Bill Chait is arguably one of the hottest and least known restaurateurs in L.A.
Managing partner of the multi-concept group Sprout LA, Chait is involved with some of the most hard-to-snag reservations in town, including the seasonal and sustainable Republique with chef Walter Manzke; the Italian charcuterie specialist Bestia with chef Ori Menashe; the modern American Redbird with Neal Fraser and Amy Knoll; Barrel and Ashes, a barbecue joint with Timothy Hollingsworth; and BS Taqueria, an “authentically inauthentic” L.A. taco shop with Ray Garcia.
The group’s concepts also include Petty Cash Taqueria, Sotto, Picca, Shortcake, Catch & Release and Nuance. Chait also founded and later sold the Louise’s Trattoria chain, and past projects have included John Sedlar’s high-end Rivera, and Short Order with Nancy Silverton and the late Amy Pressman.
We recently chatted briefly with Chait, who (no surprise) is brewing even more new concepts.
Share some details about what you have in the pipeline.
We are working on a number of concepts that are in construction and development including a second Barrel and Ashes, a second Petty Cash and follow-up restaurants with Chefs Ori Menashe and Walter Manzke. In addition, Otium with chef Tim Hollingsworth is coming to The Broad museum, and we are opening The Rose Bakery and Market with chef Jason Neroni (Catch and Release). With David Rosoff and chef Chris Feldmeier, we are doing Moruno, Vermut and Bar Moruno, which are all under construction. And there are a few others on the horizon for next year that have not yet been announced.
How do you feel about the city’s impending increase in the minimum wage to $15 per hour?
I very much support the increase in the minimum wage and even further I support a living wage with full benefits. My frustration is that the process has not been very transparent and is actually quite divisive. We have a tremendous opportunity as a city to do something that would benefit everyone involved. The casual dining restaurant business that I know and love can be a great place to build a career and a great life. We need to support that as an industry for us to be successful.
You have argued that the model of restaurant tipping for service has run its course. What should replace it and have any of your restaurants done it?
We have two restaurants—Barrel and Ashes, and Catch and Release—that use a service charge, which is shared with the front and back of the house, and it provides full benefits for health care for everyone which is 100 percent paid for without contribution by the staff member.
Republique and Bestia have implemented a 3-percent surcharge to help cover healthcare costs for your employees. How has that worked out for those restaurants?
Huge success. Bestia's is actually for kitchen appreciation and it provides for increased wages for everyone in the kitchen as well as full health care. Bestia started offering insurance to their team about a year before they implemented the 3-percent kitchen fee. The 3-percent charge is to give the kitchen a percentage of what the servers make, which the team likes because it is a good incentive for the back of the house to work late hours at the same pace and attitude as earlier in the evening.
Over 90 people are fully covered at both Bestia and Republique. With open enrollment this year we have had a 15-percent increase in people who signed up for coverage. I think it's a major success. We don't use a penny of subsidies and it's a silver plan as well. My partners and I are very proud of the result and I think everyone is very happy with the system.
You have a good eye for spotting talent in that most of your restaurants are collaborations with chefs. What do you look for in choosing your operating partners?
The most important thing is partnering with someone who has leadership qualities to build teams with high integrity and a hard, selfless work ethic; talent to rise above in a culinary and a management way; and is fun to work with. The last one is personally important to me since these are lifetime relationships and span multiple restaurants and expansion.