George Abou-Daoud, one of L.A.'s most prolific restaurateurs, launched his seventh venture earlier this year: Farida, a Middle Eastern eatery near the intersection of Sunset and Vine in Hollywood. It happens to be in the same complex as the Bowery, his first restaurant, which opened in 2005 in an area that seemed a little deserted. His neighbor was "an abandoned vacuum cleaner shop," Abou-Daoud remembers. Four blocks away, Abou-Daoud's other establishments — Tamarind Ave. Deli, Twin Sliders, Delancey and Mission Cantina — all share a roof. It is an exaggeration to say he owns the block but not a huge one.
And in a break from how most restaurant owners operate, his seven restaurants are not even remotely alike in menu, appearance or concept. If you were to stop by Tamarind Ave. Deli, for example — an actual deli — you wouldn't know it shared ownership with Delancey, a wine cellar–like restaurant ladling out gnocchi with wild boar, or Twin Sliders, a retro-style burger and shakes counter.
Indeed, all his ventures are distinct, Abou-Daoud says. "No repeats."
But surely expanding on one successful restaurant would be a safer investment and involve less operational effort than launching entirely new ideas?
"No doubt," he says. “If you have a replicated concept, there’s almost nothing easier. But I think I’d be bored, just bored. ... It makes me happier, it makes me feel more alive to have different things.”
When he opened the Bowery, imagining a New York–reminiscent gastropub, in 2005, Abou-Daoud was first behind the stoves before switching to front of house. Owning and operating a second restaurant wasn't on his radar. When he decided to, he only settled upon a food concept after seeing the space in which it would be served. He's stuck by that method ever since. Most restaurateurs probably would do the opposite — but then again, Abou-Daoud isn't most restaurateurs.
"If I took the Bowery Bungalow space in Silver Lake," he explains about one of his few non-Hollywood locations, "which is a California bungalow — a perfect square, single-story bedroom — if I opened up a Mexican cantina there, I don’t think it would have worked. But if I opened a very charming Middle Eastern restaurant, I think that would work there.” (Bowery Bungalow and Farida are his most similar concepts, but the former skews more North African while the latter is more inspired by Lebanon.)
With such whimsically diversified restaurant concepts, one has to wonder, is execution compromised for breadth?
Abou-Daoud doesn't think so, and points to the patronage of his establishments to answer for him. “My restaurants have been open for years, so obviously there’s something right [with the food]. We have people that have been coming for a decade.”
Though he defends his cuisine's appeal, he makes no claims that it's elevated or even chef-driven. In a 2011 interview after a less-than-stellar restaurant review, he told L.A. Weekly: "Food reviews, like I said before, they're intended for a chef who's looking for recognition ... they're not for my places. My places are for the people. Purely, 100 percent for and by the people."
Indeed, at Farida, the broadly Levantine palate is on display without pretense: lamb preserved in its own fat in pastoral tradition (awarma) and glistening, oil-cured eggplants (makdous) are dusted with Aleppo pepper and piled atop a tahini-rich hummus. Plates of charred shishito peppers are minimally dressed.
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When asked if he identifies more with the spirit of an artist or an entrepreneur — if he had to choose — George Abou-Daoud pauses.
“That’s a good question."
Later, in an email, he fleshes out his answer: "I see myself more as an entrepreneur who really understands food. Cooking is the fun part that comes with it."
6266 Sunset Blvd., Hollywood. (323) 498-5100, bowery-st.com.