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Tuesday, Sep 26, 2023


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Staff Reporter

Victor Drai has been an exterminator, a clothier, a real estate salesman and a film producer. Most recently, he’s added the title of restaurateur to his resume.

Three and a half years ago, the Moroccan-born son of French parents opened Drai’s in West Hollywood. Drai’s Cafe in Beverly Hills followed, opening its doors last October.

In a city where eateries can quickly fade out of favor, restaurants have become a real draw for the Hollywood set Sean Connery, Christian Slater, and Barbra Streisand are among those dining there in the past few months.

The restaurants have also been lucrative. Drai said his West Hollywood outlet generated revenues of $5 million in 1996, while Drai’s Cafe in Beverly Hills has already seen monthly revenues of $300,000. On his busiest days, he says he has turned away up to 200 people.

Drai, who produced such movies as “Woman In Red,” “The Man With One Red Shoe” and “Weekend At Bernie’s,” spoke to the Business Journal about running a restaurant.

Q: What made you decide to venture into the restaurant business?

A: I did very well as a producer. But, when I lost my parents and my wife got pregnant, I decided I wanted to stay in town because I’d never had kids before. I knew that if I stayed in film who knows I could be shooting during that moment or have to go someplace.

So, I thought I’d like to start a restaurant in L.A. And, in a period of a month I found a location and I found a chef. I knew it would be lots of work but that didn’t bother me. It was something I wanted to do for years and years.

Q: Restaurants come and go in L.A. What do your restaurants have that have made them so popular?

A: Charm, atmosphere, quite decent food. If you give someone a warm environment if they’re comfortable and happy sitting at a table and after that, you give them a nice meal and when they pay they don’t feel like they have been stolen from, then you’re a winner. A lot of restaurants in L.A. don’t have a great atmosphere.

Q: How did you get the word out about your restaurants?

A: I have no idea. I opened the first one with 30 partners, so I would be sure we would have people coming when we opened.

I got on the phone one day when I decided to have partners in the restaurant. I got on the phone in the morning and in two hours I got 25 people to say yes. But, I wasn’t asking for much money because I didn’t need the money. I wanted $5,000 for each. It wasn’t the money, it was more that they be involved in the restaurant and be sure they were coming and bringing people. If they asked me questions, I said forget about it, don’t put the money in, I have no idea what I’m doing.

Q: So, if someone asked questions about the restaurant before investing, you did not want them involved?

A: One question and I would say no. You don’t ask any questions, give me a check and that’s it. Because I didn’t want it to be an issue. I didn’t want them calling up in three months and say “How is my money?” Because I was sure they were going to lose their money.

First, I only asked the people who really can afford to lose five grand. And the second thing I wanted to be sure they wouldn’t be (angry) at me because it’s not worth it for me to lose a friend over five grand. So, it was more in that sense that I was asking for the money. I didn’t do the paperwork for the partnership until three or four months after we opened because nobody (worried) they sent me a check and nobody cared. But, after three years, they doubled their money and still have their investment in the restaurant.

Q: How do you account for the popularity of your restaurants in the entertainment industry?

A: Most of the clientele I (personally) know (are) in the entertainment business. Here (at Drai’s Cafe) 60 percent to 70 percent of my business is movie business. The other (Drai’s in West Hollywood) is 40 percent, approximately.

I treat everybody the same way, try to. If we pack, we pack I don’t care who they are. If they are a good customer not because who they are but because they are a good customer then I try to accommodate them as best I can. But I will not accommodate somebody because of their name.

I cater to celebrities in the sense that I know what they need because I’ve been in the industry. They need certain discretion, they don’t want people to bother them. It’s very little you seat them with their back to the room, not facing the room, to give them a little more privacy.

Stars are often easier to deal with than the normal customer. They don’t care where they sit. The only thing is you don’t make them wait for a table because you don’t want them standing in the middle of 200 people.

Q: To what do you attribute your success in an area in which you had no previous experience?

A: If you’re passionate about what you’re doing and focus on what you’re doing, then it’s quite easy to be successful. I think the problem with people (is) they don’t focus on what they’re doing.

I knew nothing about the restaurant business when I started. The only thing I knew is that I ate in restaurants since I was 18 every day of my life. I always observed you can go in a restaurant and see nothing or you can go in and see many things.

It was the same thing with film when I started. Every day it was like a joke because I didn’t know anything about the film. But I learned very quick and I (brought) my first film under budget. I’ve done so many businesses in my life and everything I’ve used somehow, some way, 20 years later out of the blue.

Q: What do you plan on doing next?

A: I’m opening a Drai’s in Vegas in July at the Barbary Coast hotel on the strip. And then I’m going to open a Drai’s Boutique, a sandwich and salad place. The first one will be in Beverly Hills and hopefully we’ll have a thousand of them in the country soon.

But I won’t open another restaurant it’s too much work. Vegas is easier in the sense that it’s a tourist place so they don’t need my presence as much. Here and the other restaurant, my presence is really needed they (the customers) want to see me here.


Victor Drai

Position: Owner and operator of Drai’s Cafe in Beverly Hills and Drai’s in West Hollywood

Born: Casablanca, Morocco, 1947

Education: Quit school at 16

Career Turning Point: Happens every five years

Most admired person: Mother Teresa

Personal: Married to actress Lauren Locklin for six years. Has a three year old son

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