Los Angeles

Marissa Hermer. Photo courtesy of Boujis Group

InterviewsLos Angeles

How Marissa Hermer Built a Restaurant Empire in Los Angeles

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Marissa Hermer has quietly built a collection of picturesque Los Angeles restaurants that have attracted everyone from soccer moms and their little ones to Rihanna and J.Lo. Along with her husband, the onetime Bravo star has opened The Draycott, a family-friendly spot perched in Pacific Palisades, and two celebrity haunts in West Hollywood: Olivetta and Issima.

We spoke to her about the state of her growing Boujis Group, pandemic evolutions, what makes a beautiful restaurant, and what makes a hit restaurant in Los Angeles right now.

Resy: You have three (and counting) restaurants in Los Angeles. Where does each restaurant stand right now?

Marissa Hermer: When we moved to Pacific Palisades, we missed our London local pub – and so when we were given the opportunity to create a restaurant in Palisades Village, we wanted to build a local gathering place that would become part of the furniture of our neighbors’ lives. A place where you might be a friend for dinner on a Tuesday, have a work lunch on a Wednesday, a date night at the bar on a Thursday, and a family lunch, bridal shower, or gathering with friends on the weekend.

Coming from London, where British dining culture embodies the parenting philosophy of “children come into your world, you haven’t come into theirs,” and children dine alongside adults at high-end restaurants, we wanted to create a restaurant that our whole family would enjoy. A place where my husband and I would be able to order from a thoughtful menu that featured all the classics, a well-curated wine and cocktail list, and our children would have a place to run around after they enjoy their meal. Four years later, The Draycott is that place, with our outdoor terrace overlooking Palisades Village Green, where the local children play while their parents cocktail.

Now that’s a view. Photo courtesy of Issima
Now that’s a view. Photo courtesy of Issima

And how about Olivetta and Issima?

While I fully embraced the soccer-mom life of raising a young family in the Palisades, I still missed the London nightlife. I wanted a place where I could dress up, and let my hair down. A gorgeous room where I would want to meet friends for drinks before dinner, enjoy a delicious meal of all my favorite dishes like housemade pastas, farmers’ market fresh produce, and the finest meats and fishes and exquisite cocktails, and then boogie the night away to a DJ. So my husband and I opened Olivetta in January 2020 and created a Mediterranean bungalow in the heart of West Hollywood on Melrose Avenue.

When indoor dining was shut down, we needed a place to operate Olivetta outside. La Peer Hotel is a block away – and they kindly allowed us to move tables poolside and on their rooftop – so we could continue to keep our teams and employees, and our patrons nourished and entertained. When indoor dining reopened, we moved Olivetta back to Melrose Avenue.

Later on, La Peer Hotel called us and said, “We miss you guys.” And that’s how Issima was born. It’s got that European beach club flavor with a wood-fired grill and pizza oven, cocktails inspired by our favorite European beach destinations, and depending on the weather you can sit poolside or inside.

How do you see the three restaurants as a whole?

We are a family business – owned and operated by myself and my husband – and the restaurants are also family. We call them the three sisters: The Draycott is my best friend; Olivetta is my best friend’s older sister, the aspirational one; and Issima is my best friend’s younger sister who is a little more wild and naughty.

But the basis of everything we do goes back to our overall ethos of Boujis Group. Whether it’s our food, cocktails and wine, our design and vibe, or our service standards, it needs to be a thoughtful and soul-enriching experience at the heart of it. It needs to be delivered with intent and fun, inspired by Europe with a California sensibility.

If I’m going be paying 100 dollars for a dinner and getting out of my house, it’s got to be beautiful and special. — Marissa Hermer on creating beautiful restaurant design

What industry insights can you share from this cross-section of restaurants?

People’s dining habits have changed and we are constantly evolving. At the Draycott, in the Palisades, we have seen that people there want to stay closer to home. This is such a family community, and we are such a family restaurant. There wasn’t that gathering spot, a place where you can bump into your neighbors and meet new friends.

West Hollywood is younger and more transient than Pacific Palisades. The dining habits haven’t changed so much. We’ve seen people still really want to go out. The young kids want to party. At Issima, we’ve launched happy hour because people are back to work in West Hollywood – so we’ve added a special cocktail and bites menu, and a Pizza Party for two, which includes a wood-fired pizza, a carafe of house wine and our chocolate olive oil pudding. It’s a sharable experience that brings excitement and fun to the dining experience.

What makes a hit restaurant in L.A. in 2022?

There are so many things. The first is a lot of luck, which is no formula. If we say that we have done this without any luck, I’d be remiss. There’s a lot of luck involved in this. In addition to that, it’s the obvious. At any vibey restaurant — and all of our restaurant have a great vibe — none of that is sustainable without an excellent product offering, especially excellent food and delicious cocktails. If you can create a space and work with the best of the best — our kitchen team is incredible, our bar team is award winning — then you can create a special vibe.

And then there’s the décor — you want to be in a beautiful place. If I’m going be paying $100 for a dinner and getting out of my house, it’s got to be beautiful and special. We’ve all gotten used to our loungewear at home. If I’m going out, I want my surroundings to reflect my own attire. If I’ve made an effort to get dressed up, I want the restaurant to make an effort, too.

Photo courtesy of Olivetta
Photo courtesy of Olivetta

You used the word “beautiful.” In your eyes, what makes a beautiful restaurant?

That’s subjective, but for me, I cut my teeth at the Gramercy Park Hotel, so I love rich textures and materials. I want to feel like I’m in a family home. The Draycott was literally designed after our London home. At Olivetta, each room feels like a different part of a Mediterranean home. And we have a new restaurant we’re designing in West Hollywood opening in the spring that we are modeling after a family home we visited in Provence, and the garden we stayed in.

It is all very personal – and we hope that “coming home” feeling is experienced by our patrons when they join us for dinner in one of our dining rooms.

I think there needs to be understanding that everyone in this industry has been through hell. So, we need to be thoughtful, as both owners and customers. — Marissa Hermer

As you look ahead to 2023, what are the challenges with the restaurant industry? And the opportunities?

The challenges are the obvious: Staffing is always a challenge, especially because the hospitality industry may not feel as sexy anymore. Compared to pre-pandemic, where you were a server, a bartender or a manager, and now you’ve suddenly become a front line worker in 2020. That’s like, holy shit. That’s a challenge. That was a major change for our industry, and I tip my cap to everyone in the hospitality industry.

I think there needs to be understanding that everyone in this industry has been through hell. So, we need to be thoughtful, as both owners and customers – to our collective shared experience the last couple years.

The entertaining landscape has changed, too. Our passion is hospitality, which is showing our patrons a wonderful time. How can we personalize? How can we tailor to our customers? The Draycott is open 365 days a year, which is unique for a restaurant. People come to us for Thanksgiving and Christmas. So, our opportunity is to ask ourselves: How can we continue to show people a good time? Especially after we all need now, more than ever, the grace notes that embellish a meal and make it magical.