Since opening her second restaurant Olivetta in West Hollywood a month before the pandemic, Marissa Hermer has been riding a roller coaster blind. “It’s like playing restaurant whack-a-mole,” she tells L.A. Weekly over a dish of Weiser Farms toybox melons and prosciutto at her new pop up.
The undeterred mother of three kids under eight and husband Matt already had the successful family-friendly Draycott in the Palisades under their belts and had just opened the elegant, 150-seat, art-filled bungalow Olivetta with Executive Chef Michael Fiorelli amid much local fanfare. Then came the shutdown, followed by the reopening, followed by the shutdown.
So what do you do when your livelihood gets taken away from you? You go on holiday.
“We knew the La Peer Hotel group very well since we were there all the time during the construction of Olivetta site on Melrose and worked out of the hotel. The hotel was only at 20 percent capacity, the Viale dei Romani restaurant space had closed, so it was very quiet here,” says Hermer. “We asked them if we could do a pop up and they said absolutely.”
Olivetta on Holiday pops up at the La Peer Hotel Tuesday through Saturdays by the pool and the Hermers have moved the excess furniture from the Draycott to the hotel’s stunning outdoor rooftop, bringing over longtime employees to help staff. Signature dishes like wood fired pizzas and specialty cocktails from Melina Meza are offered on the private rooftop.
“In the hospitality sector right now, we all want to help each other because we are all suffering,” says the Newport Beach native who found her hospitality calling in New York and London, where she met her husband and opened their first restaurant. “There is a new camaraderie that never existed before. We have to support each other right now.”
She soaked up everything she possibly could from her first client in NYC, Ian Schrager, who was about to open the newly redesigned Gramercy Park Hotel. With someone as renowned as Schrager as a mentor, how could she not become impassioned with design and curation?
Opening the Rose Bar at The Gramercy is what introduced her to what would become her professional dedication: luxurious hospitality with a blend of high and low. She fell in love with all of it: curating, designing, guest services, and of course, the food and drink. Today, her husband, Matt Hermer, is her partner in business and life.
“It’s a very good match, as far as my background and expertise and his background and expertise. We wear very different hats in the business, but share a common passion. We love creating beautiful, gorgeous escapes,” Hermer shared on the L.A. Weekly podcast with Publisher Brian Calle and Food Editor Michele Stueven.
How did their L.A. takeover begin? Through their shared grief over missing their local London pub. They couldn’t find that same space that offered so many uses anywhere near them, so they went ahead and built it themselves.
While certainly industrious, this year has been hard for the two. Altogether, 2020 has undoubtedly been a rough time for the entire restaurant industry. How have The Draycott and Olivetta been able to survive?
“We had to pivot quite quickly,” says Hermer. While the shutdown may have stopped business as they knew it, rent was still due. They had to change their plan and change it quickly in order to stay afloat.
“Owning a restaurant in the worst crisis the hospitality industry has ever seen is STRESSFUL,” she laughs forcefully.
Before the pandemic, they were planning on opening more Draycott locations. Now? They still plan on pushing through, but more focus has been poured into what the spaces will look like. Not only for the customers’ comfort and safety, but for their staff as well. “We are adding a lot more outside dining,” Hermer confirms.
Those plans include Draycott outposts in Newport Beach, Pasadena, Manhattan Beach and an anchor spot in the redesigned Sportsman’s Lodge in Studio City.
“We’re certainly walking a mental and economic tightrope right now, but I’m excited about the opportunities that are coming out of this,” says Hermer. “It’s not the end of the world and I think great things will come out of things slowing down a little bit. We’ve never been more creative in our lives. We would never have opened an Olivetta outside if we hadn’t been forced to do it. Now I’m thinking I want to do this everywhere. It’s the most brilliant thing we’ve ever been forced to create. We’re digging deeper. Like Deepak Chopra says, it’s the disorder that makes us dig deeper until we find order. We are going to be stronger and mentally more stable than we ever were before.”
She admits that on the flip side, it’s hard.
“We are all on the cliff’s edge surviving by our fingernails. I don’t want to make it sound like life is all sunshine, lollipops and rainbows, but I’m reminded by the choice we all have daily. We have the choice to choose our point of view. We can’t shape what happens to us in this world, no one chose a global pandemic or losing loved ones, but we can choose what colored lenses we want to see it through.”
“We used to be in the business of ‘sex, drugs and rock-and-roll,’ but now I feel like we are in the business of health and wellness,” she continues. “We need to keep our team safe and our patrons safe. We are very lucky that everyone who works for us is an artist – it’s their calling, so yes, the staff was excited to come back, but that’s not to say they weren’t nervous. It’s scary to be in any open place. I think once we all agreed and understood the precautions we were going to take as a restaurant, everyone felt comfortable to be there.”
“I feel a responsibility to bring people joy and give people an outlet for escapism,” says Hermer. You have to value mental health as well as physical health, she says, and she strives to give all those who enter her spaces that sense of normalcy.
Not only is she working to give us all a mental break, but she’s doing her best to give frontline workers a sense of relief as well. When friends got wind, they joined in. From there, delivering meals to those in need has become a new mainstay.
“Isn’t it the most wonderful thing, the need to give?” Hermer says. She’s been able to galvanize an army of support via Instagram from strangers and friends alike to give comfort and food to those in need – frontline workers, families, and now, firefighters.
While eternally optimistic, the accidental philanthropist admits that she has no idea what might happen tomorrow and it’s definitely not easy street. She’s hustling and praying like she’s never done before and is white-knuckling the roller coaster, holding on for dear life.
“Look, we’re building a plane while flying it and my heart goes out to all of my comrades who have had to close their livelihoods. A restaurant is not just a business, it’s your child. It breaks my heart every time I read about another closing. It’s a huge loss.”
As the pandemic numbers slowly decline because of smart practices and protocols, this kinetic mama lion believes in the future reinvented restaurants and has no intention of slowing down. With bars going from basements to rooftops and the growing trend of permanent outdoor dining, Hermer compares it to sex:
“I love sex. Who doesn’t want to have sex? But you don’t want to be abstinent. I think it’s nice to have safe sex and at Olivetta we’re having safe sex. We’re outside, keeping our distance. You can still have sex, just be safe about it.”