The Bottom Line
Grant Smillie of Botanical Hospitality Group Discusses Finding His Stride in LA’s Restaurant Scene
Melbourne born and raised, Grant Smillie began his career as a musician, touring the world as a DJ and record label owner. Now, the co-owner of LA’s famed E.P. & L.P. in West Hollywood has built himself up in the F&B world to create equally electric experiences for his audience, namely in the form of restaurant and rooftop bar guests. His company, Botanical Hospitality Group, is looking to expand both upward and outward with new dining concepts as well, with a promising vision for growth.
“As a [music] producer I got to travel the world. I was doing 300 flights a year. Tons of shows everywhere. Long hours and I just sort of got fatigued by travel,” Smillie began, noting that the glitz and glamor of the music world, as great as it was, began to fade and sparked his desire to look to the next chapter.
Smillie had always had a love for F&B, with tried-and-true experience in the field. He opened a bar, Ponyfish Island in Melbourne, in 2010. Then, on a trip to LA after DJ-ing in Miami, he met with former classmate, real estate investor and [future] business partner David Combes, who led him to a [then] vacant building in West Hollywood for a rooftop tour. Needless to say, that building became E.P. & L.P.
“I was naïve in thinking about how much time I would need to spend in getting [E.P. & L.P.] off the ground,” Smillie said, citing permitting processes and other factors as being far more difficult in the US than in Australia. “My hand was forced to draw a close to the music chapter and set up this business full-time. It was a nice bookend.”
E.P. & L.P. was founded on delivering an experience that ‘California hadn’t seen before.’ That mission led Smillie to recruit an Australia-based team to turn the concept into reality. He started by recruiting Louis Tikaram, who held the title of Australia’s ‘Young Chef of the Year,’ to head up a menu focused on South Asian fare.
“Southeast Asian cuisine is very popular in Australia. The Philippines, Thailand, China, it’s all right on our doorstep in Australia and we felt like it was underrepresented in the US at the time,” Smillie said.
He also brought on a renowned Australian hospitality design group to develop the venue. All parties worked very closely throughout the process, navigating the hurdles that come with such a geographic distance, not to mention important differences such as Australia’s use of the metric system. Things certainly worked out in the end, with E.P. & L.P. hosting two completely different experiences between the dining room and rooftop bar.
“People come for a meal and stay for the night,” Smillie said. “The dining room menu is of course a full-service endeavor, while [the food] on the rooftop is more snack-based. It’s entirely dynamic. You always need to be thinking about what it looks like for the guest. What happens if it’s windy? If it’s wet?”
E.P. & L.P. added a more recent element to its repertoire in its rooftop cinema series, which transforms the rooftop bar into an outdoor theater with capacity for 120 people. Smillie says about half of them dine at the restaurant beforehand.
Now, Smillie and Botanical Hospitality Group are getting ready for two new concepts. The first is a café, SOL (short for Strings of Life), set to launch in January 2020.
“When I first came to America I was a bit horrified by quality control [for coffee] in the US. In Melbourne there’s a café on every corner,” Smillie said. “[SOL will be] focused on artisan coffee, creating our own blends. A chef-led California produce-inspired menu, all-around lighter fare. [SOL’s food menu] is designed to be a bit more the way that Europeans consume an afternoon platter. You have to think about what people consume at different times. Grab and go sandwiches are a bit boring to me. SOL will have something that’s both delicious and visually exciting.”
The second concept, Grandmaster Recorders, is set to open in Summer 2020, and takes Smillie back to his origins in music. Originally opened as a recording studio in the 1970’s, the venue hosted stars such as David Bowie, Blondie, Stevie Wonder and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Now, Botanical Hospitality Group plans to transform the vacant building into a restaurant and rooftop bar concept that pays tribute to the building’s history.
You’re looking for meaning around a brand and what the ideology behind it. In this case it speaks for itself,” Smillie said.
He also noted that E.P. & L.P. might be getting a second location in the not-so-distant future, and that Botanical Hospitality Group may look into hotels down the road.
“You have to be mindful of expansion. You need to pay attention to quality,” Smillie said. “We have a good rubust team. Want to keep building without sacrificing the quality you’re after.”