Logo horizontal ruler
  Restaurants Set to Savor Success

By Ed Moosbrugger

December 11 -- Most Downtown Santa Monica restaurants expect to taste success during the December holiday season, with some much more optimistic than others.

“It’s shaping up good,” said Jeff King, chair and co-founder of King Seafood Co., which owns 13 restaurants, including i. Cugini and Ocean Avenue Seafood on Ocean Avenue.

“My own opinion is business is very good and will get better” for the holidays, he said.

Indeed, King thinks business is so strong at medium to upper-medium-priced restaurants that if operators aren’t doing well now they probably should get out of the business.

The sharp retreat in gasoline prices to well below $3 a gallon and a reversal of the big decline in consumer confidence may help brighten the holiday outlook. Consumer confidence dropped substantially in September and October before showing improvement in early November.

“I do have a sense that it is going to be pretty good” during the holidays, said Grace Shen, general manager of Monsoon Cafe on the Third Street Promenade.

Business usually dips in October and November, but this year showed an increase at Monsoon, Shen reported.

At Fritto Misto on Colorado Avenue, “We are already booking a lot of holiday parties,” said General Manager Melinda Amaya in mid November. “I’m very excited about it.”

Benihana on Fourth Street said booking of holiday parties has picked up after a bit of a slow start. New retail activity on the street is boosting prospects for the restaurant.

“We’re confident about the outlook due to the recent completion of construction and opening of a furniture store a couple doors down,” said Debbie Fawcett, regional marketing manager for Benihana.

“Fourth Street has been revived recently with new tenants on both sides of the restaurant, more foot traffic, more exposure for the restaurant,” she said.

Not everyone is expecting a strong holiday season.

At Britannia Pub on Santa Monica Boulevard, co-owner Olwyn Perrem, citing news reports about the retail outlook, said things may be fairly quiet this holiday season.

“This year has been soft, I think, for everyone,” Perrem said.

Some restaurants will have special offerings for the holidays.

Monsoon will be serving up something new for the restaurant: four-course dinners (prix fixe) on New Year’s Eve, with three seatings starting at 4 p.m.
The third seating, which extends to 1:30 a.m. New Year’s Day, will include entertainment.

Border Grill on Fourth Street will be offering homemade pastries and tamales to go, gift certificates, signed copies of cookbooks by chef/owners Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, winter feast cooking classes, and special New Year’s Eve dinners and entertainment.

Like many other Downtown restaurants, Border Grill and Monsoon expect substantial business from holiday parties.

The restaurants enter the holiday season after feeding off the eight-day American Film Market in early November that brought thousands of people to Santa Monica for the annual film industry trade show.

Attendance at the AFM jumped 13 percent this year to a record 8,014 people.

Restaurants reported widely varying responses from AFM.

“AFM is fabulous for Santa Monica,” King said, adding that business from AFM exceeded expectations at his company’s two Santa Monica restaurants.

Fritto Misto, which puts placards in the window welcoming AFM delegates, did good business from AFM, although one group from New York that normally books a party didn’t call this year, Amaya said.

Shen noticed many people dining at Monsoon wearing AFM badges.

Benihana saw a surge of business during AFM, especially during lunch.

The restaurant had a lot of walk-ins without reservations from AFM in the evenings, but some parties left because they didn’t want to wait 30 to 45 minutes to be seated.

Border Grill, however, had no noticeable response from visitors to AFM this year, said Leah Ross, research, PR and marketing manager. The well-known restaurant didn't have much response last year either.

Britannia Pub didn’t get as much business from AFM as in the past, said Sonia Cain, co-owner.

For the past two years, AFM has been held in alliance with the AFI Fest in Hollywood and it’s possible that some dinner business has been diverted as some AFM delegates go to Hollywood for evening events of the film festival.

AFM draws film industry people from around the world. This year buyers came from 62 countries, while exhibitors came from 33 nations.

SANTA MONICA HOTELS finished the summer on a strong note, with the occupancy rate rising 6.1 percent to 83.8 percent and the average room rate increasing 7.7 percent to $225.92 in September, according to a report by PKF Consulting.

Santa Monica had the second highest occupancy rate among Los Angeles County markets tracked by PKF, trailing only West Hollywood.

Lookout Logo footer image
Copyright 1999-2008 surfsantamonica.com. All Rights Reserved.
Footer Email icon