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Hollywood's power lunch takes a hit as twin strikes linger

With actors and writers not working, Los Angeles restaurants have empty tables

WGA members striking in 2023
WGA members striking in 2023

Since it opened last year, Mother Wolf, chef Evan Funke’s homage to Roman cooking, was one of the toughest restaurant reservations to get in Los Angeles. 

Hollywood power brokers tasked their assistants with logging on to the booking app Resy a week in advance to try to score coveted dinner seats that quickly disappeared. But suddenly anyone can secure a prime-time table, even on the day-of.

Also read: ‘No writers. No TV’: Hollywood scribes strike over pay

The twin strikes by writers and actors puts the kibosh on one of Tinseltown’s time-honored traditions: the working meal. Producer Julia Phillips poked fun at the ritual with the title of her hit 1991 memoir You’ll Never Eat Lunch in This Town Again. Mogul Jeffrey Katzenberg was famous for scheduling back-to-back breakfast meetings at the Beverly Hills Hotel’s Polo Lounge. 

But now, with TV and film production all but grinding to a halt, talent agents, entertainment lawyers and other industry players are cutting back on wheeling and dealing over expense account meals. Publicists are telling celebrities not to go out, so they won’t be seen splurging when so many in the business are out of work. Some longtime guests are asking for tables where they can hide in the back. Restaurateurs, some of whom decline to be identified, say they’ve seen steep drops in business as the work stoppages have dragged on. (On Tuesday, the Writers Guild of America said the studios had asked them to discuss resuming talks.)

Jesse Duron, general manager at power lunch stalwart Hamasaku on the west side of LA, says that while his lunch sales saw only a slight decline after the 11,500-member writers guild went on strike in May, they dropped around 30% after the 160,000-strong Screen Actors Guild joined them last month. Overall, the number of seated diners in Los Angeles restaurants has fallen 7% since last year, according to data from OpenTable, more than twice the decline in Washington, DC and San Francisco. 

“Dining out for work has gone down a lot,” says talent manager Henry Huang, a partner at Heroes and Villains Entertainment, a film and TV management and production company. He notes that industry friends have had their dining budgets suspended, so people are meeting over coffee instead.

Guild members aren’t allowed to conduct business with the studios they are striking against.

“There’s no lunch that is worth me going against my union,” says Jonathan Sadowski, an actor who has appeared in films such as Live Free or Die Hard and Friday the 13th.

Prohibitions on actors promoting their films and TV shows while on strike mean a whole host of cocktail parties, lunches and other events that would have been scheduled around Hollywood’s awards season will also likely halt. A spokesperson for Craft LA, Tom Colicchio’s restaurant just a short walk from top talent firm Creative Artists Agency in the Century City neighborhood, reports “that some annual events that would typically book at Craft LA around this time are not booking due to the strike.”

“The strikes are definitely really hurting restaurants in LA, everyone is feeling it,” says Suzanne Goin, chef and co-owner of the Lucques Group, which includes the popular wine bar A.O.C., with outposts in West Hollywood and Brentwood. “I would say we are 35-40% down from normal business.” 

The shortfall comes as restaurants continue to crawl back from pandemic-related closures and restrictions. “Margins are very thin, and so we need business to be strong to keep the revenues up to make all the numbers work … it’s not good,” says Goin about the timing of the strikes. Top Chef alum Shirley Chung, whose modern Chinese American restaurant Ms. Chi Cafe is located steps from Amazon and Apple offices in Culver City, says she’s been forced to cut some employees’ salaries. 

Restaurant suppliers are equally pinched. Patti Röckenwagner, co-owner of the namesake European bakery that counts over 300 restaurant around the city as clients, says her business has fallen and staff is bracing for worse as the strikes linger.

“Internally, we have started calling fall the new Game of Thrones winter,” she says.

Also read: Fighting for the right to write

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