Dining with the stars

Los Angeles /
Sep.September 15, 2016 01:00 PM

From the L.A. print issue: Los Angeles is serving up a new role for celebrities and their quasi-celebrity counterparts: restaurateur.

Expanding on a trend sparked by the tremendous success over the years of the Hard Rock Cafe — which counts Tom Cruise and Steven Spielberg among its L.A. outpost investors — actors, producers and musicians are increasingly putting their dough into L.A. eateries. Now these A-listers are helping to drive demand for storefronts from Silver Lake to West Hollywood, real estate experts say.

Two trends are converging here. As the definition of fame becomes more flexible, thanks to self-promotional social media and reality television, there are simply more celebrities who feel they have the requisite notoriety to peddle. At the same time, Angelenos are taking themselves more seriously as foodies, suggesting that the audience for these undertakings might be fairly wide.

“Celebrities are gravitating to restaurants,” said Derrick Moore, a principal with the commercial brokerage Avison Young. “And as chefs become celebrities themselves, it’s become even easier to
attract capital.”

Yet famous backers alone can’t guarantee success, he said, even in Hollywood. “Proximity to the center of the movie industry doesn’t ensure any more success than anywhere else.”

The Real Deal has rounded up some of L.A.’s hottest new, and coming-soon, restaurant attractions that are run on star power.

Jessica Biel’s Au Fudge

Many VIPs tend to play it safe by choosing well-tested markets for their untested culinary ideas.

Jessica Biel, for instance, went with an established retail stretch of Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood for her Au Fudge, an organic restaurant that opened in March 2016, which takes its family-friendliness seriously.

Inside the airy, blond-wood-lined eatery, a staircase twists up to a pillow-strewn nook where a unicorn head is mounted like taxidermy over a door, and a small shop sells candy necklaces.

The location, a white-painted, low-slung structure with skinny columns across its front at 9010 Melrose, near North Doheny Drive, has seen a revolving door of restaurants in recent years, including Café Figaro, which served as a location in the movie “Jerry Maguire.”

Despite the long list of short-lived restaurants, No. 9010 is located in a coveted area, brokers say, near the popular Verve Coffee Roasters, at 8925 Melrose, and Craig’s, at 8826 Melrose. Rents there can average more than $12.50 a square foot, according to Rachel Rosenberg, an executive vice president with Robert K. Futterman and Associates. Those are steep for WeHo, although, by comparison, Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills can fetch $67 a foot.

Biel, who is married to Justin Timberlake and perhaps best known for the 1990s television drama “7th Heaven,” may have deep enough pockets to survive the difficult startup period for any eatery. Au Fudge backers include Monica Saunders-Weinberg, Joint Deputy Chairman of the Terrace Tower Group, an Australia-based real estate firm with West Coast commercial holdings. The company’s founder, John Saunders, also founded Westfield, the mall developer that controls the new shopping center below New York’s One World Trade Center. Jillian Eldredge, a spokeswoman for the restaurant, did not respond to requests for comment.

Moby’s Little Pine

Many star-owned restaurants reflect the tastes and personalities of their backers, even if the celebrities are silent partners who don’t take an active role in setting the menus.

Take, for example, the electronica musician Moby, who opened Little Pine — an organic, vegan, nonprofit restaurant — in the fall of 2015. It’s located at 2870 Rowena Avenue, in the Silver Lake neighborhood.

The 1,500-square-foot Art Deco-style restaurant, which is near West Silver Lake Drive, seats 50. The modestly priced but eclectic menu includes a vegetable ravioli entrée with pesto, spring vegetables and bread crumbs for $14. All the profits go to animal charities such as the Humane Society.

RKF’s Rosenberg said retail rents in Silver Lake can typically top $5 a square foot. At the high end, he said, La Colombe — a Philadelphia-based coffee chain — paid $8 a foot for a space at Sunset Boulevard and Hyperion Avenue.

Little Pine is not the first vegetable-themed undertaking for Moby. He backed another such restaurant in New York, while he was living in Manhattan, which shuttered in 2015, after 13 years. In Los Angeles, Moby, who was born Richard Melville Hall, was previously a backer of Crossroads Kitchen, a Mediterranean-style veggie spot at 8284 Melrose, whose other sponsors are reportedly Steve Bing, the film producer, and Travis Barker, the drummer for Blink-182.

For his part, Moby, in an email said, “I picked Silver Lake because it’s a mile from my house and that’s where the building was,” adding that he had “absolutely no plans for any more restaurants.”

Mark Wahlberg’s Wahlburgers

Most actors who own eateries are hoping that fans will become customers, even if their on-screen roles have nothing to do with cuisine. But Mark Wahlberg — the former rapper and model turned actor — is blending art and life by going into business with his brothers Donnie and Paul.

In 2011, the trio launched Wahlburgers, a burger chain. “Wahlburgers” is also the name of the six-season reality show the family has on A&E chronicling the launch of the chain and plans for a national expansion. The enterprise, which gets its recipes from Paul, a trained chef, may benefit from the extra limelight. It’s competing in the tough burgers-and-fries segment of the casual dining space, with the likes of Five Guys and Shake Shack.

The company is scouting for the chain’s first location in L.A., sniffing around a high-profile corner of Sunset Boulevard at the Sunset Plaza outdoor mall, an upscale shopping enclave, according to brokers familiar with the search. The corner could command $10 a square foot, said Will Knox, the broker/owner of the Knox Company, a restaurant-focused commercial brokerage that is not involved with the project. But that strikes Knox as steep. “How many burgers would you have to sell?” he said. “Bodies would need to be coming in and out all day.”

Lori Moretti, a company spokeswoman, said it was premature to comment on an L.A. location before any lease was signed.

Based in Hingham, Massachusetts, the chain currently has seven locations. The family intends to open 30 new franchises nationwide, according to plans announced this spring.

Axwell’s E.P. & L.P.

In Los Angeles, celebrities don’t need to have had long careers before hanging up a shingle. Take Axwell, a member of Swedish House Mafia, a popular electronic trio that broke up in 2013, after a five-year run. He’s now an investor in a restaurant, E.P. & L.P., with partners Grant Smillie, an Australian DJ, and restaurateur David Combes.

Named for the two common types of vinyl records, the restaurant is located at 603 North La Cienega at Melrose, a two-story, 9,120-square-foot contemporary space in L.A.

It offers a Southeast Asian-fusion-themed restaurant on one level (E.P.) and a wood-lined 5,000-square-foot roof bar (L.P.) with views of the Hollywood Hills. Included on that roof is a VIP lounge, dubbed Frankie’s Private Bar in honor of the late Frankie Knuckles, a DJ who popularized house music in Chicago in the 1980s.

It’s located near a venerable actor’s eatery, Nobu, at 903 North La Cienega, whose owners include Robert De Niro, considered by some to be the godfather of celebrity restaurant investing. This Nobu, as well as another in Malibu, are regularly packed.

In the E.P. & L.P. deal, which closed in 2015, the tenants signed a 10-year lease. Brokers say rents in the neighborhood can average just under $7 a square foot.

“We thought this was a pretty good precinct,” Combes said, noting the nearby restaurants and proximity to areas such as Beverly Hills. “The restaurant is performing incredibly well.”

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