A new restaurant has opened in Marina del Rey and it's the kind of "California casual" tenant the County of Los Angeles hopes will revive the waterfront.
But Prime Time Steaks' laid-back atmosphere is anything but home-grown. The restaurant is the creation of Seoul, South Korea-based Dainong Group.
It plans to use its Marina del Rey steakhouse as a prototype for a chain that could be expanded statewide.
"We saw there was an element missing in the existing offerings of steakhouses. We're not as expensive as a Ruth's Chris or Morton's nor geared as much toward the family budget like an Outback Steak House. We're right in the middle," said Robert Park, president of Dainong America Corp., Dainong's U.S. subsidiary.
Park said he jumped at the chance to get involved in the restaurant business in Marina del Rey.
"I went to USC and used to spend evenings at all the hot places in the marina. I have always had a soft spot in my heart for the area," said Park, a native Korean.
DNA purchased both the Reuben's and Edie's Diner restaurants, located next door to each other in Marina del Rey, at the same time last October. DNA has continued to operate Edie's, a'50s-style diner, since then. But it converted the Reuben's into the new Prime Time Steaks, which opened in April.
"We are going to package the concept of the steakhouse and the '50s diner and take it back to Korea, either together or separately," Park said. As for Edie's Diner, "there are no restaurants of that sort in Korea."
Plans are in the works to expand Edie's Diner locations to shopping centers throughout Southern California.
After 15 years as a hotel manager in San Francisco with Kintetsu International, Park was recruited by Dainong in 1992 to start up DNA.
"If the county goes ahead with the plans that they have for updating and bringing new business to the marina, then this place will be as popular as it once used to be," Park said.
County officials have equally high hopes for Prime Time.
"This is the kind of revitalization that the county is looking for," said Stan Wisniewski, director of the county's Department of Beaches and Harbor.
The county's master plan for redeveloping its marina property, its most valuable asset, calls for construction of a broad waterfront promenade for pedestrians.
Two major "catalytic" resort projects would be developed, with the promenade connecting the two. The vision is for pedestrians to wander along the promenade, stopping at art galleries, outdoor cafes, shops and live music venues along the way.
Having Prime Time near one of the resort projects is "complementary to the hotel and motel industry at that end and the planned children's water park," Wisniewski said.
Dainong Group began its venture into the family restaurant business in Seoul in the late 1980s as a sub-licensee of Coco's Japan.
Today, Dainong operates 40 licensed Coco's franchise restaurants in South Korea. Dainong, through its Midopa Co. Ltd. unit, also operates department stores and supermarkets in South Korea.
Locations for additional Prime Time Steaks are being scouted in Newport Beach, San Diego and Beverly Hills, Park said.
The company's first and only other U.S. restaurant operation is a Coco's franchise restaurant in the Wilshire Center district of Los Angeles. Dainong bought that franchise in 1992.
At the harbor, business has been good but not great since the April opening, according to Park. A grand opening is planned for next month and Park is hopeful business will pick up after that.
The 683-seat Prime Time restaurant overlooks the marina, and has 2,368 feet of dock space.
According to Rich Nicholson, Prime Time's director of operations and general manager, the restaurant is planning to offer a dinner and harbor cruise package with Charter Connections, the charter boat company that currently leases a portion of the restaurant's dock.
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