Welcome to The Gatekeepers, a monthly feature in which Eater roams the city meeting the fine ladies and gentlemen that stand between you and some of your favorite tough-to-get tables.
Photos by Elizabeth Daniels
The idea of attaching an upscale restaurant to a boutique hotel is far from novel, yet Oliver's Prime is still making a name for itself in the genre. The West Hollywood steakhouse inside the Grafton Hotel sits in the former BOA Steakhouse space, meaning quality cuts of beef and celebrity sightings practically fall from the ceiling.
VIPs are a way of life along this section of the Sunset Strip, and general manager Greg Cohen works the opulent room nightly. As the Gatekeeper for Oliver's Prime, Cohen handles everything from discreet reservations to parties looking to show off, and sometimes even expedites dishes from the kitchen. All in a day's work at one of the area's most promising new steakhouses.
You used to be the GM at BOA. Is there something about steakhouses that draws you in? Well, just prior to this, I was a Director of Operations at The Counter, which is obviously a much more fast casual environment. But I love really great food and wine, and wanted to return to that upscale dining experience. People want to feel loved, especially in this town. You can do that at the Counter, but it's not the same as a meal that takes two or three hours.
So what does an average night on the floor look like for you at Oliver's Prime? Basically, an average night starts in the afternoon, making sure we've got all our product in-house, coordinating with our chef. I'm making sure our aces are in their places, as I say. I check reservations around 2 p.m. or 3 p.m., see who's coming in, any special occasions, any sort of VIP clients or other customers coming in. From there, I'm making sure the bar and dining room are set up, everything is working properly, kind of organizing the night.
Who's coming in? It's a huge mix, really. Just the other night, we had in a family of four, with two ten to fifteen-year old kids, all traveling from Australia. We get people on first dates, we recently served a 67 year old couple. We hit that 24 to 45 demo, along with everyone else.
How often do you get in high-level customers? It depends, to be honest. No two nights are the same. We're still young. We haven't struck gold with five different VIPs every night, but we get a lot coming through. Mr. Tisch, an owner of the New York Giants, has come in - that was special. I'm a Jets fan, so we got to debate a little.
We really do try to make everyone a VIP. It's an intimate space, with tables close together, so that everyone feels the same sort of love. It doesn't look good if a two-top is splurging on a rare night out, and then we pull out all the stops for the table next to them, just because.
What's your training process like? Our entire staff goes through an eight day training program. They do everything, from bussing to hosting or taking reservations over the phone. That's often the first point of contact with the restaurant. Our servers know right off the bat, one of seven questions to ask is "Is it a special occasion?" We can put notes to know something about that guest. We go the extra mile. If the staff knows beforehand, we like to buy them a dessert, get them a glass of champagne. It's all about hospitality.
So what made you interested in front of house restaurant work? I've done some back of house work, but mostly I just disappointed my parents by going to culinary school. They wanted me to be a lawyer. Really, I love the buzz, and making people happy. I love the challenge. The restaurant industry is incredibly difficult. It might be slow one day, and you could get demolished the next. Every day's a ride.
How hands on are you as a manager? I pride myself on being hands-on. I try to lead by example. If a bartender needs to take a break, I'll bartend. If the chef needs to step on the line, I'll expedite dishes. I'll bus tables, take food out, whatever's needed. I really try to see everything. I have eyes on all sides of my head. I learned that in New York at Tribeca Grill. If it's a busy dining room, I can walk in and know immediately if there are problems at a table.
How steady have your reservations been? We've been filling up between 8:30 p.m. and 9 p.m. just about every night, but you can still get a table. On the earlier side, it's relatively easy, but that's L.A. for the most part. We didn't actually do an official launch, since we had some construction going on at the hotel. Now we have a brand new lobby, and we're ready to go; no more walking through the construction zone to get to the restroom. By October, we'll be one of the hardest tables to get in town.