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California and the West

Patina Empire Returns to Chef

October 17, 2006|Jerry Hirsch | Times Staff Writer

Los Angeles master chef Joachim Splichal has cooked up a deal to buy back his Patina Group of eateries from the international food service company that bought the restaurants six years ago.

With the help of a Japanese investor, Splichal and business partner Nick Valenti purchased Patina and portions of New York-based Restaurant Associates Corp. from Compass Group for $90 million.

Splichal said the deal, to be announced today, would allow the pair to focus on developing high-end restaurants and upscale food service offerings for cultural institutions.

"We felt that it was important to be independent again," said Splichal, a native of Germany known for well-crafted French cuisine. "There are lots of opportunities out there for us to grow. We are getting calls from all over the country."

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Wednesday October 18, 2006 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 1 inches; 44 words Type of Material: Correction
Patina restaurants: An article in Tuesday's Business section about the purchase of Patina Group and portions of Restaurant Associates Corp. from Compass Group said the new company that would run the businesses would operate as Patina Associates Group. The name is Patina Restaurant Group.

In addition to the flagship Patina at the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Splichal-Valenti portfolio includes the Sea Grill at Rockefeller Center in New York, Catal at Downtown Disney in Anaheim and Pinot Brasserie in Las Vegas. The company is a fixture at museums and concert venues, serving patrons at the Hollywood Bowl, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Opera House in New York, among others.

The transaction helps Compass of Surrey, England, exit the retail restaurant business and focus on providing food services. In that industry, it provides everything from prime rib to nachos and hot dogs at places such as Dodger Stadium and Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Splichal and Valenti are reacquiring a company that is substantially larger than the original Patina Group that Splichal sold for $40 million in 2000, when it operated six restaurants, four museum cafes and a catering company. The partners will now run a business that includes 34 stand-alone restaurants and cafes as well as food service and catering at 13 venues.

And the menu isn't done growing, the partners said, noting that they planned to expand beyond the coasts and to build a larger chain from Patina's two moderately priced Naples Italian-style cafes at Downtown Disney and in New York.

Together, Patina and Restaurant Associates total about $220 million in annual revenue and will operate under the Patina Associates Group banner. Valenti will be chief executive, and Splichal will serve as chef and founder.

Few in the industry were surprised at Splichal's move to retake control of the food empire he has built since opening Patina Restaurant in Hollywood with his wife, Christine, in 1989.

"He has a unique head for business in addition to being a talented and creative chef," said Traci Des Jardins, co-owner of San Francisco's Jardiniere and a chef who trained under Splichal.

Splichal sold Patina to Restaurant Associates, a division of Compass, to gain access to capital for expansion. His personal share of the proceeds was $30 million, one of the biggest industry payouts to a chef.

But Compass, which has about $7.7 billion in North American revenue, is primarily a contract food service provider for school systems, companies and sports complexes.

Compass is in the process of selling its retail restaurants, said Cheryl Queen, a spokeswoman for the Charlotte, N.C.-based Americas division of the company. "Patina is a very small piece of our business," she said.

Although it might have been just a side dish for Compass, Patina has made its mark on Southern California cuisine.

Randall Hiatt, a Costa Mesa restaurant industry consultant, credited Splichal with elevating food offerings at cultural institutions, places where Southern Californians haven't always expected to find good fare.

The Disney Concert Hall Patina has remained one of the top restaurants in Los Angeles, Hiatt said, adding that Splichal "has developed a successful formula for the notch lower with his Pinot restaurants."

Shidax Corp., a Japanese operator of restaurants and karaoke clubs, is the major outside investor, Valenti said.

Splichal said he and Valenti expected to be active deal makers, but with a catch.

"There are a lot of people who want to do business with us," he said, "but we are still going to be selective and make sure they are the right deals."

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