Andrew Hoffman, vice president of the Los Angeles Brewing Co., had reason to celebrate Thursday morning: Despite strong objections from nearby residents, the Los Angeles City Council had finally approved the brewery restaurant his company was planning with chef Wolfgang Puck.
But Hoffman's mood was decidedly sober.
"We certainly don't want the community to feel like we won a victory and are going to forget about them," he said in the aftermath of the council's 8-5 vote on Wednesday to approve the restaurant at 1845 S. Bundy Drive in West Los Angeles. "We truly want to work with them."
The feeling was not mutual.
"We're not asking for any kind of compensation, we just want our neighborhood the way it is," said resident Bill Sakurai, adding that the restaurant would bring noise, traffic and drunk drivers into the area. "We hope they just do their business there, and if they don't bother us that would be fine with us."
Hoffman, Puck and partner Jerry J. Goldstein served up a healthy portion of lobbying to secure City Council approval, overcoming opposition from Councilman Marvin Braude, who represents the neighborhood, and his slow-growth allies.
Puck, who opened trend-setting Spago in West Hollywood and Chinois on Main in Santa Monica and who markets a line of frozen pizzas and desserts, wants to brew and sell a Bavarian-style lager at the new restaurant. The menu would be international, featuring cuisine that "goes well with beer," Puck said, such as barbecued ribs, Mexican food and hamburgers.
The company is trying to raise $4 million to open the unnamed restaurant before Christmas, Hoffman said. It will be located in a vacant warehouse near a residential neighborhood.
In arguing against the restaurant, Braude preached the principle of neighborhood control and preservation, a cause that in recent council debates has usually won out over business interests. "If we were trying to create an ideal community in this city," Braude said, "this is the model we would try to have."
Earlier, the restaurant plan won 4-1 approval from the city's Board of Zoning Appeals after promising to limit seating to 150 and limit hours for serving beer to after 6:30 p.m. But when the plan came before the council's Planning and Environment Committee, slow-growth-oriented members Ruth Galanter and Michael Woo sided with the residents. Chairman Hal Bernson expressed a wish to abstain (although, under council rules, he was recorded as voting against the restaurant plans) until he could visit the site.
The restaurateurs found a friendlier response in council chambers. Under the City Charter, Braude needed 10 votes to override the decision by the Board of Zoning Appeals. In the end, he got only five votes. Both Woo and Galanter were absent, and Bernson came out in favor of the restaurant.
Puck's company was represented by attorneys Lisa Specht and Clare Bronowski of the politically astute firm of Manatt, Phelps, Rothenberg & Phillips. Lion's Gate Studio, a firm that neighbors the site and favors the restaurant, hired lobbyists Scott Adler and Mark Armbruster. Political consultant Joseph Cerrell also monitored the debate, conferring with his restaurant investor clients.
Adler stressed that Lion's Gate officials initially opposed the restaurant, but changed their minds after the restaurateurs agreed to help build a two-level parking garage.
The council majority seemed convinced that Puck's restaurant would be preferable to other possible uses for the site, such as a discount retail store. Councilwoman Joan Milke Flores told residents that, in her South Central-to-San Pedro district, such a site might attract a scrap metal yard.
Puck, wearing his trademark white chef's uniform, arrived shortly after the council's decision. He had been at a ceremony at St. Vincent Medical Center with Mayor Tom Bradley to present a check of $175,000 for the Meals-on-Wheels program for shut-ins, money that had been raised at a food and wine festival Puck had sponsored.
Puck said he was surprised by the residents' opposition and emphasized that his restaurant would be a good neighbor in the predominantly Japanese-American enclave.
"Maybe we'll open a sushi counter so the Japanese will feel comfortable," he said with a smile. He might issue cards, he said, "to give them (residents) half off."
But in an interview Thursday, Sakurai said he was unswayed.
"A lot of businesses make promises to get their foot in the door, but once they open their doors, they're too busy counting their money (to keep their promises)," he said. "We just have to wait and see, I guess."
The residents simply were no match for high-powered lobbyists backed by big-money entrepreneurs, he said.
"We had 50 people down there and many of them spoke, but to deaf ears, I guess," Sakurai said. "At the end, we realized what real politics meant."