Industry Insiders: Andy Hewitt, Music & Menu Magnate

Andy Hewitt combined his talents (and his contacts) to produce two of the hottest restaurants in West Hollywood — Il Sole and Luau. With rock ‘n roll manager Arnold Stiefel (who still manages Rod Stewart), Hewitt transformed Il Sole into an atypical, low-key Hollywood slip-in and provided a reincarnation for Luau — the legendary tiki outpost — with famed chef Makoto Tanaka (Mako, Robata-Ya). Along with his long-term partner Bill Silva, Hewitt has the exclusive contract on contemporary music for the Hollywood Bowl. Since 1991, he’s booked acts from the Rolling Stones to Luciano Pavarotti. Hewitt gave us some tutelage in merging rock ‘n roll with hospitality.

You’re balancing full plate these days. How’d you get here? I couldn’t have been anything else. My childhood friend in Coldwater Canyon was [film producer] Bill Gerber. We met on the school bus, and his father was an agent in the music business. We started going to concerts at young age, so I was touched by the music business early. Billy went to work for David Geffen and introduced me to enough agents to get me going. I was naive enough to think that that there were all kinds of promoters who were well-established and thought I’d be able to book shows in LA, and even Billy told me I’d never be successful in LA. Maybe in Tucson or Fresno. But I didn’t know any better, and I succeeded. Years ago, I met [music promoter] Ian Copeland at my nightclub in Redondo Beach and started buying shows from his agency. I got my start in that side of the business from Ian, his brother Miles, and Gary Kurfirst — who managed the B52s, Talking Heads, the Ramones. I still see Linda, Johnny’s widow, at Il Sole. I went out on my own in 1991, formed a partnership, and sublet the Hollywood Bowl. Peter Morton gave me the contract to book the joint. The Rolling Stones said Peter and I brought rock ‘n roll to Las Vegas. We were the first to bring all ages shows there for punk acts like Nine Inch Nails and Depche Mode, all because Peter allowed it to happen.

Where do you go out? I like Harry’s Bar in Venice because I love how the restaurant keeps with the city. It all ties together somehow. There’s nothing like taking a little boat over from the Cipriani Hotel, or walking next door from the Danieli. When I asked a friend where I should go on my first trip to Italy, he said I had to go to Harry’s Bar for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. In New York, I like Masa. He may be the greatest chef in the world, and I miss him no longer being in LA. In LA, my favorite is Cut because it’s so perfectly simple and delicious, and I’ve always felt comfortable surrounded by Richard Meier’s extraordinary, contemporary décor. And when you watch Wolfgang Puck work the room, there’s nothing like it. He treats those visiting for the first time the same way he treats Mick Jagger. He and chef Lee Hefter have done an amazing job with a rather uncomplicated menu.

Who do you look up to? James Nederlander, my greatest mentor, had great faith in me and allowed me to blossom to whatever I am today. My great, late friend Ian Copeland showed me how you can do a great job in your business. He loved the artists that he represented and the people he worked with, and he made it all work.

What’s going on in your industry these days? We’re all paying that much more attention to our guests having a positive experience and getting great value. If we buy the highest quality of sole for Il Sole we try to do the same with Luau. I think the quality of food in almost every city in this country is at a much higher level than in the past, and you can go to cities that aren’t known for great cuisine and really get a good cappuccino or espresso and a good bowl of pasta. That didn’t happen 10 years ago. You couldn’t find good food or a decent hotel in Malibu 15 years ago. So much has happened since then.

Anything negative? I discovered tiramisu in my early 20s, and now my friend’s four-year-old orders it for dinner.

What is something that people might not know about you? How much I care about what I do on a personal level; my work with George Malouf and his family at The Palms or Peter Morton and the Hard Rock. It’s what I want to do. Getting to book the Hollywood Bowl and putting the Stones and the Police on is an honor.

What are you obsessed with? My favorite sport is Formula One, and my favorite track is Monza. My favorite cars are Ferraris and Porsches. My game is Monopoly. I’m a secret collector of many types of antiques. I live in a Spanish revival home and love to collect post-Impressionist paintings and Tiffany lamps. And yes, I love my garden, but I like to supervise gardening even more.

Any non-industry projects in the works? I don’t talk about philanthropy. I just do it.

What are you doing tonight? I’m going to have a massage and watch the stack of Netflix I’ve been trying to get to for a week and a half. I’ll probably order in from my favorite Indian restaurant, Flavor of India.

Industry Insiders: Jonathan Segal, #1 at The One Group

With hits like STK, One, Kiss & Fly, Coco de Ville, and Tenjune in his portfolio, the CEO of The One Group dishes on the bar/restaurant prototype, banking big in difficult times, and a newfound affection for live music.

Favorite restaurants? There was a restaurant called Baoli in Cannes that was probably one of my favorite restaurants, and was also a major inspirational restaurant for me in what we started to do here in America. In terms of Italian, I like Da Silvano in New York. I love my own restaurants— does that count?

Of course. Which is your favorite? My favorite for vibe and energy is probably One. And for a very cool scene is STK.

What’s your guiltiest pleasure? Wow where do I start? I would think eating, and having that bread roll before dinner. I should never have it because afterwards, I’m completely full, but I usually end up going to dinner so hungry that I just eat anything that’s put in front of me.

What’s on your radar for 2009? The STK in Miami is opening soon, right? It is under construction but will be open by April. That will open with a 7,000-square-foot restaurant with a 2,000-square-foot lounge adjacent to it, called Coco de Ville. And that’s pretty much how we operate our restaurants 9 times out of 10, we’ll put a lounge or a bar adjacent to or in the same infrastructure as the restaurant. Kind of a trademark of ours.

Aside from the obvious convenience factor of that, what are your other motivations for building adjacent bars and restaurants? If you look at the setup for all the things that we’ve created or we’re associated with, we try to create environments that are multi-purpose venues. For example, if you go to STK in New York, you can go to Tenjune, and then we’re building a rooftop restaurant in the Meatpacking District on that building. If you go to LA, you can come to STK and Coco de Ville, and we are building another bar adjacent to that. The real purpose is to give multiple reasons for people to visit our venues, and then they’ll go to one of those venues, or turn to eat at one or drink at another, and it sort of gives us a better ownership of the clients and creates an overall better experience. Populating close areas with mass entertainment is a really good way to secure continuation of revenue and also continuation of a good time.

When will the rooftop at STK New York open? We are going through the planning process and applications now. I would hope to get it open for this season. New Yorkers love outdoor dining, and we just can’t get enough of it. We have beautiful views over the elevated park out to the Hudson, and it’s going to be a very exciting project.

STK is one of my favorites. Oh thank you very much. It was built with you in mind— a girl who cares.

Who are two people in the hospitality industry that you look up to or two of your industry icons? One of them would be Steve Hanson. I think his attention to detail and his focus on guest service and guest experience is really something. Another person is an old school guy, and that’s Peter Morton, the founder of Hard Rock. They both have completely different operational rationales. Both were truly successful. Steve Hanson operates like the One Group. He’ll operate multiple venues with different styles of food, of design and decor, but with a common thread being that of procedure, service, routine, and structure. Peter Morton, on the other hand, went the other way, and he just focused on one single offering— the Hard Rock. That was the only thing he was really interested in, and he built a great company and just focused on that one product. I’ve had many conversations with Peter Morton about the importance of focus and attention, and I just build a different business. So what’s interesting is that the two people that I think are iconic in our industry have two completely opposite operational rationales.

What are some positive trends that you’ve seen recently in the hospitality industry? For an entrepreneur, and for someone who has confidence in their operation and in the generality of the economy— it’s going to come back. Certainly in my life and business, which I am embarrassed to say is over 30 years, there’s never been a better opportunity to expand a company. And I’m probably one of the few people that is prepared to stand up and say that. I tend to have a much greater degree of confidence in the public and in their ability to work their way through the economy than I probably have in the government to make it happen. And I think hospitality is something that is susceptible to recession, but if one’s clever in the way one markets and the way one positions their product, then I think you can put a buffer up against the recession.

What’s something that people might not know about you? Just say, “He smiled happily.” And then sunk into a corner. I am slightly dyslexic, and not a lot of people know that. And yet I can absolutely read a legal contract, but I can’t read a book. I can play the piano, but I cannot read music. I also live for skiing.

What’s something on your radar right now? Live music. Over Christmas, I went to see Kid Rock play at a party. And I’ve never liked Kid Rock’s music, but I thought he was unbelievable in concert. And I’m watching him perform at this party, and I realized it’s more that you have to experience something in order to appreciate it. I would say that I definitely want to go see more live entertainment. I’ve been involved in live entertainment venues in the past. In one company, we operated more than five cabaret halls with live music, dancers, and magicians. It’s one of those things that if I could find more time, I could definitely go to concerts more. Even to see concerts that didn’t necessarily appeal to me, just to see if my view changes having seen them perform live.

What are you doing tonight? I am going to STK LA with my girlfriend. She has a company called Omnipeace that gives their money to build schools in Africa and helps finance food for villages. I try to get people to pay me for food, and she gives food away.