Named for the Greek god of the harbor, Brizo is an exciting new project developed in cooperation with Southern California Restaurant Design Group (SCRDG). Situated overlooking the picturesque, world-famous Marina Del Rey harbor, the concept features a coastal Californian menu as entrancing as the views of the harbor itself. (The views are easily taken in from both the ample seating available in the main level, as well as a rooftop terrace with its own bar.) Running the kitchen will be Executive Chef Chris Houlihan, stepping up after a stint as Chef de Cuisine for Top Chef Masters Champion Brook Williamson at Playa Provisions.
Development of the property dealt with the unique challenge of tying together a dual-branded hotel project, featuring Residence Inn and Courtyard by Marriott. Thankfully, the entire project was managed by someone more than up to the task — Jerry Prendergrast, a restaurant developer and consultant whose own journey took him from the back of the house to being, well, the designer of the house.
We caught up with Jerry to learn about the project, his journey, and his experience working with SCRDG.
1. Let’s start by talking about the project itself! Tell us about the concept and how it came to be.
The concept began as a question. How do you open a restaurant in a Marriott Hotel and not make it a Hotel Restaurant? The hotel being a dual branded project – Courtyard and Residence Inn – it lent itself to be more a complex of different entities. I brought in a branding team – Faust-Levito who had worked on some of the most successful restaurants in LA over the last few years. They developed a name to go with the waterside location. Brizo the Greek God of the harbor. So now with the design team it fit perfectly the seafood centric menu. With 100 seats interior and an indoor/outdoor main bar opening onto a deck over looking a finger of the largest pleasure boat Marina in the world it just made perfect sense.
We also had a Terrace deck with its own bar and multiple seating layouts. This space was perfect for outdoor daytime lunch/brunch and sunset cocktail hours.
So together it fit the harbor side and the incredible views.
2. What initially attracted you to this project?
When I was approached about the project there was the initial hesitancy of working on a Marriott branded project. In the past I have found that large corporate structures do not deal well with independent project consultants such as myself and my team. But after meeting Sam Hardage and his son Chase I knew they had a commitment to making this a special Food and beverage operation. They had and have a passion for wine and food and great service. They had a vision to make the restaurant a destination for the neighborhood and the Los Angeles community. And when I visited the location, I was astounded that anyone could have succeeded in getting all the permits and approvals for this project. Sam, I learned, had spent over 20 years putting this project together.
So – I had to be involved and make it special.
3. Tell us more about yourself? How did you first get involved in the culinary industry?
My grandfather was in the hotel business and I worked from a young age in kitchens – prep and dishwashing. Later I was “promoted” to busboy. I found I loved the food and wine and the guest reactions. And where I grew up in the Hudson Valley, we had a lot of good solid restaurants. The Culinary Institute of America was just across the River and many students worked in the local places. I enjoyed their stories and the creations they came up with. Then, I started to work at a restaurant that had a great banquet business and learned more about the production side and the need for efficiency food production. In college I worked summer jobs in everything from a NY Times 4 star restaurant – The Depuy Canal House in High Falls NY to service bartending at the Joyous Lake (The Lake) in Woodstock NY. I realized early that whether ultra-fine dining or a Bar offering pub grub and great music it was making the entire concept meld into one feeling for the guests that made a success.
My father was in the construction business and I learned a lot from him that would come in later.
4. All chefs love cooking, but many want to be aware of career options outside of the kitchen. How did you transition to the business and development side of things?.
I thought I was going to have a different life after grad school but found myself managing a wine bar in Manhattan (The Winepress – owned by Sally Jesse Raphael) that had not opened and found I was pretty good at spearheading the opening. I soon found other people wanted me to help them get their projects off the ground and my new-found career began. I kept expanding my knowledge from direct operation – both FOH and BOH to lease negotiations and licensing. I loved “putting it together”. And I found many people who want to get into the restaurant business want to run them but not “Open” them. They do not know how to find a location, negotiate the lease, make the business plan or find the right attorney and investment structure. So – I started to help them do those things. And it worked. I was lucky in that many of the projects I got involved in in the beginning were successful and high profile.
In NY there were places like Pig Heaven, Café Marimba, Brother Jimmy’s and a few more.
Moving to LA I kept the consulting going and have been lucky again to have some great clients like – Melisse, Yxta, Mercado, Akasha and Divino.
4. How much has your BOH experience given you an edge in your current work?
Chefs have a love hate relationship with consultants. We tend to tell them how to save money. We try to get them to change their labor model. I cook with them. I talk about what their menu is. And if I work with a chef on a cuisine I do not have experience with, I go and buy cook books. Then I cook. It is one of the reasons I have custom made Japanese sushi knife (left handed) and a Moroccan tangine. I have tried to get to know what my chefs are cooking and what they need. When I was a teenager and my family went out my brother and I usually got to the restaurant before my parents and I would spend time in the kitchen. Chinese restaurants.. Italian restaurants… German… diners… I loved to see how they did what they did. When I moved to the FOH I still spent time learning the menu and how it was made… What was the PROCESS? And was there a way.. a technology that could make it easier.. faster.. better….
I speak the language.. I know how to dice, brunoise, julienne… And let me break down a chicken for you while we talk about how you like your pick up line set up! Do you like to keep your sauces in Petit Casserole? Maybe to hold temp on your Hollondaise we have induction plates… I want to know!
5. What sorts of challenges have you faced in the development of this specific property?
This property has already retained a kitchen designer and an interior designer. I usually start before this stage. So I came in not with MY team but theirs. And luckily the interior designer was amazing. Kim Harley Designs was in the process of creating a wonderful layout with excellent flow so that was not a big issue. But the original kitchen design team had designed a kitchen that was over priced for the project. We needed to redesign some and re-think the process of the operation. So I brought in So Cal Restaurant Design. And with Michael we redesigned.
I also dealt with a developer with vision and we had to communicate that vision of the F&B to Marriott Brand managers. They were worried we would not live up to their level. But we convinced them we would exceed their level.
In the construction mode we had timing issues when an oil well was discovered under the property and needed to be re-capped. So 8 months of delays ensued.
6. What has it been like developing a property in the face of COVID-19? Beyond the temporary mandates concerning health and safety standards, has this affected the design in any permanent ways?
We have been rethinking the design of everything. This project was well under way so we were somewhat limited in what we could do design wise. But we have worked to make every space and action more segregated to prevent the possibility of infection. Less handling of product and interaction of staff. The changes in design will come in newer projects and I am working on some with Michael at SCRDG.
Operations are changing though. QR code ordering will have a continued effect on labor needs. I do not see that we will go back to the number of printed menus or floor staff. I think we will have a lot of more contactless ordering and payments in the future, even in more upscale dining.
7. How did you come to start working with Michael and the SCRDG team?
Michael found me. And I am glad he did. I have over the years developed a core team I work with. Architects, Kitchen designers, Contractors and such. Michael had heard about my consulting and contacted me. At the time I did not have a project that was at the stage to start working with him. But a few months later I did. And I am happy I did work with him. When I started the redesign on this project Michael and his team jumped right on it. We met and went over the goals I had and then needs of the operation.
8. What sort of obstacles has SCRDG helped you to overcome?
We already had a design that had moved to architecture level. The MEPS on the project were already in process and as the project was so large and integrated, we needed to be aware of the Mechanical and plumbing most. So Michael and his team reviewed the original plans and we set out to NOT change any of the shaft requirements or the plumbing schematic. We really stayed with the correct drain and gas flow requirements and did not have to redesign any of the MEPS. This saved the client a great deal of money and made the timing better for the contractor.
Later I was very happy to work with John Daniel and his install team. He handles the installs and once we got to know each other – since this was my first project with him – we really clicked. He visited the site and got his confirming measurements and we had no issues with changes to hoods or walk ins.
I must add here that R.D. Olson, the General Contractor on the project proved to really live up to their reputation as the premier hotel GC in the country. They worked well with John’s team and gave us the support we needed to solve some of the nagging issues that affects every project. Ken Milhone was a tremendous lead supervisor to work with.
9. What was your overall experience working with SCRDG? Would you recommend them to others?
I have nothing but accolades on the entire process. Not only would I recommend working with SCRDG and Michael and John I am working with them now. I have brought them in on 3 projects. Two of which are in CA – Simi Valley and Westlake. And one in Acworth Georgia. I also have another one in the process in Temecula CA that they will be working on. I have found the team I want to continue with whenever possible.
10. Finally, for people considering a visit to check out the new property, what would you say to convince them?
I would show them a picture of the view. This site truly is one of the most beautiful in CA and anywhere. But that aside. We have recruited a talented chef. Chris Houlihan worked as Chef d Cuisine for Brook Williamson – Top Chef Masters winner and owner of a number of great location in the Los Angeles area. His food – and now it is HIS food is another reason to come. We are so happy to have gotten him for his first personal project.
And not only the food but our great cocktails from Chloe Caves who we also recruited from a place well known to locals in the Marina. The only thing about the Pandemic that worked for us – was the wonderful staff we could recruit. The team we put together should be all stars.
So – Great food, Fabulous cocktails and a great beer and wine selection paired with the unique views and atmosphere make this a destination you should not miss. And you can stay in the new rooms – not only a Courtyard but Courtyard 2.0, the first in the country. And a Residence Inn with a higher level of amenity than any other.
Welcome to Brizo at the Marina del Rey Marriott Complex…. And btw.. we have 3 boat docks adjacent .. .so bring your boat..