Mark and Jonnie Houston are used to creating experiences. The fraternal twins behind Houston Hospitality can sling speakeasy drinks at Harvard & Stone in Thai Town, transport guests back to the '70's at Good Times at Davey Wayne's, or channel a Cuban bacchanal at La Descarga on Western.
Now with their first step into the restaurant space with Hollywood Boulevard's Butchers & Barbers, which opens today, the pair are hoping to take the barstool experience to the tables. Eater talked with the Houston brothers about their latest venture, why Hollywood is a challenge they welcome, and how hotels are a part of their future.
What made you two want to expand into the restaurant space? Mark: It’s a natural progression in our industry, at least in terms of growth. We’ve been known as nightclub guys, but as I get older, I’ve started to desire an environment that I can enjoy with friends and a glass of wine. We want to be able to take that relationship we have with customers that exists at the bar and move it to some tables, and really get to know somebody. Eventually, we want to spread into hotels, and really start working within that part of hospitality, with overnight stays.
Jonnie: A lot of what we’ve learned building a restaurant is new, but we’ve worked in kitchens before. It’s just a whole different ballgame when building from A to Z, managing relationships with front and back of house people. Ultimately, it’s been a challenge we felt we were ready to take on.
Obviously you guys have had some success in staying close to Hollywood, but Butchers & Barbers is right in the thick of the touristy area. Mark: I think with Hollywood, it’s a challenging area. It’s definitely touristy, and our whole focus has been to never rely on foot traffic or tourists. But at the same time, Hollywood hasn’t really built up that strong destination for dining, so there’s room for growth.
Hollywood hasn’t really built up that strong destination for dining, so there’s room for growth.
For the community that lives beyond Hollywood Boulevard, there’s a lack of genuinely good restaurants. The majority of what you find are places that you’d normally walk right past, so we wanted to create a stronger sense of community. And obviously No Vacancy is part of that, but at Butchers & Barbers we want our food should be a part of that, too.
Jonnie: The philosophy that Mark and I have is that there are no bad locations, only bad concepts. We try to have an organic approach to any place we’re thinking about, and we just try to find and create something that works for every aspect that we need. You see it time and time again, when people try to force a concept, it just never pans out.
We want people to be able to have a total experience with us in one night
Mark: Obviously, part of this is the challenge, right? We would never want to be cookie-cutter operators. We’re not going to open up next to a Cheesecake Factory, just because they turn over thousands of customers a day. In a way, Hollywood is the least desirable place to open, at first glance. But we’ve created a space that’s fun, approachable and for everyone. Challenging us is important; without that, we wouldn’t be interested.
Jonnie: Mark nailed it. At the end of the day, we did this for us, really, because we want people to be able to have a total experience with us in one night.
It sounds like that’s going to grow to include hotels. Mark: The building we occupy now with Butchers & Barbers would be beautiful to turn into a hotel. But that’s not something we can really say as of yet. I do feel like Hollywood now lacks a sense of what Hollywood was. It’s more a fist pump, club destination; I don’t feel like it represents what I would envision if I were to come to Hollywood for the first time. I hate to bash on things, but those characters that dress up and march up and down the street, the lack of genuine eateries you can walk into…We want something more genuine to what Hollywood was.
Is the future of Houston Hospitality going to be more restaurant focused as well? Jonnie: I think we’re headed down a restaurant path, definitely. We’ve got multiple projects lined up, another hotel project we’re working on towards downtown. It’s a natural progression, and so we just keep going and keep pursuing. We’ve got five other projects right now, most slated to open early next year. Yeah, we’ve got a lot going on [laughs].
But for Butchers & Barbers as our first restaurant, we really want the food to be unfussy. We want a place that people can go to a few times a week, and still have a unique experience with a comforting vibe every time. Whether you’re a foodie or a neighborhood person, we’ve got something for you. That’s the key to every successful business: making everyone feel comfortable.
Butchers & Barbers
6531 Hollywood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA
Restaurant interior photos by Elizabeth Daniels