Splichal Jumps Pond to Infuse New Spot With European Flavor

by Deborah Belgum

Celebrity restaurateur Joachim Splichal is investing in the long term. Through his Patina Group, which was acquired three years ago by Restaurant Associates, Splichal is sinking $3.1 million into his newest downtown L.A. restaurant at 801 S. Figueroa St. It's called Zucca, which means "pumpkin" in Italian.

Splichal, known for his acclaimed Patina, as well as Pinot Hollywood and Nick and Stef's Steakhouse, has spent the past few years scouring Italy and France for various baubles that have given his new restaurant a European touch.

One of the Venetian chandeliers, which cost $15,000, was shipped in 450 separate pieces. The 12-foot-high wooden doors that open to the dining room are from a French church in Avignon. Italian marble is everywhere, as is imported Italian tile (at $25 to $40 per tile). The dining room floor, made of rough-hewn wood, comes from an abandoned Tuscan villa.

"His investment is a bit on the high end," said consultant Janet Lowder, president of Restaurant Management Services. "But if you want to be unique or different, it's not unusual."

When Splichal began planning his restaurant, the economy was roaring. But even now, in an economic downturn, he remains optimistic that Staples Center and the sports and entertainment complex around it will attract plenty of customers. He's also received a "substantial" tenant improvement contribution by the landlord.

"I looked at the downtown landscape and the restaurants here and at what would be good for the area, and I thought an Italian restaurant could be great," Splichal said.

Dinner will go for $15 to $24 and appetizers for $7 to $10. Zucca opens Feb. 14 for lunch and Feb. 20 for dinner.

Room With a View

Only 22 percent of the L.A. County hotel projects originally planned for 2001 actually finished construction, according to a survey released by the Atlas Hospitality Group.

Financing for hotel projects was tight at the beginning of last year, but practically disappeared following Sept. 11, said Alan Reay, president of the Costa Mesa-based company. Still, that's better than the state average where only 10 percent of the hotels planned for last year were built.

During 2001, Los Angeles County had 10 hotels added to its line-up. That's a slight increase from 2000 when L.A. County had eight new hotels that came on line. The largest was the Marriott Renaissance Hollywood at the Hollywood & Highland complex, with 640 rooms and suites. The second largest hotel was the Crowne Plaza Hotel in Commerce with 176 rooms.

While hotel development will be slow this year, more projects should start to come online in 2003 and then there will be a major increase in 2004 and 2005.

"If Staples Center is able to progress with its mixed use development there, that is going to attract a number of new hotels," Reay said.

More Pieces in the Pie

California Pizza Kitchen, which has 129 restaurants in its chain and plans 17 more for this year, beat analysts estimates by reporting fourth quarter net income of $3.2 million (17 cents), compared with $3.3 million (18 cents) for the like period a year ago.

Andrew Barish, a Banc of America Securities analyst in San Francisco, issued a report following the earnings announcement projecting a 20 percent bump in per share earnings this year. But he expects first quarter sales to be choppy. Also profit margins might be affected by the rise in the state minimum wage from $6.25 to $6.75.

CPK's stock, which hit $33 a year ago, was trading around $14 following the earnings announcement.

Staff reporter Deborah Belgum can be reached at (323) 549-5225 ext. 228 or at dbelgum@labusinessjournal.com.

Young Luck

Lucky Brand Dungarees has started to target the very young.

The L.A. manufacturer and retailer of denim jeans, sportswear and activewear signed a licensing agreement with New York manufacturer Haddad Apparel Group to put the Lucky trademark on an extensive line of kids wear from pacifiers to lunch bags.

This is the fifth licensing agreement the clothing company has signed in recent months. It already has agreements for fragrances, leather, swimwear and socks to be made under the Lucky Brand name.

The kids line will include boys and girls sportswear, activewear, bodywear, swimwear, outerwear, underwear and accessories such as hats, bags, backpacks, lunch bags, bottles, and pacifiers. All the items will debut in stores this fall.

Lucky has been on a licensing spree ever since 85 percent of the company was acquired by Liz Claiborne Inc. in 1999.

"We have always had an interest in licensing, but I think we had to wait until we had size and a brand recognition. And right now we're are at that point," said Trent Merrill, Lucky Brand's executive vice president.

Licensing deals have been a popular way for clothing manufacturers to make more money off their names. Sportswear brand Mossimo was rescued from bankruptcy a few years ago with a three-year $1-billion licensing deal with Target Corp. Cherokee Inc., based in Van Nuys, used to manufacture clothing under its own name but now makes money by managing more than 20 licensing agreements, including the Mossimo name.

Lucky Brand Dungarees is looking for other licensing partners for such items as watches, shoes, outerwear and accessories.

Deborah Belgum

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