The Business Journal salutes industry standouts for bringing welcome relief to the hospitality sector.
BEST RESTAURANT DEVELOPER
Adolfo Suaya, 58
Owner, Suaya Properties LLC
Restaurateur Adolfo Suaya is mostly known in Los Angeles for his once-ubiquitous chain, Gaucho Grill, and the other chic restaurants and lounges he’s opened, from Dolce to Bar Delux.
But fewer people know that Suaya owns most of the properties that house his establishments, in addition to more than a dozen other sites that are home to popular L.A. eateries.
It is all part of a two-pronged business strategy that brought Suaya, 58, to prominence in L.A. real estate and restaurant circles. And now that the businessman has sold off the last of his Gaucho Grill Argentinean steakhouses, he is concentrating on other restaurants and his burgeoning real estate business.
“I’m not afraid. I always go with my instinct,” he said.
Suaya got his start in real estate with the Gaucho Grill chain’s expansion in the 1990s, when he began buying a slew of restaurant properties. His timing was good, with real estate values depressed for much of the 1990s. He now owns a concentration of properties in Hollywood, including buildings that house restaurants, bars and lounges such as Essex Public House, L’Scorpion and the Room.
“Adolfo made a lot of good real estate choices way back when,” said restaurant designer Kristofer Keith, who owns Spacecraft Group, and has designed a handful of Suaya’s restaurants, including BoHo. “When he bought land, he went after things with restaurants in them because his take was, ‘If all else fails I can always put a restaurant of my own in.’”
The Argentina-born entrepreneur, who heads Suaya Properties LLC of Hollywood, said that after establishing Gaucho Grill, he became inundated with calls from landlords asking if wanted space for another iteration of the steakhouse.
The way Suaya remembers it, he got a call from a broker asking if he’d like to lease space on Third Street, just east of La Cienega Boulevard. He decided it would be better to own the property at 8445 W. Third St. and bought it for about $600,000. In 1993, Suaya opened restaurant Antarctica at the site but it was short-lived and he decided to lease the space after his restaurant closed. He struck gold with tenant Sushi Roku, a restaurant that opened in 1997 and still is housed there.
Suaya is also the operator of two restaurants, BoHo and Surly Goat; another, Osaka, will open in May. The latter two are housed in properties Suaya owns. Suaya said it is “nicer” to own the buildings that house his restaurants, but not easier.
“It’s less stressful because you pay rent to yourself. If you can’t pay the rent, who are you going to yell at? Nobody. It’s just a nicer feeling,” he said.
Suaya emigrated from Argentina in 1986 to study filmmaking in Los Angeles. But he realized quickly that there was a chance to bring Argentinean cooking to the city’s nascent food scene. That same year he opened the first Gaucho Grill in West Hollywood. It was a hit and Suaya expanded quickly, opening 12 before selling the business. These days, Suaya, who is divorced, is known for being a man about town.
He owns a house in the Hollywood Hills that he built on property once owned by Ringo Starr. Suaya famously uses the 7,500-square-foot pad for parties. He also spends time in South America, visiting Argentina and Uruguay, where he owns a boutique hotel. But he is still drawn to the community where most of his properties are located.
“My life is in Hollywood,” Suaya said.
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