George Abou-Daoud was unhappy at his job, buying distressed real estate debt at a finance company. He hated his commute from the Hollywood area to downtown Los Angeles.
He found comfort in going out at night. He loved to dine and drink, and he became fascinated by the restaurant business. So in 2003, he quit his financial job and opened his first restaurant, the Bowery, two years later. Three years after that, he opened three more. Then another. Now he’s getting ready to launch a sixth – his first fine-dining establishment. All are in the heart of Hollywood, all within a one-mile stretch of Sunset Boulevard.
As a result, Abou-Daoud has become a force on L.A.’s restaurant scene. And he’s an oddity, too: Local observers know of no other local restaurateur who’s concentrated so many eateries within walking distance of each other.
“I expected him to make good on the Bowery. I didn’t expect him to have six establishments on Sunset Boulevard in a relatively short time,” said Leron Gubler, president of the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce. “He’s stepped up to the plate with a vision for what he’d like to see that actually matches the general community vision for Hollywood. It’s actually happening.”
Abou-Daoud, 35, moved to Los Angeles from New York in 2000 armed with an undergraduate degree in finance and economics from New York University. As owner of Bowery Street Enterprises of Hollywood, he’s re-creating the atmosphere he loved in the Big Apple.
The restaurants offer moderately priced yet contemporary fare, full bars and a bit of Hollywood buzz.
“These kinds of places are very popular in New York City or Paris or Rome,” he said. “It’s a common thing to have a fun place, where it is not overly formal but the food is great. I don’t know why it hadn’t proliferated here.”
However, the competition has caught up with him as the gastropub trend has taken hold across Los Angeles, alongside a mini-explosion in fancy burger restaurants.
Despite the proliferation of competitors and a crushing recession that has curtailed consumer spending, Abou-Daoud didn’t back away from his expansion plans.
He opened three eateries in 2008: Delancey, Mission Cantina and Tamarind Ave. Deli. This year, he launched Mercantile, a gourmet market and wine bar that also serves bistro food. Another one, District, his first fine-dining spot, will open in January.
Abou-Daoud’s reputation on the L.A. foodie scene was bolstered early this year when he hired well-known chef Kris Morningstar, formerly of Blue Velvet and A.O.C., to oversee the cuisine at all the restaurants.
The restaurants – the Bowery in particular – are often crowded with young professionals grabbing a drink after work, and they are becoming more popular with businesspeople during lunchtime. While Abou-Daoud wouldn’t disclose revenue, he said that business at all of his eateries is good. “I don’t have bad days and bad months.”
It hasn’t hurt that the restaurants are all near several large mixed-use projects that have opened amid the Hollywood renaissance. And with the opening of others, including the W Hollywood Hotel & Residences, foot traffic is expected to increase.
But some restaurant industry players wonder if Abou-Daoud is growing too quickly. Longtime chef and restaurateur Giacomino Drago, who co-owns seven L.A. eateries, including Il Pastaio Ristorante and Via Alloro in Beverly Hills, said it’s a tough time to be expanding, even for seasoned veterans.
“When people throw themselves in the middle of the ocean and they’ve never been swimmers, they are going to drown,” said Drago, who has not dined at Abou-Daoud’s establishments. “The costs of owning a restaurant and maintaining it today is so high compared to 10 years ago.”
Whether he’s opened too many too quickly remains to be seen.
But Abou-Daoud said the inherent efficiencies that come with owning five establishments within four-fifths of a mile are a key part of his success.
Three of the eateries, Delancey, Mission Cantina and Tamarind Ave. Deli, are on property he owns at Sunset and Tamarind Avenue. Two other spots, Mercantile and District, are in one building less than a mile away, on Sunset and Seward Street. (That property is owned by entrepreneur Rachel Gerstein, who’s a partner of Abou-Daoud in several of the restaurants and other commercial real estate investments.) The Bowery is in between the two clusters.
Abou-Daoud said he trains his staff of about 130 to be able to work at each of his spots. That way, workers such as managers and waiters can be quickly shuffled to the eateries that may need extra attention. Having five restaurants nearby also gives him strong buying power with food suppliers, who are able to efficiently deliver food to his “restaurant row.”
Morningstar said the benefits extend to solving simple day-to-day problems efficiently.
“At any given point in a day, I will get a call that we are out of order sheets at one restaurant or need to borrow butter from another. We all joke about getting golf carts with flames painted on the side to go back and forth,” he said.
David Myers, chef and owner of upscale eateries Sona and Comme Ca, can relate. His two restaurants are just blocks from each other on the edge of West Hollywood.
“I can be at both restaurants – it enables me to really focus on the service and the quality of the experience,” said Myers.
But he cautioned that too many similar restaurants from one proprietor could cannibalize sales.
“I may have a third if it was a different enough concept,” he said. “I wouldn’t open a fourth (nearby).”
Abou-Daoud believes he has protected himself from cannibalization because each of his restaurants offers different cuisine. He’s opened Mexican, Italian, American and bistro food eateries on a street that doesn’t have much in the way of competition.
He also takes pride in handling the design and construction of his restaurants; he puts his financial background to use by managing the books and general operation of his eateries.
He’s been busy preparing for the opening of District, which will be the most upscale restaurant in the group when it debuts next month.
Morningstar said District will serve “foodie food” at neighborhood prices, but likely more expensive and formal than Bowery, where diners can go for a simple $9.50 hamburger or a more nuanced $18.50 pan-roasted salmon with king oyster mushrooms, pearl onions, haricot verts and mustard vinaigrette.
And he won’t be done after District. Abou-Daoud said he plans to open another restaurant in Hollywood, though he wouldn’t disclose details.
“I think I’ve been able to pull off a lot of good stuff,” he said. “I stick with my profile of very accessible wonderful food and great drinks. I’m not going to open a club or a cocktail bar.”
Above all, he’s happier than he was working downtown at the financial company he left to pursue the restaurant business, Oaktree Capital Management LP.
“I couldn’t go anymore. I couldn’t drive down the freeway into the office,” he said. He liked his colleagues – he’s stayed friends with them, and they often check out his eateries. But he wouldn’t go back.
“I can’t stand that lifestyle. It’s so isolated,” he said.
“I wanted to do my own thing. I really love food and drink. I loved going out to restaurants and bars.”
In fact, he said, “I opened the Bowery so I could have my own place here to hang out.”
Abou-Daoud can be seen at his restaurants nightly, but he’s also a man about town, quick to sample new restaurants or bars.
“I live my lifestyle. I work for myself,” he said. “I get to eat great food all the time, drink nice wine.”
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, CLICK HERE.