George Abou-Daoud, owner of The Bowery, Mission Cantina, and Delancey, is just about ready to debut his new café, wine bar, and gourmet market The Mercantile at 6600 Sunset Blvd. which will be open in the next few weeks (or sooner). Partnered again with Blue Velvet chef Kris Morningstar, the two will follow up with District, for cocktails and bistro eats, next door to Mercantile. We spent some time talking with this New York patriot-come-west about what is driving him to expand his restaurant empire and what it takes for transplants to find happiness in Los Angeles. While Hollywood awaits Abou-Daoud's next two projects, and hopefully another great burger like the Bowery's, read our Q&A; with the guy who is helping keep Hollywood cool in the face of corporate nightlife mega-clubs and celeb-owned eateries.
GS: Hi George, so we're dying to know, what's driving you to open two more restaurants?
Abou-Daoud: Because I'm a glutton for punishment. But seriously, because I love great food and of course, great drinks. Even further, there's nothing like the spirit of human congregation over food and drinks and for people to let go and enjoy their lives in common settings.
Also, I started a trend with the whole gastropub and tavern movement in this city. I opened The Bowery years ago because there was nothing like it in L.A. In fact it was considered not cool or not foodie enough to open a place like that. Now, a week doesn't pass that I don't hear about a new one opening or in the works. So with opening any new places, I'm excited to have more great food-friendly venues coming online.
Further, I'm enjoying this Hollywood rebirth. Although New York City is the world's most famous city, Hollywood is the world's most famous neighborhood. We're happy to be a part of the early comeback and I want to see it continue to grow as a great neighborhood with great eateries.
GS: And what are you most excited about showing people at your new place?
AD: The notion of The Mercantile--a combination of wine bar, with an actual bar, and a small gourmet market--excites me. Having the enjoyment of people coming in to be able to buy delicious goods to take home for cooking and having wonderful food and wine at the store is exciting to me. Also, working with Chef Kris Morningstar at The Mercantile and District, not to mention at Delancey. We have this great opportunity to bring amazing food to the venues, and we have a lot of fun doing it.
GS: Is there any particular dish that you think people are going to go nuts over?
AD: Well, there's a lot to go nuts over, but for me personally...Homemade Vietnamese coffee ice cream among other flavors, a pumpkin seed butter and homemade jam sandwich, smoked trout rillete, homemade pastries, and the amazing cheese selection.
GS: What is the biggest headache in opening a restaurant?
AD: That's an easy one. The City of Los Angeles and the terrible systems they have in place for new restaurant construction.
GS: What does it take for New Yorkers to enjoy life in L.A.?
AD: L.A. is a very nice place to live. What I've done is physically put myself in the middle of the city so I can seek to maintain the hustle and bustle I truly enjoy.
GS: As a New Yorker, what do you miss more than anything on a day-to-day basis?
AD: What I miss the most about not being in NYC full-time is the minute-to-minute energy and the walking culture. On the bright side, I feel as though more and more restaurants are opening [in L.A.] with that big city, metropolitan feel and more quality places are opening as well.
GS: Where do you like to eat in L.A. on a regular basis?
AD: Here's my short list of eating out, because I can't fit all the places in here. Ruen Pair or Jitlada for Thai in Hollywood, Sunnin in Westwood for Lebanese, Animal and Hatfields—I'm anticipating the new opening—for, well....good eats. Hirozen for Sushi, Papa Christos for Greek, and Soot Bull Jeep for Korean BBQ.
GS: And lastly, what's one name from New York you'd never give to a restaurant?
AD: Lexington or Madison. Sounds too uptight.