphernalia,” Schwartz said, “but soon, collecting this nautical stuff did get out of control, became a full-on addiction.”
He was hooked.
He brought in the baby grand piano from the Queen Mary, a 35-foot skiff that he mounted on the wall, and has old and new surfboards everywhere.
He made one part of the upstairs space look like it came from outer space, by way of Nantucket.
“Oh yeah, that’s the part that looks like the inside of a lighthouse with the roof ripped off,” Schwartz said. “Isn’t that great?”
Schwartz said all this is becoming a consuming passion, but it’s all worth it because it makes people smile and have a good time.
Probably drink more, too.
Chin Chin restaurant in Studio City also has a major attraction:
Giant fortune cookies, 25 times the size of the normal ones.
As big as a cantaloupe.
Which is then dipped in chocolate.
And has a special fortune put into it.
Sort of a large, personalized, edible, ethnic greeting card that serves four.
“Well, it’s not gross or disgusting or anything,” says Judy Caspe, who furnishes the cookies to all four Los Angeles Chin Chins.
Which is more than she can say for some of the people thinking up the personalized fortunes.
“I don’t know what it is with you folks out in the Valley,” Caspe said, concern frosting her voice.
Caspe says she prints up all the requested messages that appear in these personalized cookies.
At most of the restaurants, she says, people want romantic messages, or birthday greetings and that sort of thing, and once she put in a whole passage from the Bible.
But people in the Valley are always asking for really lewd, rude messages, Caspe said, including one that was so awful she refused to do it.
The cookies are $12 each and may be ordered in advance so that they can be a surprise for your luncheon or dinner guest, or you may order them and have them sent to someone, Caspe said, remembering to get in the commercial.
In the two months they have been offered, they have gone from nothing to, “like, huge,” she said.
So huge that they are soon going to be offered at the Topanga Plaza Nordstrom.
But Caspe is still wondering what’s happened to romance in the San Fernando Valley.
“What’s going on with you folks in the Valley,” she wants to know, concern again frosting her voice.
Edward Shaw of Woodland Hills has always been what is known in the movie business as a hyphenate.
A hyphenate is someone who can be called, for example, a writer-director-cinematographer.
In Shaw’s case, he is a film and television producer-advertising and sales consultant-marketing and public relations specialist-wild man, this by his own happy assessment.
Now he is a producer-advertising and sales consultant-marketing and public relations specialist-wild man-film commissioner, since the government of Belize, after some schmoozing by Shaw, has appointed him to represent its interests in Hollywood.
“I’m the one who tells all the producers to come to Belize to make their movies,” the elated Shaw said.
“I tell them about the rain forest, and the waterfalls and white-river rafting. I extol the pristine condition of the beautiful island and the marvel of its 600 birds,” he said.
“Six hundred birds, can you imagine that?” he asks rhetorically. “No one can name more than 10 kinds of birds, and we’ve got 600!”
Shaw said that when he was first appointed to this position by Carlos Diaz, the minister of energy and communications, the first thing he did was run out to buy business cards and stationery.
The second thing he did was call all his friends who immediately started conjuring up appropriate titles for him.
“Mostly they wanted to know, ‘What’s a Belize?’ ” he said.
Belize--formerly British Honduras--is, its new film commissioner explains, an English-speaking country that lies west of the Caribbean, east of Guatemala and south of the Yucatan Peninsula of Mexico.
It is, Shaw said, one of the friendliest and most peaceful countries in the world, in addition to being the most beautiful and most exciting place to visit and/or make a film, which is easy for him to say.
Power of Attorney
The Woodland Hills law firm of Lovretovich & Karen has figured out a way to do well and do good at the same time.
“We are offering a 40-minute legal consultation in exchange for donations to benefit the Ronald McDonald House in Los Angeles, which provides a home away from home for the families of children undergoing treatment for cancer and other serious childhood illnesses,” Joe Lovretovich said.
This exchange encourages those interested in the legal consultation to bring bedding, new toys, movie videos in English and Spanish, baby swings, portable cribs, playpens, strollers, canned food, tickets to movies, concerts and baseball games, and such necessities as toilet paper and towels for use at the house.
The exchange brings in needed items for the house, and gives Lovretovich & Karen a chance to become acquainted with prospective clients.
“Less is more, except when you are trying to balance the budget.”
--Woman to her friend at Bullock’s Sherman Oaks