The Race to Succeed Gladstones Is On

Leader: The Puck/Gehry plan
Photo courtesy of PCH Beach Associates

By JOHN HARLOW | Editor-in-Chief

For property developer Tom Tellefsen, the opportunity to join a new consortium bidding to take over the lease at Gladstones restaurant was tempting.

Gladstones, The Riviera resident knew, has been a venerable part of the local landscape.

It has been owned by the former mayor of Los Angeles, Richard Riordan.

Yet few locals eat there, feeling that, although beloved, Gladstones and its deep-fried menu needed a reboot.

And when the budding new consortium, registered as PCH Beach Associates LLC, included celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck—through his downtown-based restaurant “incubator” Cast Iron Partners—and “starchitect” Frank Gehry, Tellefsen was sold.

Wolfgang Puck and Tom Tellefsen
Photo courtesy of Tom Tellefsen

“This was going to be so exciting, and, as a local, how could I say no?” the entrepreneur, who is invested in shopping centers across California, told the Palisadian-Post.

Certainly not Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, the Palisades’ representative on the LA country board, who personally campaigned for an extension of the lease from the county standard 20 years (although Gladstones enjoyed 40) to 50 years to attract more bidders.

She was gushing in her praise for the consortium when, on Tuesday, April 3, the board voted 3-1 in favor of opening a 90-day negotiation with PCH Beach Associates to officially take over the Gladstones lease in November 2019.

With planning hearings and construction on the 2.8-acre site located between PCH and Hawaii, even if everything goes smoothly, it’s unlikely to open for business much before 2023.

The plan promises a family dining area, a lounge, rooftop bar, smaller retailers, including an ice cream shop, and a monument to Gladstones.

Kuehl was smitten: “Two local icons, chef Wolfgang Puck and architect Frank Gehry, are offering to combine forces with LA County to reimagine one of our legendary landmarks and transform it into a world-class, must-see, must-eat dining destination.”

By and large Palisadians appear to have been excited by the vision, although there were angry outbursts on social media complaining about extra traffic on PCH and the loss of “our” beaches to even more tourists.

There may also be a legal challenge from Sunset on Ocean, another limited liability company registered last September to enter the lucrative race.

The process was started in April 2017—even as current management at Gladstones denied any changes were looming despite the timing-out of their 40-year lease.

The alternative view
Photo courtesy of Sunset on Ocean

It was all remarkably low-key until two weeks ago when the media missed a Department of Beaches and Harbors meeting that first recommended the Puck/Gehry plan over three rivals.

It only made international headlines when the supervisors endorsed the department recommendation a week later.

And not everybody is happy.

El Segundo-registered Sunset on Ocean, led by developer Nick Buford and restaurateur Greg Plummer, was officially named as “runner-up.”

Buford said that the supervisors had been “dazzled” by the celebrity names, and if those had been removed from the application, it would have been a much closer race.

Sunset’s project was “curated” with Alan Jackson, founder of the California-based Lemonade chain, Westside Rentals founder Mark Verge, Cedd Moses, proprietor of 213 Hospitality, which operates fashionable bars in LA and Texas, and famed Los Angeles restaurateurs Neal and Amy Fraser of Redbird and downtown’s Vibiana.

So, they did bring their own dazzle.

Buford said Sunset on Ocean had offered the county a better financial deal than PCH, offering to start paying rent from day one while PCH Beach asked for a 50 percent credit on the first 15 years of rent.

Buford was irritated that the supervisors appeared to dismiss his renderings as a “food court”—especially when some of the Gehry renderings, especially his trademark watercolor sketch, offered very little detail.

Sunset wants the county to be more transparent about the process, which it said contained several “legal blunders,” and is pushing for a re-vote when a missing supervisor, Mark Ridley-Thomas, is available. This call was supported by lone dissenter, Supervisor Kathryn Barger.

Now the clock is ticking on a faded institution, which in 1972 itself eclipsed an earlier favorite near the site, Ted’s Grill, which dated back to 1914.

There are issues to be hammered out: Some kind of free public access to the space—10,000 square feet indoors, 6,000 square feet outdoors—will be preserved, but will the new Puck have to offer the same style of local loyalty card as Gladstones?

And what might be the effect on restaurants opening later this year at the Caruso project?

A decade ago, the restaurant once known as Gladstones Malibu was serving 35 tons of crab, 65,000 lobsters and 19 gallons of clam chowder per year.

It was the 37th highest-grossing independent restaurant in the nation, according to Eater LA.

Under new management, it might be that popular again.

Even with the pickiest of Palisadians.