Melange partners check into Kimpton hotel for L.A. debut

Melange partners check into Kimpton hotel for L.A. debut

Richard Martin

LOS ANGELES — After 13 years as the best-known operator of trendy dining concepts in this city’s South Bay suburbs, Michael Robert’s Melange Inc. has forged into the fiercely competitive West Los Angeles restaurant market to launch “The Chez at the Beverly Prescott.”

The March 1 opening by Melange marked the company’s return to its origins as a hotel-restaurant operator — its flagship Chez Melange anchors the Palos Verdes Inn in Redondo Beach, Calif. — and signaled the third effort in three years by San Francisco’s prestigious Kimpton Group to establish an enduring signature-dining concept at its lone Los Angeles lodging venture.

The Kimpton-managed Beverly Prescott Hotel here, on the southern fringe of Beverly Hills, opened in 1993 with chef-restaurateur Hans Rockenwagner’s Rox concept, which was supplanted little more than a year later by Restaurant Sylvie.

Despite competent cooking and a chic decor of earthhued wood paneling, colorful molten-glass hanging lights, rattan-backed furniture and plantation shutters, the 109-seat restaurant’s annualized volumes reportedly dipped from $3 million during Rox’s initial months to only about $1 million in its latter days as Sylvie.

The demise of both operations was an uncommon setback for Kimpton, whose boutique hotels are homes to such renowned fine-dining fixtures as Masa’s, Kuleto’s and Wolfgang Puck’s Postrio, all in San Francisco, and Pazzo, in Portland, Ore.

But Michael Franks, Chez Melange’s co-founder and a principal of the seven-unit Melange group, sees the turnover as a major opportunity for his company: “It’s a eat introduction to the West Side for us; we’re very excited.”

More important, he believes his firms relative autonomy in running the dining operations of the 140-room Beverly Prescott will break the spell of impermanence at its restaurant, whose track record of flagging sales contrasts sharply with the hotel’s recent occupancy levels of nearly 100 percent.

The difference between us and Rox and Sylvie is [our deal] is a lease, not a management agreement,” explained Franks, the front-of-the-house and marketing veteran who launched Chez Melange in 1982 with chef and partner Robert Bell.

That difference presumably will allow the leaders of Michael & Robert’s Melange, including corporate chef-partner Michael Shafer, to introduce their “Chez food’ eclecticism at the new restaurant with greater proprietary latitude than their predecessors enjoyed.

In addition to being the maiden voyage into Los Angeles by Franks and Bell, their big-city debut is the first company venture involving three other equity partners: corporate chief Shafer, veteran Melange group manager Buddy Brown a new partner, Roger Mercier, the former Marie Callender’s chief executive who also was corporate counsel and vice president of Denny’s Inc.

Melange Inc.’s house chef at the new Chez is Chris Blobaum, a veteran of New York’s Quilted Giraffe, the Houston Ritz-Carlton and Beverly Hills’ Colette at the Beverly Pavilion Hotel. “We’re teaching him ‘Chez’ food,’ Franks remarked.

The Chez at the Beverly Prescott’s rustic, European style breads come from the

restaurant. That duo’s sister concepts in nearby Torrance are De t, An Urban Grill Room Lobar, launched in 1991; besto Caffe and Bakery, opened in 1990; and Fino, A Mediterranean Bistro, which debuted in 1989.

Including Chez Melange in Redondo Beach, the restaurants generate annual sales of nearly $12 million, said Franks, who expects The Chez at the Beverly Pmcott to add another $2 million to that figure. The company also takes over hotel room service and banquet facilities that historically have combined in about equal parts to generate some 1.5 million in annual sales at the hotel, Franks said.

Melange apparently is making its foray into the up-scale-dining epicenter of Greater Los Angeles with minimal financial exposure.

“This is basically a turnkey operation,” Franks said, although he did not disclose terms of his lease with Himpton or divulge any profit-sharing stipulations. Himpton officials did not return phone calls.

Melange Inc. inherits a handsomely appointed restaurant that has an adjacent poolside dining patio, off the aptly renamed Chezs Lounge’ bar. Installation of an oyster-and-champagne bar is one of the few alterations made to the Sylvie space.

Franks said Steve Marx, California operations vice president of Kimpton Hotel and Restaurant Group, recruited the Melange partners to take over foodservice at the Beverly Prescott. “He’s been a fan of ours, unknown to us, for many years,” Franks said.

At least one other prospective operator, famed San Francisco chef-restaurateur Jeremiah Tower, reportedly could not come to terms with Himpton.

The American-Asian-Mediterranean melange of flavors that is a hallmark of The Chez’s sister restaurants will be showcased at the new location in such dishes as breakfast quesadillas filled with housemade turkey-Jalapefio sausage or rock shrimp and homey’ morning meals featuring premises-baked goods. Among lunch offerings are such items as Dungeness crab-and-shrimp cakes with cucumber-ponzu relish, jalapeno-dusted chicken salad with feta cheese and tomato-cumin vinaigrette and “Pacific Rim” tostadas of seared rare ahi tuna with Japanese salsa and wasabi cream.

The daily changing menu will offer such dinner specialties as Thai dumplings steamed in amber ale; garlic chicken farfalle pasta with roasted corn and coffee cream; Cajun meat loaf with garlic mashed potatoes and marchand du vin sauce, “wasabipainted” swordfish wokcharred vegetables; and a mixed grill of lamb chops, chicken breast and filet mignon with roasted mushroom sauce.

“The menu is focused but very flexible,” Franks said. You can come in and have a hand-formed hamburger or caviar or an Asian dish.

Per-person tabs are from $10 to $12 at breakfast, $15 at lunch and $25 at dinner, with dinner entrees priced from $13.95 to $19.95.

In addition to all-day service in The Chez at the Beverly Prescott, chef Blobaum’s kitchen will handle room service and banquets at the hotel, whose penthouse banquet rooms afford a 360-degree panotamic view from the Hollywood Hills to the Pacific Ocean.

“This is where we started with Chez Melange; we think this is one of our advantages,’ Franks said, citing his flagship restaurant’s role as overall foodservice provider at the 112-room Palos Verdes Inn. Its two banquet rooms seat 200 guests, which is the exact same amount we have that the Beverly Prescott] although the banquet room here is up on the 2th floor with a kosher kitchen.”

Franks explained that his expansion foray into West Los Angeles “was was not our plan, but we fell in love with the property and the Kimpton Hotel Group is one we’ve respected for a long time we’ve respective for a long time.

“Financially, the [hotel’s] restaurants were not doing well; that’s why they decided to change,’ he added. Los Angeles is such a competitive community in the restaurant business. Unfortunately for Kimpton, it has no local support system. That’s really why they turned it over to us.’

Franks, Bell and the others appear undaunted by their new restaurant’s previous turnovers and sales slumps. We just do what we do, and, hopefully, it will work,’ Franks add. “Our philosophy is, you’re as good as your last meal. We don’t wan’t to be the latest and the newest and the trendiest restaurant in town and the next one to close. We want to be armed for 15 years.”

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