TELL ME IF THIS has ever happened to you: You’re at work, at a friends house, or sitting at home thinking about an experience you want to have again–a place you need to revisit, a dish you’ve been craving for, or a drink you want your best friend to try and love as much as you do–when you finally say to yourself, there’s no place like (insert name of place here). Well, recently I found myself saying this over and over again–There’s no place like SUR! Really there isn’t.
Recently, we paid a visit to SUR Restaurant and Lounge to catch up with the man behind one of West Hollywood’s most famous restaurants. Meet Guillermo Zapata–actor, model, and entrepreneur–a self-made man, or as we like to call him, The Modern Man.
The Modern Man
Our meeting with Guillermo was exciting, his personal story is even better. Coming from a modest background–his father a celebrity singer in Argentina–Guillermo set out to make a name for himself as an actor in 1992. During a two-week vacation to the United States, he decided to stay–later finding work as a dishwasher to make a living. “I came here just to see the city, and I fell in love with everything–the people, the weather, the energy. But vacation was over, and then it was my call to say, ‘Should I stay or should I go?’ And I decided to stay and start a new life.” Little did he know, this would lead him down a path he both enjoys and considers one of his greatest successes.
After starting in the ‘back-of-the-house’ at then-renowned Cafe’ Luna, he worked his way up to waiter, and five years later–restaurant manager. In the interim, he took up English classes–having made the decision to stay in the United States without being able to speak English–and developed an interest for a career in the restaurant business. He dreamt that one day he’d own his own restaurant. A year later, in 1998, that dream came true when he opened SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant) on the corner of Melrose Avenue and Robertson Boulevard. In 2005, Guillermo–along with his wife Nathalie– partnered with Lisa Vanderpump and husband, Ken Todd, creating SUR’s ownership team of four friends.
Guillermo’s success lies not just in the foodservice industry, but also with his first love–acting [and modeling]. If you haven’t seen him in print or on a national commercial, you’ve certainly seen him on Season One of the popular BRAVO reality show, ‘Vanderpump Rules’. An idea he pitched to his co-owners and shot inside SUR, the highly addictive reality series follows the life of Lisa Vanderpump and their staff at the restaurant.
Between acting, modeling, and his entrepreneurial pursuits, Guillermo has made some steep sacrifices to make it in America and achieve his dreams–one including not seeing his parents for nearly 8 years. Aside from the many personal sacrifices he has made to achieve success, the job he is most proud of is being a father to his two daughters, Miarose and Loulou.
Brian Stewart: What inspired you to get into the restaurant business?
Guillermo Zapata: When I arrive in Los Angeles to pursue my acting career, I noticed that young actors, models were the workforce of many restaurants. I immediately knew I should be one of them. Initially, it was just a way to pay the bills but I’ve become passionate about my clientele and the culinary world.
BS: What do you consider to be the reason behind the success of your business (SUR)?
GZ: SUR is very eclectic in many ways, from our food to our décor. We are four owners working together as a team. We all come from very different backgrounds but that’s what makes it work. We all bring something unique and different to the table and we all have the same goal in mind. Along with our staff, we focus on one thing: to make each dining experience the best and not only satisfy our multicultural clientele but to also make them want to come back again and again.
BS: What is the most challenging thing about being a model, actor, and entrepreneur?
GZ: Being an actor, model and entrepreneur all together is a challenge trying to balancing all those things at once. I believe that whatever your day job is if you do it with passion it doesn’t seem so challenging. I am not only passionate about SUR but also about acting and modeling. However, those jobs pale in comparison to being a father. My most rewarding job is being a father to both my gorgeous daughters, Miarose and Loulou.
BS: What does a typical day in the life of Guillermo look like?
I start the day early with my family and we all eat breakfast together before my wife or I take our girls to school. I like to workout afterward, then I usually have meetings with my partners for upcoming movie projects. I then get ready for SUR, head over there, and it’s showtime! I spend my nights at SUR making sure the restaurant runs seamlessly and the guests are happy.
BS: How would you describe “The Modern Man”? How would you identify your style?
GZ: The modern man is adventurist, stylish, kind and worldly. He knows what he wants, goes out to get it and does it passionately, kindly, and stylishly. My personal style is casual chic with an eclectic twist. Some of my favorite wardrobe pieces include my oldest pair of blue jeans, a pink suit, and silver loafers.
BS: What is your favorite cologne, timepiece, and shoe brand?
GZ: I like a full-bodied warm cologne and my favorite is Patchouli Imperial by Christian Dior. I received my favorite watch for my 45th birthday, the Classic Seamaster from Omega. It’s very hard to pick only one shoe brand but if I was forced to choose maybe Common Project.
BS: How do you manage to stay in shape and how often do you work out?
GZ: With my passion for food, I have to workout every day. I’d rather eat a lot of amazing dishes and cuisines and workout harder later on, than miss out and diet. I keep my exercise routines diverse so that I don’t get bored. I do a mix of Taekwondo, boxing, tennis, running, weight training.
BS: Where is your favorite place to visit and why?
GZ: I love traveling to the Americas, especially South America, and Europe. If I had to pick one place only, it
would be Rome because of the food, the people, the history, and the men’s fashion.
BS: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
GZ: Stay consistent and focused. Patience is key as well and success doesn’t come overnight.
BS: What is your favorite quote/motto?
GZ: “You only live once but when you do it right, once is enough” — Mae West
According to the website, “SUR offers guests friendly, attentive service and sumptuous international cuisine for a truly unique dining experience.” We couldn’t agree more. Upon arrival, we were met with eager smiles and gracious handshakes from both Guillermo’s staff and the George Clooney look-alike himself. Have you seen this guy’s Instagram? Seriously go take a look (@Gzsur)! Sporting one of his relaxed looks–denim on denim complete with a denim Icon cap–he guided us through his posh yet chic restaurant and lounge–giving us the grand tour. We spent most of the interview [outside] under the night’s sky in an intimate tree-lined garden accompanied with a Bronze Thousand-Hands Buddha statue, velvet stools, and leather chesterfields, pillows and fresh-cut flowers, candle lanterns and chandeliers dangling above vintage zinc-topped tables. Before I could get the question out, “Lisa” Guillermo replied to the question written all over my face. He credited everything design related–and more–to Lisa, adding in compliments about the partnership and the Vanderpump’s friendship.
After our grand tour of the restaurant and lounge, we indulged in the SUR experience with a three-course dinner and a few Strawberrini’s. You’ll have to check out our upcoming list of LA Restaurants You Must Visit for our official review and reasons why SUR is one of the restaurants that made the list. I don’t know if I’m simply craving another Strawberrini, the pan seared Roasted Organic Salmon–cooked to perfection–or perhaps the posh experience of exquisite South-European dining, but what I do know is that There’s no place like SUR!