Security issues? Chef Celestino Drago's new downtown restaurant comes complete with what was once a bank vault. The formerly safe place will serve as a private dining room and demonstration kitchen when the eatery opens next month.

Drago Centro is located in a former City National Bank branch. Diners at vault events will be able to view screens that show their meal being made. Or they could simply enjoy a lecture on wine.

The vault door has been removed and is being replaced with transparent panels.

Hospitality recruiter Brad Metzger praised the "vault" project for catering to foodie enthusiasm.

"I'm all for furthering the education and knowledge of diners," Metzger said. "Americans need to know how to not overcook and oversauce their pasta, so anything Drago is doing to increase that awarenesss, I'm all for it."

Drago raised nearly $7 million to make Centro happen, with $4 million coming from landlord Thomas Properties Group. The rest came from private investors.

Drago said he expects to bring in $7 million a year, especially from high lunchtime traffic law firms Paul Hastings Janofsky & Walker LLP, Jones Day and Fulbright & Jaworski LLP are building tenants, as are Atlantic Richfield Co. and U.S. Trust Co. of California.

Drago is known for his fine-dining establishments he has four around the city, including the original Drago Ristorante in Santa Monica.

T-Shirts for Tots

Meri Zeiff took the knowledge she gained as an elementary school teacher and turned it into a children's T-shirt business that's going so strong she's left the classroom.

In the last 12 months, Zeiff's Encino-based, which sells shirts "designed by kids for kids," has quadrupled its sales.

The business works on two tracks. Zeiff chooses from designs submitted by children, then the shirts are sold online and in some local stores, including celebrity favorite Kitson. The child receives 3 percent of sales and the nonprofit Free Arts for Abused Children gets another 3 percent.

Or Verymeri uses designs from kids involved in fundraising projects for schools, camps and non-profits. The groups receive 20 percent of sales.

Zeiff started her business nearly three years ago when she began to notice her students coming to school wearing T-shirts featuring dubious text, such as "I'm a Spoiled Brat."

"I thought, 'Why isn't anyone making shirts with the great, positive things kids actually say?'" said Zeiff, 33. "These messages were coming from jaded adults, I think."

So she asked her students what messages they would put on a shirt, narrowed those down to a handful, borrowed $2,500 from her mother and set up her business.

Shirts now carry mottos such as "Save the Whales" and "Be Buddies Not Bullies."

Within a year, Verymeri was profitable enough for Zeiff to quit her teaching job.

She now has commission-based sales representatives in several states who have placed her shirts into more than 20 stores.

Barbie Regroups

Mattel Inc. has redeployed the organization of its executives handling the world famous Barbie product line in order to remedy what its new leader called "fractured" internal communication.

Richard Dickson will lead the new team. He was formerly a leader of the El Segundo toymaker's global marketing team.

"We've previously been very successful in extending the Barbie brand," said Dickson, referring to the fashion doll's many products and licensing deals. "The new structure allows us to use all assets and best practices of the brand globally."

Barbie will be turning 50 next year, and Dickson hopes team unity will help create a better-managed birthday message, though he declined to give details.

"The fact that Barbie is 50 will not be our core message," he said. "Girls today don't care about that."

Staff reporter Maya Meinert can be reached at or at (323) 549-5225, ext. 228.

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.