Culver City restaurant Etta, which opened in September 2021, faced eviction for months over the alleged nonpayment of hundreds of thousands of dollars in back rent. Eater has also learned that multiple staff members have been laid off or furloughed in August. It’s part of a series of setbacks for Etta Collective, the restaurant group that also operates two Ettas in Chicago, and another in Scottsdale, Arizona. The restaurant remains open for business.
Landlord Ivy Station Hotel, LLC, a subsidiary of major LA-based property developer Lowe, filed an LA County eviction notice on June 28 and again on Friday, August 4 against Etta. After the publication of this article, Ivy Station sent a statement to Eater to confirm that it had “reached an agreement to amend the lease and withdraw the eviction proceedings.”
The second eviction notice arrived as Etta Collective laid off multiple senior staffers in the past week at the corporate level, including marketing, human resources, and other operations. Etta Collective partner David Pisor told Eater on Monday that he was “right-sizing” the company that was burdened with payroll expenses, noting that one person who worked at Etta Culver City was also laid off. Two staffers told Eater that they realized they lost their jobs only after losing access to their email. One source described waiting a day before hearing confirmation from Pisor that they were being laid off. In addition, Pisor confirmed that group executive chef Dan Peretta is no longer employed at Etta Collective, along with beverage director Micah Melton. Peretta and Melton previously worked together at Alinea Group, with the latter joining Etta Collective in March 2023.
According to multiple sources who spoke on the condition of anonymity, Etta in Culver City was doing good business, somewhere in the range of $20,000 to $30,000 in sales each night. However, Etta’s proximity to studios like Apple, Amazon, and Sony in Culver City has proved challenging due to the ongoing Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild strikes; sales figures are down between 10 and 12 percent in 2023 this year, according to one source.
Even before Etta’s cashflow issues arose, the restaurant group was the subject of business drama. In 2021, partners James Lasky and Pisor became embroiled in a fight for What If Syndicate, the restaurant group that originally operated Maple & Ash and Etta, among other establishments. Lasky, chef Danny Grant, and Pisor each owned 31 percent of What If, but parted ways after a months-long legal battle in which Lasky accused Pisor of using company credit cards for personal expenses and workplace misconduct. The issue was further complicated in May of this year, when Maple & Ash’s investors filed a lawsuit against the group’s owners accusing them of misusing $7.6 million of Covid-19 Paycheck Protection Program funds.
According to recently unsealed court documents, the restaurant’s ownership allegedly spent $2 million of the money on a private jet and $32,000 in country club dues instead of using the funds for employee salaries. Pisor told Eater that he has been absolved for the misuse of PPP funds and that the lawsuit was directed toward his former partner, Lasky, but did not provide any evidence upon request. Lasky, Grant, and Pisor settled their dispute in late 2022, with Lasky and Grant retaining ownership of What If and its highly profitable Maple & Ash restaurants, while Pisor ended up with Etta and Cafe Sophie forming the group Etta Collective.
Speaking with Eater on August 21, Melton asserted that the financial management of Etta prior to the split with Maple & Ash between Lasky and Pisor showed unpaid vendor bills and other strains. Given the uphill battle Etta would face to regain its financial footing in Culver City and Etta Collective’s ambitious but delayed expansion plans (there are at least four new restaurants slated to open in the next year, including a steakhouse and private club in Beverly Hills), Pisor felt he needed to cut costs. Melton was an equity partner whose minor ownership stake was forfeited after losing his job. He speculated that the reason for the layoffs stem from Etta’s partnership split with the group behind Maple & Ash steakhouses.
Multiple sources alleged, and Pisor confirmed, that substantial salary raises were given to at least two employees at Etta Culver City that Pisor deemed critical despite the other layoffs and furloughs.
Pisor told Eater that it was personally difficult to conduct the layoffs and hopes Etta Collective can refill those positions sometime in the future. None of the people laid off or furloughed were offered any severance pay, and while some positions in the company were supposed to be given severance, the absence of any real human resources department gives the former employees few options for recourse outside of perhaps legal action.
Update 08/22/23 4:42 p.m.: This article has been updated with news of a new lease agreement, and a statement from Ivy Station.