After two years of planning everything from the type of marble for the floors to high-end brass finishings and even the most aesthetic placement of basil leaves on a Margherita pizza, Bottega Louie opened its doors on April 6, 2009 and was an immediate success.
Bottega Louie’s Chief Financial Officer Kevin McKellar and his partners had a vision of a 10,000-square-foot restaurant serving high-quality Italian dishes, a French patisserie carefully crafting macarons, chocolates and other sweets, and a gourmet market rivaling the finest shops in Europe. He and his team would use the best ingredients and serve the finest food possible, but at a comfortable price to appeal to everyone from college students out for pizza and beer to families with children and business executives out for a power lunch.
They secured a tremendous deal on a lease in 2007 for the downtown Los Angeles building at 700 South Grand Avenue – mainly because there were few other businesses around them at the time, and the economy was struggling.
In the wake of the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, the area around Grand Avenue and Seventh Street in L.A. was awash in empty storefronts. The presence of Bottega Louie, in all its splendor, changed that.
“Once people saw us – and we were busy from the day we opened – that helped other people to open up other concepts in that area,” says McKellar. “We definitely feel we helped change the area.”
Downtown was no longer a place to avoid, but the up-and-coming hot spot and star of the new restaurant alley. In a short time, newspapers, magazines, business and restaurant bloggers dubbed it ‘The Bottega Louie effect,’ while others referred to it as ‘The Seventh Street Renaissance.’
McKellar is a self-described ‘Wall Street guy’ with years of experience in corporate finance, business strategy, investment banking and other critical areas. He analyzed casual dining, national chains, and food product companies as well as restaurant financing. Soon after moving to Los Angeles, he and his partners discovered there was no decent pizza like the big slices of Neapolitan available in New York.
After conducting exhaustive analysis – including the foot traffic in and out of local Starbucks and grocery stores – McKellar realized downtown L.A. was on the brink of revitalization, with older apartment buildings undergoing renovation which attracted new residents.
It was during this analysis phase that they developed the concept of a high-end, mid-priced restaurant/patisserie/gourmet market that balanced white glove service in a beautiful setting with quality food served at a casual price point. Today, eight years later, the 255-seat restaurant does not take reservations and is always busy, with staff serving over two thousand covers every day.
“We are filled to capacity,” says McKellar. “We are probably the busiest restaurant California.”
Delicious meals are prepared in an open kitchen for guests to see. The restaurant serves Italian-inspired dishes for lunch and dinner like pizza, pasta, and entrees such as brick-pressed chicken, grilled prawns, lamb shank and branzino – whole grilled Mediterranean sea bass.
Across the street from the restaurant is a 15,000-square-foot commissary, bakery, and training facility in which small batches of delectable creations such as macarons in flavors like birthday cake, Earl Grey, strawberry and salted caramel are made fresh daily from fresh ingredients. One of McKellar’s objectives from the onset was to craft the best patisserie products in the United States. The company continues to achieve the goal. Where the market is flooded with sickly-sweet yet flavorless baked goods, Bottega Louie’s desserts are reminiscent of the finest baked goods sold in Paris cafes.
Much like the outstanding food, décor, service and presentation in the restaurant, nothing made or sold by the company’s patisserie has been left to chance. There are over one hundred pastries from which to choose, ranging from its best-selling macarons to éclairs. The company has a pastry catering menu and ships outstanding products including chocolates, lavender jellies, truffles, pasta sauce, preserves, palet d’or, and superior-quality corporate gift boxes across America, using FedEx as its third-party shipping carrier.
Deliveries are either overnight or two-day, depending on the product, to ensure all items arrive at the peak of taste and freshness, and all the goods are carefully packaged and shipped to keep their maximum aesthetic appeal. We ‘eat with our eyes,’ so why not present shipped items to please the senses?
“Some of our customers actually state that the experience of opening our package is just as wonderful as the experience of consuming the product,” says McKellar. “A lot of this is branding. It’s not just the jam; it’s the ribbon that comes around the jam and the box it comes in. And so, we spend a lot of research on this.”
With the goal of providing the best possible experience to the customer, Bottega Louie even sources the best ice packs, bubble wrap and even luxurious boxes that evoke the iconic blue boxes used by legendary jewelers Tiffany & Co. Since the business does not deliver on the restaurant side, customers happily come in to pick-up orders and often purchase additional items from its gorgeous shop.
“Architecture is very important to us,” says McKellar. “We built a very pretty restaurant, really great quality food and service, and I think that’s what gets us the high revenue.”
The opening of the business in 2009 came at the same time that television cooking shows were exploding in popularity, the iPhone was taking off, and crowd-sourced review site Yelp was growing. With the rise of social media and instant communications, restaurant reviews today are instantaneous. The arrival of Bottega Louie caught the attention of many people and helped create the buzz surrounding the revitalization of downtown Los Angeles.
Word-of-mouth reviews about the restaurant’s superb quality spoke volumes. The location in an area deemed up-and-coming, the quality of the food, luxurious aesthetics of the building and white glove service went a very long way to Bottega Louie becoming the top Yelp and Instagrammed restaurant. It also earned the distinction of being California’s highest-grossing independent restaurant and number thirteen in all of the United States, and is currently enjoying over $21 million in revenue.
Bottega Louie has over thirteen thousand reviews on Yelp and has received many awards from its first as Best New Upscale Restaurant (LA Downtown News, 2009) to accolades as the Best New Place to Eat (2011), one of LA’s Top Dessert Spots (USA Today, 2015), and being rated as among the Top 100 Independents by Restaurant Business in 2015 and 2016.
“We have spent nothing on marketing,” states McKellar. “The buzz just sort of happened by our location, being the only sort of choice at the time and building something very pretty. And providing really good quality food and quality experience and service environment in a pretty establishment – that creates a buzz in itself. So instead of paying marketing dollars, if I provide you with a great meal, you’re going to tell three of your friends.”
Kevin McKellar says that Bottega Louie’s staff of over 300 have the capacity to handle three or four restaurants in the California area. The company has signed a lease for a second location in West Hollywood. Much like the current spot, the West Hollywood restaurant will be in a neighborhood that is also on the rise but lacking in choice eateries. Bottega Louie will soon change all that.
McKellar is eyeing a third Los Angeles location – likely the Venice Beach area – in an area which is also improving. “Eventually we want to take this concept public, so we have to show that we can expand or replicate this outside the state of California, so that’s why we’ve been looking in Texas, Chicago, and other locations,” says McKellar.
The team at Bottega Louie creates consistently excellent products and has managed to balance fine dining and a reasonable price. There are strong cost control systems and management leadership in the kitchen and the restaurant. It deals with quality vendors and has aggressive agreements to keep prices competitive with national chains. By keeping the lunch and dinner menus the same, waste is kept to a minimum. Walk-in fridges are small on purpose; the fewer ingredients on site, the less money that is tied up in inventory.
Food cost reports are scientific and meticulous, and if dishes are not coming out consistently, not making money or if the vendor is not delivering the right product, the dish will be removed from the menu. And to ensure only the best meals are made, managers are stationed in the kitchen to monitor food standards.
“We want to be all things to all people, but we really can’t pinpoint who our clientele is,” comments McKellar. “On any given day, you will see college kids in shorts next to a group of lawyers having a huge dining experience. We are open for breakfast and late enough for dinner, so we get a variety of different customers. It’s not just a restaurant; we have a bar, a café, and the patisserie.”
Bottega Louie is excited about opening its West Hollywood location and is committed to maintaining the same quality and service that it has fostered since 2009.
“And we want to do it better than anyone – from our tiramisu and the packaging we present it in to how we plate and display the dish. And when someone gets up to go to the bathroom, the waiter will not point in the direction, but will walk them to the bathroom, folding their linen napkin while they are away. Also, waiters know who ordered what dish at every table, so patrons having a conversation are not interrupted. We spend a little extra ‘oomph’ on that. I think one of the reasons we are successful are those touch points, whether it’s how it looks or how the customer feels, that’s the business.”