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by Natalie Haughton

Glitz, glamorous, enticing atmosphere, a hotlocation and great food are one thing, but a celebrity name can make a restaurant a star.

Latest to join the lineup of sizzling celeb hot spots is the knockout Beso in Hollywood, where Eva Longoria Parker is an owner.

Just what prompted her to take the plunge?

“I have always loved the power of food in bringing people together,” notes Parker. “I am constantly cooking for friends and family for game night or dinner parties, so opening a restaurant felt natural, especially with the help of someone as talented as Todd English (the celebrity chef who is also one of the owners).”

Parker has influenced the menu (guacamole and tortilla soup are made with her recipes), decor and design. And the wall to the entrance has poems by Parker’s sister etched in the glass.

Some diners may even get a chance to hobnob with the “Desperate Housewives” actress – she often greets guests when she’s on the premises. Buzz has it that she’s been at the restaurant about 10 times and eaten there about six since it opened last month. She had her birthday party there and threw a splashy opening bash that included a wealth of stars, among them Sheryl Crow, Paula Abdul, Ryan Seacrest, Nicollette Sheridan and Felicity Huffman.

When they invest, some celebs are involved to varying degrees. Some are hands on, others not. Jennifer Lopez, owner of Madre’s Restaurant in Pasadena, which opened in 2002, says, “I was more involved in the beginning. Now it’s more of a self-sufficient business.I’m just surprised it’s been around as long as it has.”

And yes, she still eats there once in a while.

When cooking at home, she says, “I love to cook Puerto Rican food mostly – kind of like Madre’s menu.”

There’s more to operating a restaurant than just names and buzz. Famous celebrity investors don’t guarantee success. Restaurants must deliver appealing decor, good food, professional service and, hopefully, a memorable dining experience.

“So many times with these celebrity restaurants, the celebrity is just a front person (that)or a passive investor and the public-relations people build a whole promomtional campaign around that person’s name recognition,” says Richard Martin, executive editor of Nation’s Restaurant News.

“Often these people are just one piece of the puzzle. If you can attract star-struck tourists with the buzz about the celebrity owner, that might work in the short term, but then word spreads that the celebrity really isn’t there, and the restaurant has to live or die on its own merit,” he adds. When restaurants are hyped up, you often can’t depend on what they deliver.

“People have the wrong perception and equate a celebrity with someone like a Wolfgang Puck who actually knows the business.”

The one that breaks the mold in terms of gaining attention and hands-on success is Jeri Ryan (“Shark”), Martin says. She and her husband, chef Christophe Eme, formerly of L’Orangerie, started Ortolan – it received one star from Michelin recently – and she was involved in getting the restaurant off the ground.

“It’s very helpful to have an owner that understands the restaurant business. If the person whose money is backing the venture doesn’t really understand the restaurant business, it can be difficult to execute the necessary cost controls and management fundamentals and the oversight of the kitchen,” points out Martin.

Lee Maen, partner in the Innovative Dining Group – which owns eight restaurants in Los Angeles, including Boa, Katana, Sushi Roku, Robata Bar and Luckyfish – notes there are some benefits to having celebrity investors. “Ryan Seacrest (a major investor in the group’s restaurants) is a foodie. He loves food and wine and loves to get involved, and he often wants to do public relations that includes the restaurant. He’s done a show on food network where he was part of show and included Katana in it.” He’s also used Boa Santa Monica, one of his favorites, in a magazine photo shoot.

While none of the investors is hands-on when it comes to operations, adds Maen, “Celebrities can an give better word-of-mouth or buzz than the average person. When Ryan is on the radio and mentions one of the restaurants, it hits more people than the average person speaking to their friends.”

Often celebrities, who have discretionary income, get in on investing in a restaurant because restaurant founders reach out to friends and acquaintances when raising money. Such was the case when Lonnie Moore, founder and managing partner, The Dolce Group (with five Los Angeles restaurants) and Mike Malin, his partner, were looking for money six years ago to open Dolce. They went to Danny Masterson who was in a basketball league with some actors – and got a bunch of the guys to invest in it.

When Geisha House opened a year and a half later, many of the same people came aboard due to the financial success of Dolce.

“Wilma Valderrama comes to Dolce and Geisha House three nights a week and has a weekly karaoke night on Wednesdays at Geisha House,” noted Moore. “Ashton (Kusher) has been very supportive and does all his wrap and premier parties at Dolce or Geisha House. If celebrities bring a few more people and increasesd awareness, great. It certainly increases the buzz.”

Natalie Haughton, (818) 713-3692

The article was pusblished on Daily Breeze
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