Urban Garden, the newest addition to George Abou-Daoud's Bowery Street Enterprises, serves several of the Lebanese dishes Abou-Daoud ate growing up, including his mother's recipe for baklava served with fragrant rosewater syrup.
When opening his first location years ago, Abou-Daoud made a conscious commitment to bring the kind of bar and restaurant to Hollywood that he and his friends liked to frequent. The Bowery began as a neighborhood joint on Sunset Boulevard, known for its signature burger and good vibe. Now Bowery Street Enterprises has developed into a thriving company with several restaurants, each with their own concept and menu. The latest, Urban Garden, recently made its debut on Fairfax next to his steakhouse, Rosewood Tavern. I sat down with Abou-Daoud to learn more about his eighth restaurant, growing company, and future plans.
Julie: What originally inspired you to go into the restaurant business seven years ago?
George: My passion for food and cocktails. And my desire to cook without having to do dishes. In Los Angeles there were a lot of bars and lounges and restaurants and clubs, but there weren't really many places like the Bowery seven years ago. We've seen the proliferation of all of these types of spots since.
Julie: Why did you pick Sunset for your first location?
George: The stretch of Sunset Boulevard by Sunset and Vine is one of the coolest and most iconic stretches in entertainment history. There is so much history in that area and seven years ago it was still kind of dead. That part of Sunset had the first studio in Hollywood. It still has some of the most major recording studios in the world. Some of our favorite bands of all time from the Beach Boys to The Doors and the Rolling Stones and David Bowie all recorded at Sunset Sound. Frank Sinatra was the first act to perform at the Palladium. I remember talking to my friends about how people who live up in the hills usually drove down to Beverly Boulevard, 3rd Street, or La Cienega, but what if there was an actual dining and social community near Sunset and Vine.
Julie: Why do you care so much about Hollywood?
George: New York is the world's most famous city, but Hollywood is the world's most famous neighborhood. At the time Hollywood was so underdeveloped. It went into squander in the 1970s and '80s and '90s and look at Hollywood now. It doesn't feel anything like it felt like literally a decade ago.
Julie: You now have over 150 people working for the Bowery Street Enterprises. How do you manage all of the locations and staff?
George: I don't run it by myself. I have a director of operations. My sister works with me. She is my office manager. Then I have managers and floor managers. So everyone pitches in. The great thing about my restaurants is I have incredibly low turnover. People rarely leave. It's a very family-like environment. Everyone feels like they are part of the restaurants. I always tell people to take ownership and they do. They treat it like their own place. I think that's great. That is the way it should be.
Julie: Is that how you would describe the company culture?
George: That is the company culture. We have an insane amount of regulars at all of our locations. That's the great thing about having neighborhood restaurants, for people to know they are always welcome. My team is also regulars at all of my restaurants. That's a really good thing. When your own staff wants to hang out at your own restaurants that says a lot. The service industry in Los Angeles responds really well to the restaurants, which is highly appreciated. I think it is the best compliment. People who work in all different restaurants -- chefs, owners, managers, waiters, bartenders frequent these establishments. Here on Fairfax we have people coming over from Animal, Golden State, and Terroni and a multitude of places in the area all the time. We have that at all of the locations. Often people who work at Sunset and Vine always end up at Bowery or Delancey or Mission or at Township or Mercantile.
Julie: How often do you eat at your own restaurants?
George: I am always trying the food. I encourage everyone who works for me to try different dishes at different places. Everybody has my number, I tell them, "if you find anything that you think is not right, I want you to call me right away."
Julie: What would you say is the signature dish at each location starting with the Bowery?
George: At the Bowery, the Bowery burger is the main thing. At Delancey, I would say the pizza and the homemade pasta. For The Mercantile it is all about wine and cheese. At Mission Cantina we have Mexican and American style dishes. The barbarcoa and the smoked hickory pork tacos are my favorite. You can put those in a burrito if you want an American style dish. There are two top sellers at the Tamarind Avenue Deli, the slow cooked brisket sandwich and the turkey sandwich with olive tapenade. At Rosewood we have prime steaks on the menu. Two of the most ordered dishes on the menu there are the very large fish and chips and the slow roasted tri-tip beep dip sandwich. At Township people come in for the spicy bourbon bbq wings.
Julie: What do you hope will be the signature dish here at this new location Urban Garden?
George: We have customers who come here for our selection of vegetarian and vegan food: salad, falafel, rice, quinoa, babaganoush, hummus, all that. Then there are people who come for the richness of the lamb shawarma.
Julie: What is the significance to you that your eighth location serves food from your Lebanese heritage?
George: I always said I would not open a restaurant that served my mother's food, but I eventually realized it's too good not to create a menu with these dishes. We do not use any canned products. We use fresh organic chickpeas. We make the falafel in house, adding red quinoa to give it a crispy texture. We make the stuffed grape leaves fresh every day.
Julie: What other dishes were your favorites growing up?
George: I love kefta. I love fried cauliflower. It's such a simple dish. The flavor of the cauliflower, when it is browned with tahini and salt, wrapped in warm pita bread, it is just amazing.
Julie: What does your mom think of all of this?
George: I don't know, she hasn't come to visit me yet. She will possibly come to L.A. in the next few months. I hope she likes the baklava. Hers is the best.
Julie: What's next for Bowery Street Enterprises?
George: Plans are in the works for something.
Julie: A ninth place?
George: Yes number nine. A new full service restaurant.
Julie: Will it be on Fairfax or Sunset?
George: No. And I am also looking to expand the Urban Garden concept around the city. Fresh Mediterranean food is what a lot of people really like to eat.