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Friday, Jun 2, 2023

Child’s Play

Joey Parsi once took his small children to Houston’s in Century City. One kid spilled a glass of water and the baby started wailing. He still remembers the dirty looks he got from other diners.

So he decided to open his own restaurant that would be kid-friendlier, without being a Chuck E. Cheese’s.

With more than $700,000 of his money and about $45,000 from friends, the investment banker opened Giggles N’ Hugs in February in a Brentwood strip mall, downstairs from a children’s hair salon.

Unlike other child-oriented restaurants that focus on pizza and games for older kids, what makes Giggles N’ Hugs stand out is its organic-food menu and emphasis on toddlers. The food is designed for parents’ palates, too. Mom can have a goat cheese and eggplant panini, while kids can dig into macaroni and cheese without knowing that there’s added pureed butternut squash.

There are play areas where children can play dress-up or make crafts. On certain nights, there are visits by live cartoon characters, musical performances and puppet shows.

“Kids are supposed to experiment, run around, yell,” said Parsi, 39, who lives in Sherman Oaks. “It’s not fair for me to tell them, ‘Don’t be you.'”

The restaurant’s concept has caught on among the affluent residents of the Westside. Just through word of mouth, 300 people lined up opening day, and celebrities have brought their children to eat there.

The restaurant broke even in its second month and is on track to make more than $1 million in its first year. Parsi is turning it into a chain, and is raising $3 million to turn the concept into a national franchise. He has received interest from high-level investors, but wants to maintain control so the backing will come from those he selects on an invitation-only basis.

He has kept his day job as a retail broker, managing $200 million in accounts at Stock Cross Financial Services in Beverly Hills. Previously, he had worked as an investment banker at his own company.

Parsi is planning to open and own restaurants in Newport Beach; Calabasas; Pasadena; and Vancouver, Canada.

Restaurant consultant William H. Bender thinks Parsi is off to a good start with Giggles N’ Hugs, but he needs to be careful about expansion.

“Whether the concept will endure will depend on how well he establishes and executes the brand,” Bender said. “Having goals of franchising is fine, but normally you have two to three years of brand development first.”

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