Anatomy of a Deal: Misto Cafe & Lucia’s

One of the best-kept secrets in the Pacific Palisades is how businesses change hands in our five commercial districts’the Highlands, PCH and Sunset, Marquez Avenue, Santa Monica Canyon and the Village. How, for example, did current Chamber of Commerce president David Williams come to sell his Misto Cafe in the Highlands Plaza to Lucia’s Italian Kitchen? The deal closes May 2, and after a quick paint job and the installation of new signage, Lucia’s will open about two weeks later. ‘It is the perfect match,’ said John Halter, who bought the 12-year-old business from Williams after searching for over a year. Halter and his brother Michael own three other Italian restaurants, including Pizzetta in West Hollywood. ‘We were looking for a family-style location on the Westside,’ Halter said. ‘The size of Misto, the atmosphere and pricing are very similar to our other operations. We also feel the location is right for us.’ What Halter is actually buying is Williams’s lease (there are three years left, with a five-year option to renew), his beverage license and ‘his goodwill, which is really worth something to us. We count on his many satisfied customers to continue walking through the door.’ Halter, who actually found out about Misto from his sister, a commercial broker who saw it listed on the Internet (at loopnet.com), said it took him less than 48 hours to make up his mind. ‘I heard that the restaurant was available on a Monday, looked at it Tuesday and knew as soon as I walked in how great it could be for us. While we will be serving the same type of food, we also plan on offering more pizzas and home delivery.’ Halter learned the restaurant business from his mother, Katerina, who was born and raised in Italy and who trained with Paul Prudhomme in New Orleans. Lucia is the name of one of Halter’s aunts. Of Williams, whom he only met recently, he said: ‘We have similar styles.’ Greg Eckhardt, vice president of Par Commercial, which leases the storefronts in the strip mall just north of Sunset where both of David Williams’s restaurants are located (besides Misto, he owns Mogan’s Cafe), describes the chef’s style as ‘very hands-on. Nothing escapes David, from the design to the food. It was after he opened Mogan’s last July that I told him if he was ever interested in selling Misto to let me know. He said he might be, but only to the right party.’ Eckhardt said that in the last few months he has been inundated with inquiries from operators wanting to open eateries, ‘from Papa John’s, to Chinese, to rotisserie chicken, to sushi. I think Lucia’s was the best fit, for both parties. For one thing the clientele for Italian food is already well-established at this location and it will not compete with David’s plans for Mogan’s.’ Starting in July, Williams plans to add dinner to Mogan’s menu, which currently serves only breakfast and lunch. ‘At dinnertime we will offer American-style food, like pot pies and fish of the day,’ said Williams, who graduated from the Culinary Academy in San Francisco in 1989. ‘And we plan on making better use of all the space, both indoors and out. With heaters, people will be able to dine comfortably out on our large patio. ‘We’re also looking into extending our Internet service for customers. Right now, we only have two hook-ups, which we offer for free. With wireless we could offer unlimited access. I think having people come here to work on their laptops while enjoying a cup of coffee or two would be a good way to fill up the cafe in the off-hours, between breakfast and lunch, let’s say. I want to open up this place even more to the community. That will be good for everyone, including Lucia’s.’ Williams lives in the Marquez area with his wife Dominique and their four children: daughters Sarah,12, and Hannah, 9, and twins Eli and Nate, both 11. A lifelong Palisadian, he has been the head soccer coach at Palisades High for 10 seasons. Asked what kind of restaurant he thinks is needed in the Palisades, Williams quickly said: ‘A place like the Hot Dog Show, where I used to go as a kid after my baseball games. I think it would be great fun.