Mike Malin (left) and Lonnie Moore (right)
With no real business experience, Moore and Malin went into it relying on their ability to hustle and know the customers’ needs. Malin, originally from Concord New Hampshire, attended Bentley College in Massachusetts and graduated with a degree in finance. After moving to L.A., however, he was cast as a member of Big Brother and Big Brother: All Star. Malin feels his experience on the show actually help groom him for the business, “I think there’s a lot of overlap between Big Brother and running restaurants. It’s dealing with people and knowing how to sense what they’re all about.” While Malin spent time on camera, Moore worked behind the scenes. As a native New Yorker, his move to L.A. landed him an executive position at UPN.
So how do two people who are used to working with television make the leap to owning their own restaurant business? It all started with a bar. “We wanted to do a bar that could basically host all our friends. We thought it would be a good business decision considering we go to other people’s bars, why not have our own and make money.” Their idea became a reality with the opening of Belly in West Hollywood. But when Belly closed in 2004, Moore and Malin turned their attention to opening a restaurant, and the rest is history.
Dolce, Geisha House, Bella and Ketchup all remain some of L.A.’s most popular eateries, bringing in many of young Hollywood. Malin feels their popular success in L.A. can be attributed to the people themselves. “I think by nature, L.A. has young money… in L.A. you can literally get off the bus from your little hometown and then have a TV show making $700,000 a year a week later. So I think that young people go out and have more disposable income here in L.A.”
Although they put in long hours, as Malin puts it, “you can never really check out.” Both he and Moore agree on taking a first person approach, “We’re very hands-on owners, so we deal with everything from the mundane stuff of a customer who left their cell phone to booking a $140,000 Emmy party.” With their round the clock work days, you’d think that they would have opted for a different job, but Malin explains “I’m pretty happy, but it’s not for everybody. I mean, thank God we’re doing this in the day and age of Blackberries and text messaging.” However, Malin is the first to admit that there are enticing perks that follow his line of business, whether it’s flying on a private jet or getting into the most exclusive clubs in Vegas. But the best part overall? “The free food,” says Malin whose favorite restaurant is Geisha House
Moore and Malin have demonstrated their ability to run a successful business not just in L.A., but in the many others throughout the country. “The same Dolce that we do in L.A., you wouldn’t do in Alabama. You have to have a different price, different menu and a cadre of other things,” explains Malin, illustrating their attention to detail for their restaurants. Even with all their success, Malin explains there is just as many disappointments and advises anyone to be aware of the not-so-glamorous side. “Anyone can walk into a restaurant on a Saturday night and see the cash registers ringing and all the beautiful people having a good time. They don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. I would say really understand what goes into it before rushing into a situation where, ultimately, you might end up for more than you bargained for.”
While they are busy with their four restaurants in L.A., and their popular club Les Deux, Moore and Malin continue to plan for future projects. “Dolce and Ketchup are going to open in Washington, D.C. this year. We’re opening a steakhouse at the Hard Rock in Vegas called Rare 120. We’re opening a place called the Boardroom in Dallas, which is an upscale sports lounge, a Geisha House in Orange County and a Rare 120, Ketchup, and Dolce in Huntsville.” So look out for these trendy new spots ,and make sure to make reservations in advance.
By Mavelyn Marcos