Co-Owner: Lucques, AOC Wine Bar, Tavern
8474 Melrose Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90069
Yelp: 4 stars
Interview Date: Tuesday, August 10, 2010
“I always had this little entrepreneurial ‘thing’ in my head,” says Caroline Styne, co-owner of Lucques. “I had a little health food company with a business partner, a catering company, and was always working in an entrepreneurial capacity.”
After trying her hand at a few ventures, Caroline had an idea that she wanted to ultimately be in the restaurant business and began working at Jones Hollywood. She managed Jones for about four years before she was introduced to Chef Suzanne Goin by mutual friends.
“We kept flaking out on each other,” says Caroline. “Our friend kept saying that we had to meet, and finally we made the commitment to get together for dinner. When we finally did meet, we hit it off immediately.” After “dating” for several months, during which time they met at different restaurants and “turned plates over and checked the silverware,” the two agreed that they had a good opportunity together. “Suzanne had a successful career as a chef and wanted to open a business but didn’t have a manager,” says Caroline. “Meanwhile, I wanted to manage a restaurant and didn’t have a chef. We just clicked immediately and shared so much in common.”
Caroline and Suzanne hired a “gung-ho” realtor and proceeded to give her their requirements. “We had very specific requirements, and about a one-mile radius within which we wanted the restaurant,” says Caroline. “It took about one and a half years to finally find this space, but it was good for us to have that time to get to know each other better.” Once the space on Melrose was found, everything began falling into place for Lucques. “We met in October 1996 and opened Lucques in September 1998,” says Caroline. “We’re very fortunate and have very similar visions. In the past 12 years, I think that we have had just one or two times that we have disagreed on something. I think of us as ‘restaurant soulmates.”
Caroline focuses on the front of the house and is also a sommelier, while Suzanne focuses on the kitchen. Lucques has a small bar that quickly became a popular hangout for guests, which gave them the idea for their second restaurant, AOC Wine Bar. “The bar here was incredibly popular – there was a communal spirit, and we used that as a starting point for AOC Wine Bar,” says Caroline. “We thought about how we like to eat off each other’s plates, and came up with the small plates concept for the restaurant. The idea was that you could explore food and wine in a fun place.” AOC Wine bar was opened in 2002.
For their third concept, Caroline and Suzanne were originally looking outside of Los Angeles. “We thought that we needed to open in another city to avoid competing with ourselves,” Caroline says. “But we realized that the Westside is far enough away – especially with traffic – that it was the perfect location.” When a spot formerly occupied by a Hamburger Hamlet opened up in Brentwood, Caroline and Suzanne drove over and checked it out immediately. “We had always wanted a restaurant with a market attached, and the space was perfect for that concept,” says Caroline. “We had started baking our own bread, and saw the opportunity to create a bake shop in the space.” They opened Tavern in 2009. “We’re on a very unofficial 5-year plan,” says Caroline. “It just seems to have worked out that way.”
Both Caroline and Suzanne balance their restaurant businesses with families. “We are very hands-on, kind of control freaks,” says Caroline. “We also have kids and husbands, and we want to spend time with them.” Caroline says that she usually works five (very long) days per week. “I’m never ‘off’ – I’m always on the phone, doing work or thinking about work,” she says. “But when I work on this side of town I work during the day, go home for dinner, and then come back to work later. It all works out – you just have to really want it!”
“I’m a ‘go for it’ kind of person,” says Caroline. “I say that if you want to do something – if you have a dream or vision, then just go for it. If you have the energy and the desire, then it will work.”