For a long time, the phrase “downtown LA” was not just an oxymoron but an outright contradiction. While there was a downtown, it wasn’t centralized like in most cities. It was scattered. But that’s changed… a lot. New construction and new residents have been pouring in, and it has become a place of multiuse, multifamily residences, great stores, cool things to do, and amazing places to eat.
It’s the food scene that has revitalized downtown LA (DTLA for short, since it is finally ‘happening’ enough to have a nickname). Over the last decade, great restaurants have been popping up, but it is really only in the last year or so that people have recognizes the “DTLA food scene” as being a cohesive thing. It is an exciting and diverse scene, with top chefs demonstrating their unique take on a really eclectic mix of cuisine, global and American. As an owner of a multifamily building with restaurant space below, this could be an avenue for raising the value of your building.
To get into the DTLA food scene, having space isn’t enough. It has to be the right kind of space, and that means understanding what works and what doesn’t. Renovating your restaurant space to accommodate more patrons and a more interesting architectural style is what can attract the top restaurants, and the top leases. Rents in DTLA have gone up nearly 7% over the last year, and part of that is because it is now attracting tech employees who want to live in a hub-oriented, restaurant friendly area. Having a top-flight restaurant in your own building can be extremely valuable for prestige and for attracting tech’s new, wealthy residents.
Tips for Restaurant Renovation
Renovating your space means working with a restaurant owner or group who have their own ideas, and finding a renovation team that can professionally and efficiently put those ideas into action. This team needs to be able to adapt to and fulfill the wishes of your tenant with a minimum of hassle for everyone involved. It is important to be accommodating, understanding that they must follow a few specific rules for success.
It’s tempting to want to go simple when renovating, but that can be shortsighted. The internet is full of lists of best-looking restaurants, and in a crowded and competitive food scene, that can be extremely important. The aesthetics of eating is a huge part of the experience, and in this case, form has to serve function. Look at Redbird on 2nd Street. This is an American restaurant with a modern flair to it. Based inside a classic old LA church (deconsecrated) it feels both historic, like the city in classic Hollywood days, but also very airy and modern. The look of the restaurant has to match the vibe, otherwise you’ll drown in unrealized concept.
The Layout is Critical
One of the most important design tips is making sure that everything is in an order suited to how you want the restaurant to run, from where the bathrooms are to where the kitchen is located. You want diners to have a sense that there is a central coherence, and you want staff to be able to operate without running into each other. A lot of top restaurant designers and critics maintain that it is important for restaurants to have:
- Straight lines
- Good but not overwhelming lighting
- Practicality (i.e. the path from the kitchen never crosses the path to the bathroom; having server areas that are accessible but not visible)
Having Enough Space
Obviously, your tenant will want to seat as many people as possible. And while having a crowd means getting good buzz, being crowded is something altogether different. In a recent New Yorker article about NYTimes food critic Pete Wells, the author discusses how when waiting for a table they were crowded. “So we stood near the door, at an awkward, congested spot from which we could have reached out and taken a clam from someone’s plate of Asian-Italian noodles. The front of the room was bare and bright, and filled with thirty-year-olds on backless stools at communal pale-wood tables—a picnic held in a cell-phone store.” Wells wasn’t impressed, and the restaurant did not get a great review. There were other reasons, but the truth is that they decided to have as many people as possible rather than have as many people as possible while still enjoying the evening. That might work at first, but soon enough, people get annoyed. Thinking long-term is the key to good design.
Little Details Count the Most
A friend of mine told me about a bar he went to in DTLA that had about 100 types of beer and 100 different speciality glasses for them. After all, the glass matters. Unfortunately, they didn’t have room for all these glasses, some of which were on shelves and some of which could be hung by stems. So it wasn’t really organized. It was chaotic, and took a long time to get a beer, and the bar didn’t last very long. It is the little design details that matter. If your tenant is going to serve a lot of different beers, then make sure they’ll have space for storing glasses properly, as well as a way to wash them quickly and easily and get them back on the shelves. It’s little things like that which can make or break a place.
It’s an exciting world for DTLA multifamily owners. The neighborhood is changing rapidly, but there is time to catch up and even get ahead of the game. Improvement like a better HVAC system and a fitness center can allow you to charge higher rents to greener, fitter millennials, but having a top-flight restaurant, one that people wait for months to go to, makes your building a magnet for everyone. It becomes the hot place to be. There is now officially a Downtown LA, and with the help of a professional construction and renovation team specializing in multifamily buildings, you can be at the center of it.