Image: Tribeca Grill
Tribeca Grill
In 1990, Robert De Niro and famed restaurateur Drew Nieporent opened Tribeca Grill and the duo continued their magic with Nobu and Rubicon, turning Tribeca and the world into their culinary oyster.
updated 3/9/2007 3:10:44 PM ET 2007-03-09T20:10:44

When it comes to cooking food or making films, Francis Ford Coppola has a simple mantra: “You make what you like. Whether you are a director or a cook, you’re in the decision business,” he told Forbes Traveler. “All day long you’re saying yes, yes, more of that, no, no, less of this.” For the Oscar-winning director and screenwriter, this recipe has served him well. The Cafe Zoetrope in San Francisco and the Cafe Rosso & Bianco in Palo Alto are doing quite well, thank you.

Coppola oversees nearly every detail of his cafes, even working beside new chefs to show how the dish should look ("Don't chop the basil, tear it, in big pieces," he explains). While other celebrities may not be as involved in their restaurant’s operations, several are breaking into the business with gusto. “Owning a restaurant is a dream for many — part of the American Dream — the allure being the hospitality and culinary aspects, and there’s the sense of accomplishment brought by entrepreneurship,” said Annika Stensson of the National Restaurant Association. And, she explains, that holds true for famous folks as well.

But as Stensson warns, you don't open a restaurant to get rich. “Profit margins are generally fairly slim, and running an eatery involves a lot of hard work and dedication,” she said. “However, everyone needs to eat.” And, as Coppola explained, there are spiritual riches to consider: “Having dinner with someone can really cement a personal relationship that can last a lifetime.”

Every restaurant has a story, particularly if its proprietor happens to be world-famous. Jennifer Lopez opened Madre’s in 2002 to celebrate her Latin heritage. “She wanted a reminder of her maternal grandmother, Julia Rodriguez, whom she visited when she was growing up in the Bronx on the weekends and made her favorite dishes,” said Wassim Boustani, Madre’s General Manager. The warm décor recalls an inviting Havana home, with lace tablecloths, dark wood floors, hand-picked vintage china and chandeliers.

Sometimes, opening a restaurant is a celebrity's way of supporting a particular community. Seventeen years ago, Robert De Niro, who was a longtime customer at Drew Nieporent’s Montrachet, asked the celebrated restaurateur if he would join forces to create a restaurant serving the film community of his home New York neighborhood, Tribeca. The Weinstein brothers have been holding court there with the likes of Paul McCartney and Tom Cruise ever since (non film-industry professionals are also allowed tables).

Or take the case of Paul Newman, who collaborated with noted chef Michel Nischan to open Dressing Room: A Homegrown Restaurant. The restaurant is housed on the grounds of the newly renovated Westport County Playhouse, and its profits support the theater. “[Paul] also envisioned the playhouse and restaurant working together to become a community gathering place where folks could enjoy the types of interactions which once made local American communities like Westport so rich in neighborly relations and local culture,” notes Nichan, who sponsors a Farmers Market held in the restaurant’s parking lot and uses locally grown foods and purveyors from throughout the region.

Image: Madre's in Pasadena, Calif.
Jennifer Lopez has called Madre’s “a family restaurant with a little bit of sexiness to it.” She played a key role in nearly every aspect of the restaurant’s creation, working closely with designer Rachel Ashwell of Shabby Chic fame.
For a restaurant, the cachet of having a celebrity associated certainly adds to its buzz factor (and the star is guaranteed a good table). Consider the Dolce Group of restaurants in Los Angeles, which includes the ultra-hot Dolce Enoteca e Ristorante and Geisha House, a two-story Japanese and sushi restaurant "set in Tokyo 2050." For co-owners Mike Malin and Lonnie Moore, having Ashton Kutcher, Wilmer Valderrama and Laura Prepon as investors is a win-win situation for everyone.

“I came to them with a solid business plan,” explains Malin, who plays in the NBA Entertainment League with Kutcher. “They wished they could open a space to call their own and invest their money in unique ways. And they all have a great time dining at the restaurants — they come for business dinners, they hold wrap parties at our spaces. They are great patrons.” The Dolce Group is expanding; next up is Ten Pin Alley, which will feature classic British billiard rooms as well as cutting-edge bowling lanes.

With no dearth of celebrity-owned restaurants, here are some of the most notable, from Julian Lennon’s Blowfish Sushi to Chris Noth’s Cutting Room and Ashford & Simpson’s Sugar Bar.


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