There’s a reason nightlife impresario John Terzian named his exclusive West Hollywood eatery “The Nice Guy” — it’s a perfect summation of his own stature in Los Angeles as the most approachable arbiter of late-night cool.
The owner and co-founder of The H.Wood Group oversees an expansive slate of properties, including Bootsy Bellows on Sunset Blvd., which reopens tonight, Santa Monica’s SHOREbar, Hollywood’s The Peppermint Club, Poppy and Blind Dragon, and Harriet’s at 1 Hotel West Hollywood. In addition, and with his managing partner Brian Toll, H.Wood has expanded to food (Petite Tacqueria, new L.A. BBQ spot SLAB) and hospitality in destinations outside of L.A., like Aspen and Dallas and Mexico.
Regulars on Terzian’s guest list include the likes of Drake (seen below with Mick Jagger on Grammy night at Poppy), Beyonce, Jay-Z and the Kardashians. At Bootsy, the ’60s art deco-inspired space, H.Wood is partnered with actor David Arquette who helped conceive of its concept, which nods to a “modern day ‘Rat Pack’ and Berlin’s Weimer culture,” with live entertainment including costumed burlesque dancers, DJs, puppets and more. It was named after Arquette’s mother, a former burlesque dancer and pinup model.
Terzian got his start during the heyday of young Hollywood a little more than a decade ago. H.Wood was established in 2008. He spoke to Variety about his career and ever-expanding portfolio.
How did you first get into nightlife?
Basically by not being able to get a job. I went to college at USC and law school, [during which] I was promoting to make extra money. Having grown up in L.A., I was good at bringing people together. And I knew I wasn’t going to be a lawyer because I had an art background and I hated it the whole way. But I come from a family of lawyers, so I went on 100 [job] interviews and remember feeling like I never want to have my life in someone else’s hands. So I started to assist and help my friend DJ AM, and one of our goals was to open up a nightclub that was a hub for him: LAX. I realized at that moment that I wanted to create things and envisioned building a world of hotels. If you don’t start with a billion dollars , you need to build a brand big enough that can attract a billion dollars [of investment].
What were some of challenges you faced opening up your first venues?
It’s one big challenge. Hardships like: you don’t know if the check is going to clear, or if you even have a check to pay someone else. It’s tough starting out. I had to raise money from friends and family and to learn what the business side meant in terms of permits, construction, opening orders, insurance, payroll, etc. No one ever teaches you that. … The first few places we had were colossal failures. It was the worst times of my life. We made every mistake in the book. We had partners who embezzled from us, didn’t do the right permitting, and had one venue that was declared a public nuisance because we didn’t deal with the neighbors properly. We had no idea about inventory, P&L, or balance sheets. All we knew to do was bring a crowd out. That is a critical X-factor, but we didn’t have anything else. But thank God it happened like that.
When did you cross the threshold to feeling competent, and confident, in your business?
We learned over time and it wasn’t until SHOREbar, our fifth place, where we kind of figured out how to operate it on our own. That’s when I met John Sofio, who I asked to design and build the place for free. I promised him that he would be with me for life. We started out working together eight or so years ago on Bootsy Bellows L.A. and we grew from there.
Nightlife is so competitive; what about your venues is unique?
The way we treat guests. We are almost a concierge service. We have one full-time person dedicated to handling that, plus myself. People might request a certain table or liquor, everything is really customized to them. Another thing is our attention to detail when it comes to the design and aesthetics of our venues, down to the door hinges and doorknobs. I believe if we weren’t the first, we were the most recent to do the hybrid of a restaurant and lounge style that’s a bit more elevated and appeals to a slightly older demographic — where you have a night out but you’re not going to a raging club, you’re going somewhere that’s a step up from a restaurant. We started out with Nice Guy and even more so with Delilah. It’s been probably the most game-changing in the landscape of L.A. because we are now getting copied everywhere, which is great.
You have expanded outside of SoCal in recent years. Has that always been the plan and what’s the vision for it moving forward?
It was always the plan to expand but everything we do is with a purpose. One big thing with me is relationships. I stay close to all of of my friends. One of the influential people in my business life was opening up a hotel chain called FOUND Hotels. He let me know the first one was going to be in Chicago so that’s when I started to study the Chicago landscape and opened Mason there. We put Blind Dragon there as well. And we are doing it in multiple cities now. It’s been amazing to be on both sides: co-designing the hotel brand and H.Wood Group is doing the food and beverage. We currently have seven going up but the one in Chicago is open as of now.
Are you looking to grow the company in the content arena at all?
Yes, we have been working for the last year on launching a media division of H.Wood Group. It will be film, TV, and content investments in the media world. It’s been pretty fun. We have quietly been operating but not really talking about it.
What sparked your interest in going into that lane?
I think the interest genuinely came about because I do believe in talent being first. I think we have a way of helping and giving a big platform to them. I think the other is just the synergy between what we do as a hub. I think there’s a good marriage there.
You’re involved in a number of charities. Where does your passion for philanthropy and community service come from?
I’ve always been big on giving back and volunteering. My brother had cancer my whole life so I knew when I got older, I would want to help. It’s why I started volunteering with Children’s Hospital. As I got more involved in business, I though I’d be a lot more beneficial for their board and in fundraising. I also found a local organization called Imagine LA where their focus is on homeless families, specifically single mothers and children. They have an incredible program. I’ve been on their board and started Imagine Ball for them six years ago. This past year, Dave Chappell [lent his talents] which was insane and incredible. Those two organizations I focus on giving my time, money, and guidance to as well as any connections. I do whatever I can.
What’s next for H.Wood?
Heavily expanding our brands SLAB, Delilah and Nice Guy. We are looking to repeat those in the right cities. We also want to start our own hotel in L.A., though we have a good amount of time to go. In the immediate future, we have Mason, our American-style chophouse restaurant, which is opening up in Santa Monica in a few weeks; Alice, our marketplace cafe on Sunset, opens in April; in addition to the crazy remodeling of Bootsy Bellows.