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José Andrés’ Somni and the Bazaar to close permanently after SLS Hotel owners terminate contract

Diners at Somni’s 10-seat chef’s counter at SLS Beverly Hills.
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Amid an especially brutal week for restaurant closures, the fates of two popular Beverly Hills dining destinations are in jeopardy.

Representatives for the Bazaar and Somni at SLS Beverly Hills said that those restaurants will be forced to close permanently on Friday after a lawsuit filed by the luxury hotel’s owners, Torrance-based multi-level marketing company and hotel chain Sunrider International, sought to terminate a consulting agreement.

The Bazaar, which opened in 2008, and Somni, the 10-seat tasting menu chef’s counter opened by chef Aitor Zabala in 2018, are both operated by José Andrés’ D.C.-based ThinkFoodGroup.

According to a copy of the lawsuit obtained by The Times, a subsidiary of Sunrider, Sunworld Dynasty — which purchased the SLS from nightclub and hospitality firm SBE in 2015 for $195 million — alleged that ThinkFoodGroup had, among other claims, failed to “address structural, cost-cutting measures” and propagated “detrimental and negative statements about Sunworld” to staff.

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In response, Andrés’ ThinkFoodGroup issued a statement claiming that the lawsuit was “entirely baseless” and jeopardized the restaurant’s attempt to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Sunworld’s termination of the long standing, world-class operations of the Bazaar restaurant at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills on August 6 is without merit and follows a letter writing campaign from Sunworld, carried out by its lawyers during the COVID-19 pandemic, alleging defaults that were obviously incapable of being cured while our employees lived through shelter-in-place orders,” the statement said. “Both lawsuits and related terminations are part of an effort, which Sunworld recently acknowledged, to sell the hotel to another entity that would pay more for a blank slate property.”

Representatives of Sunworld did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

ThinkFoodGroup further stated that unless the lawsuit was withdrawn by Aug. 7, the result would be “a permanent and unjust closure” of the Bazaar and Somni in which the restaurant’s staff would be laid off and the hotel’s restaurant spaces left unoccupied.

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The celebrated restaurant, which defined downtown dining over the last decade, will not survive the pandemic.

“Now is the time that we should be working together, not filing unfounded claims as a way to position the property for sale that will close yet more restaurants and leave employees without jobs and, equally important, our city without another restaurant that provided a place to gather and celebrate,” the statement said.

The Bazaar, which was a modernist sensation when it opened over a decade ago, received a rare four-star review from The Times’ then-restaurant critic S. Irene Virbila.

Somni had been awarded the No. 19 spot on The Times’ most recent 101 Best Restaurants list, with critic Bill Addison proclaiming that Zabala’s intimate $280 tasting menu “stretches notions around art and craft and theater like taffy” and offered “proof that unruly creativity can thrive on every level in Los Angeles dining.” The restaurant was also one of three fine dining spots in L.A. awarded two Michelin stars in 2019.

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The legal dispute over the Bazaar and Somni takes place amid a string of sudden restaurant closures over the last few weeks — including fine dining restaurants such as Trois Mec, Patina and Broken Spanish — due to economic challenges caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

ThinkFoodGroup also recently joined a growing list of high-profile restaurant owners and chefs that have sued their insurance companies for wrongfully denied business interruption insurance, filing a lawsuit in federal courts against Travelers Insurance last week.


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