12 Jan SMALL KINGDOMS: Inside Stephane Bombet’s LA Restaurant Empire
This post originally appeared on FoodableTV.com
Restaurants in Los Angeles have been opening at an alarming rate. One of the people responsible for this is Stephane Bombet. Since 2010, Bombet has been behind some of L.A.’s most talked about restaurants, including Picca, Mo-Chica, Paiche, Faith & Flower, Terrine, Viviane, and Hanjip.
Bombet was born and raised in France. Though he grew up in the restaurant business — his family ran butcher shops and bakeries — Bombet studied journalism and worked in international politics and economics. In 1996, he opened a lounge/bar in Paris. He also started the VIP Room, a popular nightlife destination with locations around the world. But in 2011, Bombet sold his portion of the business and moved to Los Angeles after visiting a friend. He invested in a few companies but was in semi-retirement.
During his eight year break, Bombet noticed that L.A. was a city full of well-educated, well-traveled people with disposable income who enjoyed food and wine. There were only a handful of chefs of name in Los Angeles at the time, and Bombet felt it was a good time to open a restaurant. He was looking for a French chef, but was introduced to Chef Ricardo Zarate, who was behind Mo-Chica. Intrigued by his Peruvian cuisine, Bombet began working with Zarate to help bring his food into the city, and found the location that would become Picca.
Picca, Mo-Chica and Paiche
While remodeling a space for Picca in 2010, the vacant downstairs space sparked an idea for Zarate and Bombet. They would call all the chefs they knew to participate in Test Kitchen, a concept where different chefs prepared menu items that they hoped would someday be on the menu of their own future restaurants. Opened just 18 days later, Test Kitchen ran for four months and was sold out every night. It was called “the best restaurant concept in the last 10 years in America” by The New York Times. Bombet realized that “people are interested in good food and chefs, but there were just no platforms for them to be discovered or liked.”
In 2011, Picca, a modern Peruvian restaurant that has since been shuttered, opened to instant success. “It was at a time when the business was not diluted. In 2010/2011, a new restaurant was a new restaurant and it was really exciting,” says Bombet. Picca received accolades from press across the country, including “Best New Restaurants in the World” by Conde Nast Traveler, “Best New Restaurants in America” by GQ, and more. With Chef Zarate, Bombet relocated Mo-Chica in 2012, and opened Paiche in 2013 (both of which have also since shuttered). In December 2013, Bombet sold his portion of the company, but remained co-owner of Picca until January 2015. (Zarate had been out of Picca since 2014.)
Bombet was looking for a concept that would reach more people and began to regroup. In March 2014, he partnered with Cindy and Jeff Troesh and launched Faith & Flower in Downtown Los Angeles. Faith & Flower is not a chef-driven restaurant but rather driven by the modern take on California cuisine, supporting Bombet’s idea that people just want solid good food. “I love chefs, but there is the potential that they may not stay with you a long time,” says Bombet. “It is important to create a partnership with the chef while creating [a restaurant’s] own identity.”
The Beginning of an Empire
While running the operations of Faith & Flower, Bombet created Bombet Hospitality Group (BHG) in 2014. Focusing on projects that are more concept-driven and less chef-driven, BHG provides services such as business development, creative, design, launch, staffing and training, and helps chefs and restaurateurs work cohesively. Francois Renaud joined BHG as a partner in November 2014.
Unlike in most other restaurant groups, Bombet is more an operator than a businessman. “I operate all of my restaurants myself. I train the team. I create the menus with the chef. I decorate the restaurants myself,” he says. While Bombet still finds investors, he oversees every aspect of the day-to-day business, and can be seen front-of-house at all locations.
In December 2014, BHG opened Terrine restaurant in Los Angeles with Chef Kris Morningstar, who is also co-owner. Serving French comfort food in a space with one of the best patios in the city, Terrine quickly became one of the hot destinations in Los Angeles. On October 25, 2015, Viviane opened in Beverly Hills. With Chef Michael Hung, formerly of Faith & Flower, Viviane is an elegant restaurant serving Continental cuisine and is located in the boutique Avalon Hotel. Twelve days after opening Viviane, BHG opened Hanjip on November 5, 2015, serving high-quality Korean barbecue in Culver City. With four successful but diverse restaurants operating, Bombet is just getting started.
Bombet recognizes that there’s a difference between a restaurant created out of passion and a restaurant that is about business.
“I love chefs. I love food. I love the craft. I am very passionate about it,” he says. “But I know the future of my company is really to do restaurants that have more of a mass appeal while maintaining a high level of execution.”
Hanjip is this concept. Bombet is working on a second 200+ seat Hanjip to open in Downtown Los Angeles, and envisions opening more around Southern California and potentially around the country. “On the business side, the idea is to grow a concept that can be built all over.”
Chef Chris Oh is the chef behind Hanjip, but if he is not on site the restaurant will not suffer because with Korean barbecue, there is no chef needed in the kitchen. “We buy the best quality products and it does not change,” says Bombet. “We can open more locations, and if we keep the quality and buy the same meat and fish, it is the same.”
“My priority in life is to do something I am proud of, something that is meaningful,” says Bombet. With BHG, Bombet can be proud that he is building a portfolio of restaurants that allows for both business and passion to play a role.