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January 17, 2005

Northern Front

O.C. restaurateurs branching out to the L.A. area

Los Angeles Business Journal Staff

Tim and Liza Goodell, whose Aubergine is considered one of Orange County’s most renowned – and expensive – restaurants, are looking to expand their L.A. presence.

In taking over food and beverage operations at the Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel and growing their Red Pearl Kitchen concept to Burbank and Pasadena, the Goodells are on that key juncture of the restaurant business: adding locations while at the same time making sure everything’s done their way.

“There’s no way to expand without delegating and giving up some of the control,” said Liza Goodell. “Tim and I feel very fortunate to be lucky early with Aubergine. Now, we don’t want to party alone. We want to take some people with us.”

While other restaurateurs have tried similar expansions with mixed results, the Goodells may fare better than some because they’re focusing on nearby regions where they have established a solid reputation.

“The challenges are usually just organizing to run the operations, and from what I understand, they’ve bolstered their corporate team in order to do that,” said Randall Hiatt, president of Costa Mesa restaurant consultancy Fessel International.

Two years ago, the Goodells hired Michael Tsue to oversee day-to-day operations of their Domaine Restaurant Group. He visits the restaurants, examines financials, handles payroll and aids in the development of new restaurants.

The couple began their partnership in 1991 while working at the Ritz-Carlton in San Francisco. After starting Aubergine in 1994, they opened the French California bistro Troquet in the South Coast Plaza in 1997. That was followed in 2002 by Southeast Asian concept Red Pearl Kitchen in Huntington Beach, and traditional American establishment The Lodge and bakery concept Village Bakery, both in Costa Mesa.

The duo also helped launch Whist at Santa Monica’s Viceroy in 2002, but Tim Goodell said that was only meant to be a temporary deal and they are no longer involved.

The Goodells returned to L.A. in November with the opening of small-plates concept Meson G, at the former location of Citrus and Alex on Melrose Avenue. “We’ve done our time in Orange County with all of our restaurants,” said Tim Goodell. “With Meson G, we felt there was a better market for our type of product in Los Angeles because it has a more sophisticated diner.”

The Goodells are preparing to open a contemporary steakhouse concept in February in the main dining room at the Hollywood Roosevelt, in a space that currently houses Theodore’s. The proposed name for the restaurant is The Elkhorn. In spring, they are also opening a burger and wine bar on the Hollywood Boulevard side of the hotel called 25 Degrees, as well as a poolside restaurant.

Leases have also been signed for Red Pearl Kitchen locations at new buildings in Pasadena and Burbank. Those restaurants are expected to open within the next two years. A San Diego Red Pearl Kitchen is expected to open in June.

Domaine’s expansion is being funded by individual investors, according to Liza Goodell, who declined to disclose specifics. The company, which the couple said had revenues of $22 million in 2004, expects to double in size, to $40 million to $45 million within the next two years.

Other restaurateurs, such as Wolfgang Puck and Joachim Splichal, have had one or two misses along with their hits. Puck struggled at the lower-end of the spectrum with the Wolfgang Puck Cafes and short-lived Santa Monica brewery restaurant Eureka that opened in 1990. Splichal, whose Patina Group has 31 establishments, including Patina, Zucca, Nick & Stef’s Steakhouse and several Pinot venues, stumbled early with Max au Triangle, which got rave reviews but struggled financially.

Domaine Restaurants