Actor Bruce Willis invested in it, Billy Dee Williams was a regular and hit shows were filmed there. Despite that star power, Pane e Vino couldn’t withstand the recession. What happened?

The Italian eatery first took a hit during the Writers Guild of America strike in 2007. Business never really bounced back because people stopped eating out once the recession hit. So owner Rod Dyer was unable to pay the landlord and vendors. Faced with a mounting pile of debt, Dyer decided at the end of last month to close the restaurant on Beverly Boulevard a few blocks east of the Beverly Center shopping mall.

“We tried to hang in for as long as we could,” he said. “But it got so bad we had to pull the plug.”

Local restaurateur Peter Garland took over the lease from Dyer. Garland is giving the space a facelift, renovating the interior and adding a sidewalk dining patio.

But Dyer is still involved. He’ll be serving for a time as a consultant to Garland on his new concept for the space. Dyer’s background is graphic design. His credits include logos for the Disney Channel and “Entertainment Tonight.”

Pane e Vino (which means “bread and wine”) debuted more than 20 years ago after Dyer decided he wanted to open a restaurant where all of his friends could hang out, an eatery influenced by La Scala in Beverly Hills. Dyer, who didn’t have any experience running a restaurant, got high-profile friends such as Willis, Guess Chief Executive Paul Marciano and film director-producer Michael Mann to invest.

Pane e Vino became a power lunch spot among entertainment industry insiders such as talent agents, producers and celebrities – Halle Berry was spotted giving Williams a kiss on the cheek when the two dined on the restaurant’s patio earlier this year.

Signature dishes included sautéed shrimp with polenta and prices range $15-$30 per item. Dyer, 76, recently tried to boost business by offering discounts through daily deal sites such as Groupon and BlackboardEats. But he said the people would use the coupon and never return. Investors were paying some of the expenses to keep Pane e Vino running, but time had run out.

Of course, Pane e Vino isn’t the only finer-dining establishment to fall victim to the economy, said Jerry Prendergast, principal consultant at Culver City restaurant consultancy Prendergast & Associates.

“Most of your white-tablecloth restaurants are still in trouble,” Prendergast said. “People still want good food, but they don’t want the stuffier atmosphere.”

Dyer acknowledged that the restaurant might have done better if he’d freshened the place up; he hadn’t changed it much during its life. Regardless, it has been a difficult time for him and his longtime customers.

“People broke into tears when I told them we were closing,” he said.

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