Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum once landed the flashy royal distinction “New Kings of New York Hospitality” from Forbes, backed by the success of their Big Apple-based hospitality-management company, EMM Group.
The duo’s crown jewel is the Catch restaurant brand, headquartered in New York’s Meatpacking District with outposts in Dubai, Mexico’s Playa del Carmen and the just-opened L.A. address in West Hollywood. The latter, a 12,000-square-foot rooftop space, though gorgeous, was never an assured slam dunk.
L.A. dining is notoriously fickle, and though the duo already had conquered the New York scene, translating their dine-here-drink-here philosophy would be the ultimate challenge in a city not known for its wild dining scene.
Consider it mission accomplished.
In the weeks since opening, Remm and Birnbaum have opened their doors to A-listers (Kim Kardashian left seclusion to attend sister Kendall Jenner’s 21st birthday there), sports stars (David Beckham, anyone?) and a parade of event planners who have set up bashes for companies like Netflix, WME and Audi.
The Hollywood Reporter caught up with Remm and Birnbaum to get the skinny on their splashy success. But it’s not all pats on the back and chocolate cake (see below), as the duo get candid on that controversial doorman and why they won’t really be convinced of their star-restaurant status until they make it to 10 years …
Congratulations on the success of Catch LA. When did you know that you had a bona fide hit on your hands?
Thank you very much. I think, looking back on the last seven weeks, we have done a great job of what I call “lighting the fire.” The key will be how long we can keep the fire going. I think we will feel we have a bona fide hit when you do an article on us titled “10 Years of Catch.” Then I will feel we are a bona fide hit. But in the meantime, our focus is great food, service and vibe — so as long as we execute those three elements, we are confident we can be successful.
Catch LA marks the fourth outpost of the restaurant from your EMM Group. What lessons have you learned from the other three that you applied to the L.A. location? Or how different is the L.A. market from your other locations: Catch New York (the flagship in New York’s Meatpacking District), Catch Dubai and Catch Playa del Carmen?
Eugene Remm: To be honest, I don’t find the L.A. and NYC markets are truly that different. We focus on a youthful approach to fine dining, and it seems that the L.A. market has embraced what we do in a similar way to how New York has embraced our NYC flagship. We have learned so many lessons as far as what food items work, how best to execute our somewhat specific style of service and also how we create the vibe. And more importantly, like NYC, keep the longevity for years to come.
I’m told that you started booking events many months ago based solely on renderings, long before the restaurant was ready to show to event planners. How much did the competitive and highly lucrative L.A. events business influence the design of the venue?
Mark Birnbaum: We want to be a one-stop shop for all things “restaurant.” This includes dining, bar scene and special events. We believe these are key elements of a three-pronged approach that ultimately make a place successful. When we were designing Catch LA, we absolutely put a lot of thought into what would make a great events space from what we have learned in our 15 years in the business. We had a blank canvas and wanted to make sure we checked the boxes of what most event planners are looking for, looking to really elevate off of where we are sometimes limited in our other spaces based on layout and design.
Speaking of events, Hollywood’s awards season is really getting into full swing now. What do you expect the next few months until Oscar night on Feb. 26 to be like? How far out are you booked?
Remm: We are excited for the awards events but just as excited for all the nights leading up when all those involved in the events are out and having casual dinners. As much as the events are great, I love the nights leading up to them, when people are just being themselves and excited to be part of the Catch dining experience.
The rooftop design is a draw for L.A. Did you visit other rooftop bars/restaurants in L.A. to scope out the competition?
Birnbaum: To be completely honest, we signed the lease before we did any research on “other rooftops.” The space fit our vision for Catch, which is a prime location with a unique view and a great open-air experience. When we opened our outdoor roof in NYC, we knew we had stumbled on something special, as the demand exploded. We wanted to re-create that in other markets and, funny enough, later came to realize that a city with amazing weather and views like West Hollywood seemed to have an extremely limited offering of rooftop dining spots.
I spoke to Zach Braff about why he invested in Catch LA, and he told me that, in addition to being a friend of yours, he wanted to invest in the restaurant because the flagship is one of his favorite places in New York and he believes in the concept, as well as the food. How important has the support of your NYC fans — including celebrity investors — been in launching this location?
Remm: Without our NYC base, we would have never opened this restaurant in West Hollywood. This core group of people who have supported, and continue to support, Catch in NYC are the air that allow us to push forward. We are so honored for their support, as they can go to any restaurant they want but feel as much of a connection to the brand as we do. It’s one of the things I’m most proud of.
You’ve hosted many celebrities since opening the doors — everyone from Kim Kardashian and David Beckham to Mariah Carey and Nicole Kidman. Managing a celebrity hotspot delivers its own unique set of challenges, including dealing with all the TMZ headlines. How do you manage the hype while making sure that your celebrity clients feel safe coming and going?
Birnbaum: Good problems. If these are our problems, then we are in a good place. We have spent the past 15 years developing our relationships and have a good handle on how to protect the integrity of our guest experiences. At the same time, Catch is a restaurant, and these people are eating dinner. Not so much to report, other then the amount of calories they take in. It’s not a nightclub, and therefore the environment is much more controlled and civilized. We barely have security and don’t even really need to stop many people from taking pictures. It’s just dinner … everyone does it!
The doorman has been the subject of local chatter. Do you feel that decision has been well-received by restaurant guests?
Remm: We have a large demand, limited availability and are learning how to manage our guests’ experience. With respect to the doorman or door team, he or she doesn’t do much more than ask guests if they have a reservation. If they have one, our door staff is kind, warm and welcoming, and if they don’t, he will simply ask them to go to OpenTable and make one in the future to gain entry. It’s as simple as that.
What’s your favorite item on the menu? When you’re sitting down with friends at the restaurant, what’s your go-to drink and/or menu item?
Birnbaum: I love the entire menu, but personally I’m on a vegan kick, so the Vegan Crispy Cauliflower and Vegan Hearts of Palm “Crab Cake” are my absolute favorites at the moment.
And lastly, of all the Instagrammable moments you’ve created with Catch LA, did you expect the #HitMe chocolate cake to be the first one dubbed Instagram-famous? How many have you eaten since opening doors?
Remm: After five years of gluttonous #HitMe cakes in NYC, I have learned to limit this guilty pleasure. However, I have still not learned how to stay away from the soft pretzels with honey-mustard butter … and I’m not sure I want to! As for its Instagram fame, the #HitMe cake has been a hit — no pun intended — since its inception. And when you have a hashtag on the plate, it’d better be a “wow” moment that people want to see over and over again.
For a closer look at Catch restaurants, check out the company’s Instagram.
A photo posted by Catch Restaurants (@catch) on