Q & A with George Abou-Daoud: On Township, One Bad Review, and Why "Nobody Cared" About District
Just a couple of weeks ago, George Abou-Daoud owned seven restaurants in Los Angeles (The Bowery, Delancey, Gelatovino, The Mercantile, The Mission Cantina, Rosewood Tavern, Tamarind Ave. Deli). But as of last week, he has an eighth, Township Saloon, which begins serving lunch today, and stays open until 2 a.m.
Kristin Kirgan George Abou-Daoud
But while the vast majority of his restaurants can be found in one stretch of Hollywood, his second newest, Rosewood Tavern, is a bit further west. That restaurant was also the subject of a not-so-kind review on these very pages.
We met with Abou-Daoud at that same Rosewood Tavern -- prior to Township's opening -- to talk about his his newest restaurant, the closure of his old one, his thoughts on the review, and a few other things. For our full interview with the successful restaurateur, read on.
Squid Ink: Just on the pages of this publication, you've been referred to as, "the unofficial mayor of East Hollywood," "the prince of East Hollywood," "the de facto mayor of Sunset in Hollywood," and, "the mogul whose lounges are docked along Sunset Boulevard like ocean liners." What do you think when you hear that?
Kristin Kirgan George Abou-Daoud
George Abou-Daoud: I think that it's not East Hollywood. The geography is incorrect. East Hollywood runs from Western to Vermont. Where I am is in Central Hollywood. It's the middle of Hollywood. The center-center of Hollywood, Hollywood proper, is Highland to the freeway. That's the middle of Hollywood. So that's what I have to say is that it's not East. And every time I see that, I'm like, "do you not know where East Hollywood is?" Otherwise, I think they're all right.
SI: You think they're all right?
GA: I think they're all right, yeah. People, yeah. People do call me the mayor of Hollywood. I feel like a lot of what happens in the area revolves around my places. There are a lot of people who hold meetings, a lot of people have gotten married, who get hitched, who get together, who write books, who work on screenplays, who just finished a movie, or did a rap, all sorts of things kind of revolve around it. You kinda can't get away from that.
SI: Opening a restaurant takes a lot of time and a lot of money. It's hard to open even one restaurant, yet you have seven right now, with an eighth on the way. How did that happen?
GA: Well, I opened the Bowery, well, the Bowery's gonna be exactly six years old [this] month. And you know, it's noted as the first gastropub in Los Angeles. The first of its kind. Then my friends opened the Village Idiot over here, and then everything came after that. In terms of opening the restaurants, there's so many levels of everything. Opening a restaurant runs at you everything on the financial side, legal side. Everything from the city, county, state, design, construction, build-out, many agencies, menu, food, employment, the decor following that, everything you need to use to run the restaurant...
There are just an unbelievable amount of things that you have to do to get open, but, there's no formula for it. Whatever I feel is right that happens next is what happens next. And unlike the first three times I did it, I now have more people working for me. The first three times, I did it solo, which was crazy. But now I have people working for me, so I don't really have to do every single detail. I can delegate a lot of it to some good people. So I don't have to handle every aspect of it.
SI: So why restaurants? What made you want to do that?
GA: I have a huge passion for food. And the other great about the restaurant business is that it's a very social business. I feel like I have people at my house every night. The only difference is that I don't have to cook everything, and I don't have to do the dishes.
SI: Or front the bill for everybody.
GA: Actually they pay me. They pay me to come to my house. But I, in return, give people a good time, and that's what it's all about. It's all about enjoying your life. Going out, seeing people, mingling, meeting new people, having a great drink, having something you haven't had before, trying a new beer, trying a new scotch, trying a new dish, or coming back for a dish that you had before that you love, and you had to come back for it. But, you know, before we started isolating ourselves in suburbia, everybody lived in cities, and before that, people lived in denser areas, were in tribes, or moved together, and there was a lot of socialization.
I think the intention of us as humans is to be together congregating. Meeting, talking, and on occasion, isolating ourselves. But for the most part, I think, we rely on each other. Obviously. All humans rely on each other. Everybody has specialties. Everybody has special trades and everybody has their specialty. Getting together is, to me, the magic of having a restaurant.
SI: So, as you probably know, there was a review of Rosewood Tavern published in Squid Ink. It was a pretty negative review.
GA: I saw that. I was overseas when that came out.
SI: You have some thoughts on it, I would imagine.
GA: I do. A couple things. First thing I should say is, I'm not a big fan of when food critics come to places like Rosewood Tavern. Food critics are intended for places that build up the notion, the idea, of a chef. Or have a person there who is aspiring to be a great chef, or aspiring to be any kind of chef. And that's what the critics are for. You go there and you review their food. You follow that chef through their career, or you follow that restaurant. Rosewood Tavern, and all my places, are not places that you come in for a food review. They're places that are everyday places for people. And my view -- whatever the critic said, whatever she wrote, is irrelevant. Because it's still crazy busy here. People love it here.
And I'm also not fond of people who don't have any formal culinary skill, or food reviewing skill, and then jump into it as though that's something that they're a professional at. If you've never worked in a restaurant, don't be a judge of a restaurant. If you've never done any other trade, if you've never done that thing, you're not allowed to criticize it. You should have done that, you should do something in your life, and then you can go back and gauge it. You can be an announcer in the NFL if you've played football before. If you were involved, or you coached football. If you're involved in that realm, and you've done it, then feel free to criticize, because you know what it's all about. But if you haven't, if you've never owned a restaurant, if you've never run a kitchen, you've never been at the top of that, in doing a restaurant? Then I don't even want to even listen to what you have to say.
SI: Maybe in an ideal world, everybody would have done everything before they went into that field, but...
GA: I know what you're saying. I feel like, if you're a critic, then you should either have extensive knowledge of the subject matter, or have done it before. If you're a critic. Because that's what you're doing. So if you're going to criticize, then know what you're talking about. On all levels, and in detail, and back it up. I realize there are some food critics who haven't worked in restaurants, but they do really, really understand food. Not just going into it and saying, "I already know this." There are a lot of people who take further effort to learn what they're doing. And they go out of their way to focus on understanding the subject matter. So not just saying, "I know it," but, "I'm going to learn this. I want to really know what I'm doing here. So if somebody says something, I can back it up."
The funny thing with the restaurant business is, it's hard to gauge some nights. Some nights, if it's a very busy night, and everybody comes at once, a lot of people who aren't in the business don't realize, it's difficult to get everything out at once. And to make sure everything is out a hundred percent. Unless you want to wait longer -- and then people are complaining that they're waiting longer. But what are you supposed to do, you know? You want to find a happy medium. You want to put out great food, you want to have great service, but understand, if you all came at the same time, it gets a little bit difficult. Everybody tries their best...at any restaurant. Every restaurant. Unless you scoop it out and put it on a plate. Unless you're doing that.
SI: You mentioned that The Bowery calls itself L.A.'s first gastropub. So does Ford's Filling Station.
GA: I never saw Ford's Filling Station as a gastropub. I saw it as a restaurant. It's always been. And it's very cheffy. Very cheffy. Very... I didn't even know that. It's not even a pub, it doesn't even feel like a pub, it feels like a restaurant. There's a little bar on the corner, and then there's a lot of tables out there on the floor. Which to me is a restaurant. You know, a pub, anything, if you use the word pub, you're bar-centric, with great food. If you're gonna use the word "pub." You could call yourself L.A.'s first gastro-semi-small bar-restaurant-pub, but this is a pub. This feels like a pub. It's bar-centric, with great food. That is what a gastro-pub primarily is. So I'm not sure why they would have gone that route. Also, I think, I had been there a couple times. The clientele is very different too. It's a much older crowd. A lot people dining in the older scene aren't really going out to pubs either, so by the definition of the crowd...
When I say older, I mean, you know, 50s, 60s. Obviously great people, but they're not really going out for a pub kind of night. And, by the way, I'm not the only person who said Bowery is the first gastropub. It's widely, widely spoken that way.
SI: Yeah, they're just the only two places I've heard make that claim at all. I guess gastropub is one of those weird terms.