70.1 F
Los Angeles
Friday, May 27, 2022

Will It Be Feast or Famine for L.A.’s New Upscale Eateries?

It may be the worst of times in the fine-dining segment, but that’s not stopping a handful of high-profile chefs from taking advantage of opportunities to open eateries in Los Angeles.

For example, Philippe Chow was supposed to start his sixth location in Las Vegas. Instead, he’s decided to make West Hollywood the site of his newest ultra-upscale Chinese chain, Philippe.

The anemic economy in Sin City prompted Chow and his partners to change course and open the location in October on trendy Melrose Avenue.

“The resources and focus at the time in early 2009 was to do Philippe in Las Vegas,” said Stratis Morfogen, a partner at Philippe Chow Restaurant Group. “But then we felt that the Las Vegas market got hit so hard, and that Los Angeles would be a better move for us as we already have a brand established in the L.A. market.”

Philippe isn’t alone in defying the challenges of the recession, which has cut national sales at fine-dining establishments by 15 percent.

Famed chef Thomas Keller in November unveiled the third outpost of his French restaurant Bouchon Bistro in Beverly Hills. Upscale French- Italian restaurant Fraiche in Culver City opened a Santa Monica location in October. French-trained Laurent Quenioux, known for his stint as executive chef at Dodger Stadium in the late 1990s, opened Bistro LQ in Los Angeles in July.

This represents a minicountertrend to the decline in the number of fine-dining restaurants nationally and in Los Angeles particularly. According to the NPD Group/ReCount restaurant census by Port Washington, N.Y., market research firm NPD Group Inc., the number of fine-dining restaurants declined by 4 percent for the 12 months ended March of this year. That’s much greater than the 1 percent decline in the number of all restaurants.

In Los Angeles, the number of fine-dining restaurants declined by 4.8 percent in the same period, from 273 to 260, phenomenally higher than the 0.1 percent decline in the number of all restaurants here.

So why are the aforementioned restaurants opening? Several said it is because the few big-name chefs at the very top of the industry are almost always in demand. And celebrity status is prized in Los Angeles; Chow, for example, is a protégé of the celebrity chef who goes by the name of Mr. Chow (and is not related to Philippe Chow).

What’s more, thanks to a weak commercial real estate market, restaurateurs can lease prime locations at cheaper rates.

“If you know how to run a restaurant, and have capital to weather the storm, then you might have a great opportunity,” said Gary Levy, director of the hospitality industry practice group at Roseland, N.J.-based consulting firm J.H. Cohn LLP.

Still, even well-known chefs such as Chow, Keller and Quenioux must find ways to get diners through their doors and keep them coming back after opening-day buzz dies down.

When Philippe opened, Chow hosted a tasting dinner for concierges from L.A.’s luxury hotels in an effort to generate ongoing business. The idea was to get the hotel people to send their A-list guests to Philippe, where the average dinner bill hits $75 and diners choose from delicacies such as Peking duck, Maine lobster and spicy prawns.

“Gaining new customers is the hardest to do during a recession,” said Morfogen. “And concierges do take care of Philippe because they know their clients will be taken care of.”

Fraiche is differentiating its new Santa Monica site by offering different dishes, including a foie gras terrine with prosciutto, black fig puree, orange gelee and campari gastrique.

The menu at Bistro LQ includes adventurous dishes such as venison tartar and Scottish hare, which are also offered in half-sized portions at about half price.

“There are big opportunities for trendy, well-known chefs or brands to open,” said Darren Tristano, an executive vice president at food industry research firm Technomic Inc. in Chicago. “But a lot of success will depend on whether they can continue to be relevant to the customer.”

Featured Articles

Related Articles