It’s no secret that restaurants have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, but Los Angeles-based restauranteur Marissa Hermer is paying it forward to her community. Although her restaurants, The Draycott and Olivetta, are taking a financial hit right now, she’s giving back by donating meals to those in need, including local hospital workers, the elderly, and those who are unable to shop for themselves.
It’s this generosity, not to mention her indefatigable persistence and joie de vivre, that has us watching this visionary restauranteur’s every move to see what she does next. Ahead, Hermer lets us in on how she’s successfully pivoted (and pivoted, and pivoted again) during the pandemic, what she’s doing to push her industry forward, and why she believes it’s crucial to be your own target customer in order to be successful.
How did you make your first dollar and what did that job teach you that still applies today?
My first “job” was filing in my Dad’s office. As painful as it was at the time, I was able to save up to buy a GameBoy and Tetris, so it was all worth it. I found filing and administration work terribly dull, and from that moment on, while I was dreaming of my GameBoy, I was also dreaming of a career that never felt like work but more of a calling. Now, while I work 24/7, I never feel like I’m working; I feel like I’m playing.
Take us back to the beginning. What was the lightbulb moment for your business/career and what inspired you to pursue this path?
I was living in New York City, working for Nadine Johnson who is the OG of lifestyle/luxury PR. I was the clipboard girl, running the door at the hottest nightclubs and openings, was out eight nights a week, and have never been more excited and inspired. I realized I loved the buzz, loved having my finger on the pulse, and soon after, I realized I knew what people wanted and that I could create that in the hospitality sector. Hospitality is really the intersection of all my passions: Food, drink, music, art, design, and people.
Entrepreneurship is all about taking calculated risks. What’s the most pivotal risk you’ve taken, and how did it change your path?
Moving to Los Angeles from London was our biggest risk. While I’m a born and bred Southern Californian, I had never lived in Los Angeles and had no support network or work contacts. We left our home, family, and friends for a short Los Angeles sabbatical. Then upon arrival, we saw an opportunity in the hospitality sector, so we decided to stay and give it a go.
What career mistake has given you the biggest lesson?
We’ve been successful on several occasions when we’ve created brands where we are the target customer. It is on the occasions when we think people will want something, when we aren’t the target customer, that we fail miserably.
2020 presented everybody around the globe with new, unprecedented challenges. How did you #FindNewRoads + switch gears towards your new version of success?
If I hear the word “pivot” one more time I’m going to scream. So, letting one out now (AHHHHHH). We pivoted and pivoted and pivoted, and we will surely do it again a few more times over the next several months.
As restauranteurs, we are trained in the art of planning and preparation. We are firefighters on a daily basis, but 2020 has been the most impossible fire. That said, we’ve leaned on our friends and our patrons to continue to support us and trust that we are taking health regulations seriously. We’ve leaned on our neighbors at La Peer Hotel to act as a stage for the Olivetta on Holiday residency that we opened up on their poolside and rooftop.
We’ve looked within, and as the feeders of our community, we know that when everything is crumbling we need to nourish those who need our help. So we set up a giveback program on GoFundMe called YOU GIVE. WE COOK. THEY EAT., which provides meals to frontline workers and first responders. We’ve dug deep, knowing that we’ve done this before and we can do it again. We have this blind optimism that keeps us going.
How are you making a difference and pushing your industry forward?
At the moment, Los Angeles restaurants are shut down for both indoor and outdoor dining. We’d been operating outdoor dining since early summer with no increase in COVID cases, yet a few weeks ago when cases were increasing, Los Angeles restaurants were singled out and told to shut down. We’ve been lobbying local health officials to show scientific proof that outdoor dining doesn’t play a major role in COVID transmissions, and a few days ago, as a result of our lawsuit against the city, a Los Angeles judge called the outdoor dining ban an abuse of power. While this won’t help our employees at the moment, it will, hopefully, bode well for the restaurant industry when the state does open up again.
Going after what you deserve in life takes confidence and guts. Does confidence come naturally to you or did you have to learn it? What advice can you share for women on cultivating confidence and going after their dreams?
I’ve always been confident, for better or for worse. I wrote my college application essay on my own mantra, “Ready, Fire, Aim.” While I don’t always suggest this war tactic, so far, it has gotten me where I am. I lead with my gut and my heart, and when I get to wherever I’m going, then I tap into my brain to figure it all out. So while confidence has always been a part of my DNA, I can share some advice: No one is going to accomplish your dreams for you. You’ve got to do it. It’s all in getting started. An object in motion stays in motion, so get rolling and you’ll pick up speed along the way.
When you separate yourself from your job title and the bells and whistles of your business or career, who are you and what do you like to do? How have you remained true and authentic to who you are?
Oh, gosh. I hope I’ve remained true and authentic to who I am! The truth is, if I’m not, it shows. Our brands are only a personification of who my husband and I are, of our personalities and of our desires. When we stray from this, we fail. We are nothing if we aren’t heart and soul. I actually don’t know what my job title is. ”Wearer of Many Hats,” I suppose? Or, as a friend once told me, “Happiness Liason?” In my job and out of my job, I’m a lover of all of that life has to offer. I like to move. I like to travel, whether that be down the street on an evening walk, down to the beach on a jog, up to the mountains on a hike, onto the dancefloor for a boogie, or on a plane to wherever it may take me.
What is your number one piece of financial advice for any new entrepreneur and why?
Never let anyone else be in charge of your accounts. There is only one head on the chopping block and it is yours.
It’s easy to celebrate the wins, but how do you handle failure or when something hasn’t worked out for you?
I’m usually miserable for a day or so, but then, (and this is where having lived in London for so long is helpful), I pull myself up by my bootstraps and remind myself that while I’m an American, I also have a British stiff upper lip and to keep calm and carry on. Also, the truth is, the more I fail, the more I learn, and I’ll never make the same mistake twice.
With success comes opportunity, but that also means you have your hands full. What keeps you inspired and motivated to keep going even on your most challenging days?
We employ 150 people. People who are not just anonymous employees but who are part of our restaurant family. Their wellbeing and happiness keep me motivated.
Fill in the blanks:
The best career advice I always give is…
Do what you love and the money will follow.
I turn bad days around by…
Going on a jog.
Three qualities that got me to where I am today are…
Indefatigable persistence, blind optimism, and my joie de vivre.
The change I’d like to see in my industry is…
To be OPEN for indoor and outdoor dining. Sorry, this is so basic, but with the pandemic, that is what we are dealing with.
My perfect day begins with…
Hot water and lemon (sorry, but this does make me feel like I’ve at least done something right in the day), a jog, and breakfast with the family.