A few extra greys weren't in Grant Smillie's business plan, but he'll trade them off against achieving what was – creating the hottest and hippest eatery in Los Angeles.
E.P. & L.P - the restaurant-cum-rooftop-bar-cum-place-to-be-seen that Smillie and his fellow Australian business partner David Combes built from scratch in West Hollywood - counts the likes of Al Pacino, Matt Damon and Jerry Bruckheimer among its star-studded clientele.
Such heady success is no small feat in a city that is notoriously difficult to impress. It was built on business acumen, creative nous, two years of hard work and an investment of about five million dollars. "When I started the project, I didn't have grey hair," Smillie reflects.
"The hardest part was the logistics. And I guess the city permits and the processes were far more significant than I thought they might have been. It was a pretty far-fetched idea to come to America and try to achieve the best venue of the year."
A cornerstone of the overnight success story of E.P. & L.P., located on North La Cienega Boulevard near iconic Melrose Avenue. has been its food offering. "We believe there was a gap in the market in the way that Australians do a spin on modern Asian. Louis Tikaram (formerly Longrain, Sydney) is a real asset."
Around the talented Tikaram, Smillie and Combes assembled an impressive team of enthusiastic, stylish individuals - adopting a wise hospitality adage that "if you want the best staff, steal them".
Smillie concedes he may not be popular in hospitality circles after headhunting several of his staff to swell employee numbers to 95. A major coup was securing legendary New York bartender Alex Straus, who is an utter joy to behold as he swills bespoke cocktails with panache.
Being a pair of Aussies in Tinsel Town – where casting agents and barflies alike drink up the Antipodean accent and work ethic – certainly hasn't hurt. "Americans love an Aussie," Smillie says. "They love the way we work, and our spirit and integrity. They really like risk-takers and go-getters."
Leaders of the local pack
They're not the only ones tasting success on the US's cosmopolitan West Coast. Former Sydney Roosters rugby league player Luke Milton has spent two years helping health fanatics sweat it out at his fitness centre, Training Mate LA.
Meanwhile, former Sydneysider and barista Mike Baird has devoted nearly a decade to building coffee-making empire Long Shot Australian Roast, while educating Angelinos that a good latte doesn't need added syrups and powders.
And Emma Isaacs has just launched Business Chicks USA, an extension of her Australian company Business Chicks, "encouraging women to play a bigger game" through networking and participating in events and motivational talks. "The size of the US market is alluring and in just one month, 1000 Americans are on board," she says.
As for Smillie, effort and patience are paying off and the in crowd is noticing, with patronage from the likes of Matt Damon, Gerald Butler, Jerry Bruckheimer, Katherine Heigl, Ashley Hart (part–owner of E.P. & L.P.) and the Jonas Brothers.
But in egalitarian Aussie style, even Hollywood's hottest names don't garner special favours. The famous and non-famous are treated equally, the owner insists.
"The foodies come for the food, the scenesters come to people-watch. It's far from an exact science, but we're trying our best to keep it a hot and happening place," Smillie says, trying to explain the appeal.
An eye-catching décor contributes: laboriously custom-designed furniture (the outdoor settings for the rooftop bar had to be made twice, because the first time the table legs were too short), antique mirrors, neon signage, a seven-metre bar, fire pit, outdoor topiary and copper fixtures all add to the allure. "Just don't call it a nightclub," Smillie urges.
Bet big, win big
Not content to sit still and lap up their success, his team is scouting Downtown LA for a location for a sister venue. "We think this (E.P. & L.P) has got legs not only across America, but also for Asia and even the Middle East," Smillie says. "If you bet big, you can win big."
Meanwhile, projects at home also need attention, with the Royal Croquet Club expanding into Brisbane, Sydney and Perth after Melbourne lapped up the croquet concept. The hip Ponyfish Island (café/eatery) on Melbourne's Yarra River is also slated for a spruce-up.
If you're in LA but thwarted by the growing queues at E.P. & L.P, there are other attractive options for a drink in West Hollywood.
Skybar at the Mondrian Hotel has a glam poolside "beach club" bar which transforms into a cool-vibe nightclub; Blind Dragon on Sunset Strip offers private karaoke suites; and The Abbey on North Robertson Boulevard attracts a diverse crowd and is known to locals as "the gay bar you can take your straight friends to".
Donna Demaio travelled to Los Angeles courtesy of Visit California, Qantas and Visit West Hollywood.