Grant Smillie is living the Hollywood high life and chasing endless summers. It’s not what you think though. Unlike the rich kids of Instagram who often frequent the area, this self-made Melbourne DJ traded up the decks to pursue something bigger.
As the Australian expat takes a breather between service at his trendy restaurant, EPLP, D’Marge caught up with him to chat about doing business in Hollywood, rejecting the Kardashians and fixing Sydney’s lockout laws.
“We’re going to get all the West Hollywood kids to come down, put T-shirts on and tell Mike Baird to go and jam it.”
Grant Smillie doesn’t value sleep. As a man who believes that you can sleep when you’re dead, it should be little surprise to see that he now runs one of the hottest dining and entertainment precincts in West Hollywood. Regular clientele? Al Pacino and Matt Damon.
With those kind of names in tow you’d think that Smillie has been in the restaurant game for a lifetime but this could not be further from the truth. Smillie has been a career DJ, a record label owner, a management company owner, a restaurateur, a bar owner and a soon to be cafe owner. Why anyone would subject themselves to such levels of stress is unknown. For Smillie though, the answer is quite simple.
“Music was good, but I always had my fingers in multiple pies because I didn’t know which one was going to catch,” he says.
It is this very attitude that has seen Smillie go beyond the business landscape of Australia in search of greener pastures abroad.
EPLP is one of his most daunting and ambitious projects to date, a premium dining and entertainment space located over two levels in the heart of Hollywood. EP is the Asian-Australian inspired restaurant headed by Young Chef of the Year Louis Tikaram of Longrain, whilst LP is the cool adjoining rooftop bar catering to some of the town’s most exclusive faces and parties. The space boasts 85 staff, sees Friday lines wrapping around the corner and food covers between 400 to 600 a night.
To find out how Smillie got this deep into the Hollywood food scene, we had to ask the most obvious question regarding his choice of business location. California, according to Smillie, has a population density of thirty million people which shadows the entire population of Australia.
“It’s the density population you can tap into, therefore your chances of success is somewhat heightened,” he says.
Bearing in mind that the Los Angeles food palette is a bit more precious than Australia’s, it was never going to be smooth sailing from the start. Smillie’s Australian-backed culinary team had to adjust very quickly when they found out they were “blowing the heads off” the locals with their South East Asian spices during EPLP’s opening. On top of that, their beloved project was almost burnt to the ground during the first month of business.
“There was a fire on the rooftop. We were sitting there with a full restaurant, Ruby Rose was downstairs dining, Kat Odell, one of the biggest writers for Eater in America was in as well, and the place was on fire. The damage wasn’t significant and I remember sitting at the bar at 5am going five fingers worth of scotch thinking that was the end before we even started.”
This minor mishap wouldn’t deter Smillie from conquering the Los Angeles scene one bit. Compared to a city like Sydney, Smillie still believes that California has a notable difference in collective collaboration and entrepreneurial culture.
“If you’re in Bondi and you’re a [Maurice] Terzini and you try to roll out five Icebergs they’d say, ‘Hang on a sec, pull your head in.’ There’s a bit of that tall poppy syndrome. Over here they’ll say, ‘Where’s the next venue? How do we help you find the next site? How do we get involved?’ It’s a super different mentality about how they go about their business.”
Another major drawcard for this two-time ARIA award recipient is the weather. Los Angeles rarely sees rain and one can surf and ski in one entire day until their heart’s content. The coastal lifestyle it seems has not averted Smillie’s entrepreneurial gaze.
“You’re lying in Palm Springs by the pool getting your tan on and looking at the mountains and there’s snow on the peaks,” he laughs.
It’s not hard to see that the fruitful nightlife of Los Angeles runs rings around Sydney’s current spate of lockout laws which have caused the demise of the city’s live music scene. As someone who’s been in the industry and now runs multiple businesses which would be in direct effect of these laws if it were in Sydney, Smillie believes that there is a solution to this complex situation.
“We’re doing a ‘Keep Sydney Open’ rooftop party next weekend. We’re going to get all the West Hollywood kids to come down, put T-shirts on and tell Mike Baird to go and jam it.”
On top of that, he also proposes a more civil approach.
“It needs participation from all stakeholders. Unfortunately certain incidents tarnish the entire industry and the things everyone stands up for. I think responsibility needs to be taken from everyone’s actions. That’s from our personal level to make sure we’re responsible for our friend’s actions when they’re out drinking.”
“Drinking is not even the ultimate outcome of this thing. It’s about going out to see entertainment late or going for a drink after service. All of those things start to impact on the experience in a particular city.”
That experience is something that Los Angeles oozes without shying away from. The endless flow of money is often no object in the City of Angels as partying is a big part of Hollywood culture. Smillie says that the “ballers” out that way can easily put Australian party organisers to shame.
“You’re getting a calibre of ballers in the room, a little bit more than Sydney even though our Bondi mates think they’re balling just as hard,” he laughs.
“There’s just money here for those kind of events. If you’re going to an event for an Absolut [Vodka] party which we might host on top of the Swiss Grand in Bondi for $50,000, the Absolut guys here will go and rent a $50,000 a week mansion, spend $2 million doing it up and then host the party for free. That pretty much happens every night.”
“The only thing we’ve said no to a thousand times is the Kardashians wanting to film in the joint. No thanks.”
Given that the town is driven by this ostentatious showing of wealth and influence, Smillie still retains his own moral standing when it comes to celebrity endorsements. One line he will never cross is that of the Kardashians.
“The only thing we’ve said no to a thousand times is the Kardashians wanting to film in the joint. No thanks. I’m happy to take their money but I just don’t like their TV show rolling through like a bloody circus.”
The man is Australian after all. The spate of success that Smillie’s businesses have seen both back home and overseas is commendable. It’s surprising to hear how little rocket science it takes and how much elbow grease is required. His secret to successfully running a Hollywood joint is through reinvesting and reinventing. This applies to food, beverage and fitout.
“When you open all these things you come out hotter than anything, it’s about trying to make each other stoked and continue rocking along. You can’t stop spending. Reinvest in the space and really reinvent it.”
After the framework is complete hopefuls can then move onto expansion. This is an area Smillie is currently working on himself to drive EPLP into the stratosphere of A-list haunt territory. Smillie will be launching a rooftop cinema taking capacity from 250 to 500.
“Then you can do Oscars events, premieres and after parties of that scale. You need a few of those key marquee events that really patch yourself to certain brands.”
He adds that locals must also never be neglected in the process as they are your bread and butter most nights of the week. Beyond this, Smillie is always on the lookout for new mountains to conquer and divide. Vegas may be calling if the right opportunity comes by as are the many segregated villages of Los Angeles.
For now though Smillie is happy showing the Americans what Australian talent looks like on a massive scale.
We left one important question for last. Will there ever be a ‘Flaunt It‘ part two?
“It is the song’s ten year anniversary…” he laughs.
Photography produced exclusively for D’Marge by Jesse O’Brien – No reproduction without permission.
More in this series
1 Sep, 2014Matt Moran – Talks food, toys and life