Meet our latest RESTAURATEUR OF THE QUARTER: PATRICK OTTONE of Lalla Grill, Lallapalooza, Lalla Oceanside Grill and more
The team at Restaurant Realty have had the pleasure of collaborating with Pat Ottone. Keith Simpson successfully worked with Patrick to sell FIVE (5) of his restaurants including (1) Lalla Grill – San Jose, (2) Lallapalooza – Monterey, (3) Eli’s American Grill – Salinas, (4) Lalla Grill – Monterey and (5) Lalla Oceanside – Monterey. You can read more about those transactions here: https://www.restaurantrealty.com/sold-lalla-grill-lallapalooza-lalla-oceanside-more.
We recently interviewed Patrick Ottone about featuring him as our RESTAURATEUR OF THE QUARTER. Patrick grew to love the restaurant business and loved championing his businesses and relying completely on himself with no partners. Patrick loved the action – the hustle and bustle – of his restaurants and would compare them to sports. “When you went through a busy day, you got a rush and a camaraderie with the crew much like a sporting event. With teamwork and everyone doing their job there was a closeness with your crew I don’t think you can get from any other job. I miss a lot the closeness with my crew and it was my social life as well as my business. I loved making recipes that guests loved. I did all the food menu recipes and most of the bar recipes. I loved thinking about recipes at work and at home. When a new item became a hit it gave me deep satisfaction. I miss working on recipes a lot.” These were the reasons he kept at it for 32 years!
Patrick added that the restaurant became an extension of himself; a reflection of his personality and all what you hold dear. His passion was for guests to love his restaurants; he knew that money would follow shortly after. Patrick was the type of owner operator who was beyond personally invested. If someone didn’t like his restaurant it meant they didn’t like him; you cannot distinguish one from the other. To say the least, Patrick put his heart and soul into them.
After completing a degree at Chico State University in 1979, Patrick joined the family business where hard work paid off, but competitive among seven other family members was stiff. After six years, in 1985, Patrick wanted to go out on his own path and started in the restaurant business by buying a franchise called Velvet Creamery. He had never worked in a restaurant before and was completely ignorant about the business. That didn’t matter – he was confident, believed in himself and was highly motivated to succeed. He became the first franchisee of Velvet Creamery and opened the Monterey restaurant in the front of the mall, Del Monte Shopping Center. What a rude awakening the restaurant business was for him. Penny pinching, always open, on stage in front of customers, and constant labor problems. Velvet Creamery was a full service restaurant that had 40 flavors of ice cream and served sandwiches, salads, and specials from a steam table and no cooking equipment (lesson learned!).
Patrick spent 6 years working 7 days a week leading him to eventually open and operate four (4) Velvet Creameries. All the food was delivered from a franchisor commissary. Of course our food costs were 38% and he never made a profit. Patrick and his wife lived off her cash tips for 7 years! In 1991, Patrick realized that he could not continue operating and informed the franchisor of his desire to disenfranchise, which led to the franchisor suing him. After an unfortunate court battle, the judge awarded me $100,000 in damages and the lawyer costs of $170,000, but the next day the franchisor filed bankruptcy. So needless to say we closed 3 of those restaurants and was down to just the Monterey Velvet Store location. This enabled him to pivot into a new direction.
Patrick reopened his Monterey store and eventually called it the Ellis Great American Restaurant featuring an American melting pot menu. Whereas Velvet Creamery was a full service restaurant without proper cooking equipment, Ellis Great American Restaurant gradually expanded with cooking equipment and more – that made all the difference. In the beginning, Patrick learned how to cook himself.
Patrick remembers the commissary truck quit coming with the food. He had no cooking equipment and didn’t know how to cook. He called up a friend that day and asked him how to make clam chowder. He bought a two burner gas stove and stuck it on the counter and started cooking, gradually adding cooked items to the menu. He had a story made up when the health department showed up trying to explain the gas stove without a hood. “Oh, that’s where we boil eggs and cook pasta noodles.” She nicely gave me 6 months to get a hood installed and he did it! That’s when the business really took off. Patrick started really cooking and added burgers, fries and cooked sandwiches and dinners.
As he became successful, he opened a second restaurant in 1997 in Downtown Monterey called Lallapalooza Dinner House. It became the hot spot for Monterey. The bar scene was crazy busy as we featured a Martini Bar and a Big city look.
Within a few years, in 2001, Patrick opened another much bigger Ellis in Salinas featuring breakfast, lunch and dinner, which also included a big bar. Eventually he bought the property and this Ellis location became a flag ship restaurant.
In 2008, forced by the shopping center, Patrick had to shut down the original Ellis. We rebranded the “Lallapalooza” name into a hipper, shorter version and reopened in the same mall in what is now known as Lalla Grill. In 2015, Patrick opened Lalla Oceanside Grill overlooking the ocean in Cannery Row. In 2018, he opened another Lalla Grill in San Jose. Unfortunately that property was not successful which led to Keith and Restaurant Realty selling it to an Indian restaurant in 2020. The old adage ‘location, location, location’ was a critical determining factor.
After the Covid shutdown, Patrick reopened all his restaurants and were extremely busy again. Patrick had the instinct that now was a good time to get out. First, we sold Lallapalooza, then Ellis in Salinas, and finally Lalla Grill and Lalla Oceanside Grill in Monterey. In total we sold 5 restaurants.
Patrick is happily married with 5 grown kids, 4 boys and a girl. It was quite an adventure with 5 kids and 5 restaurants. “I think you can call my restaurant business career as ” school of hard knocks,” shared Patrick. ” I never had a chef, or supervisors, or hired anyone outside of the business. Everything I learned about the restaurant business was through trial and error. All my managers were hired from within – they started off as busboys or another entry level job. We all grew up together and made it happen by sticking together through the years and again learning the business through trial and error. Every manager I had in the 5 restaurants worked for me for 20 years plus.”
We wish Patrick much success with his future endeavors.