Ah, celebrities. We love to love them, and we love to hate them. And now, we want to pass the same judgment on their food that we normally reserve for their behavior.
Getting into the restaurant business has long been a favorite pastime of celebrities who have the extra funds to make the investment without really worrying if the venture will be successful or not. And a lot of them aren’t. Some statistics place the failure rate as high as 55% in the first year of business. While others dispute that figure, the reality is that opening a restaurant is risky business no matter what the real failure rate ultimately is.
In fact, a lot of the restaurants we tried to profile for this piece have already folded, some within months of opening, just like the statistics said. What’s amazing is the list of celebrities whose restaurant doors shuttered. If Steven Spielberg, Brittany Spears, Kevin Costner, and two of the Baldwin brothers don’t have the name recognition alone to keep the doors open, who does?
We did the work for you to find out where you need to eat. We figured out which ones are still open for business. We looked at menus and venues and are ready to share with you why you’ll want to eat at each of these celebrity-owned establishments–or not.
20 Avoiding: 40/40 Sports Bar & Restaurant - Owned By Jay-Z
The look of this place drew us in. The stunning and classy décor is like a sports bar on some pretty strong uppers. However, after a few minutes, we realize that’s what it is–a very fancy sports bar with fancy prices to watch the same not-so-fancy sporting events. You must have a reservation or be a part of a private party that’s reserved part of the venue. After 11 p.m., it’s “dress to impress”–no sneakers, hats, etc. Like we said–a fancy sports bar. But if we thought Jay-Z might pop in, we might be willing to pay a visit.
19 Try: Soul Kitchen - Owned By Jon Bon Jovi
It doesn’t take reservations. It gives guests a “suggested bill” with a minimum donation request that, when paid, goes back to the mission of the restaurant. And if you can’t pay, no worries—49% of the people who eat there have actually paid for their meals by volunteering time at the mission. In other words, it’s the opposite of virtually every successful restaurant on our list. All of that and the food is fantastic. All guests receive a three-course meal prepared by a variety of chefs, including guest chef Tom Colicchio of “Top Chef” fame. Bon Jovi has done the impossible with his two Soul Kitchen locations: he's managed to feed people a delicious meal while giving back in tremendous ways to the community. It makes us want to join his great cause while enjoying his great food.
18 Avoiding: Wahlburgers - Owned By Mark & Donnie Wahlberg
If there’s one on this list that we just wanted to love, it was Wahlbugers. A hamburger joint owned by Marky Mark and his New Kid brother Donnie? A funny play on their last name for the name of the restaurant? And starting it in Massachusetts that the Wahlbergs call home? All awesome. Unfortunately, the finished product leaves a lot to be desired. There are only a few burgers on the menu, and although they carried the clever play on their last name throughout the menu (kids are “Smahlburgs), we'd expect more burger choices from a burger joint and that those would be different, fun, and creative. Instead, it's a lot of the same patties we can get anywhere else. And they really lost us when they used Mark’s movies and Donnie’s love life as a ceiling decoration. In the end, we care more about better burgers than being reminded that Mark starred in “Ted 2” or that “Donnie loves Jenny.”
17 Try: Bird Bakery - Owned By Armie Hammer
You may not know Armie Hammer’s name, but you likely remember him from his starring role as the Winklevoss twins in “The Social Network” or as Martin Ginsburg in “On the Basis of Sex.” You may not know his wife, Elizabeth Chambers, who's an actress best known for her work in the Dwayne Johnson film “Game Plan.” But whether you know them or not, you’ll want to know their baked goods. With two locations in San Antonio and Dallas, Bird Bakery is spreading goodness all across Texas. With a seriously impressive array of breakfast items, lunch sandwiches, cookies, bars, pies, and cakes, we can hope for world domination next.
16 Avoiding: The Polo Bar - Owned By Ralph Lauren
We were hoping that Ralph Lauren would've created a restaurant that was as cool as its clothes. And it looks that way with its dark wood décor and soft lighting. But the problem is, it doesn’t work that way. The Polo Bar is a strict reservation-only establishment. There’s no wandering by and dropping in for a drink. There’s no casual meetup at Lauren’s place. Instead, if you haven’t planned in advance (and by some accounts, there’s at least a one month wait to eat there), then you don’t have a shot at getting in. Ralph Lauren may have made preppy chic accessible to the masses, but sadly, he hasn’t fashioned his restaurant in the same way.
15 Try: Nobu - Owned By Robert DeNiro
If you want the gold star of celebrity-owned restaurants, you stop and start with Nobu, Robert DeNiro’s partnership with Chef Nobuyuki Matsuhisa that began in New York in 1994 and has spread to 44 locations around the world. One of those is the iconic Malibu location that has always attracted celebrities to first its small location and now its stunning beachside location with sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean. It’s been open since 1999. Nobu is known for its sushi and sashimi delicacies, although it does have other food offerings. You can’t go on Open Table for a reservation; the restaurant requires that you do so by phone. And fair warning: you might be in for a pretty long wait before tasting the food and enjoying the view.
14 Avoiding: Sur - Owned By Lisa Vanderpump
From the moment you walk into Sur, you feel like you’re walking into a dream that one of the Real Housewives is having. Well, you kind of are. Sur is co-owned by Lisa Vanderpump of Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and Vanderpump Rules fame. The name itself stands for Sexy Unique Restaurant. Hot pink features prominently in the color palette of the restaurant, and Lisa herself did the design and decorating. While we can’t say for sure if the… interesting décor makes or breaks our desire to go, we can say that we’re sure people are going there to see and be seen, not necessarily to eat. Check out this awesome story of a blogger and her experience dining at Sur—it involved a dessert consisting of one grape.
13 Try: Saints & Sinners - Owned By Channing Tatum
Sitting in the heart of New Orleans’ red-light district, Channing Tatum’s Saints and Sinners has been feeding people great southern food since 2012. The décor is beautiful with lots of deep red tones that fill the rooms and are reminiscent of the rich color used everywhere in 1920s burlesques. The menu is full of heavenly good dishes like grown-up mac and cheese, BBQ shrimp and grits, jambalaya, and po’ boys. Also, check out the large menu of drinks that allow you to choose between being a saint and being a really bad sinner. All of this—and they donate a portion of every food item to hungry kids around the world. It’s a win no matter how you look at it.
12 Avoiding: House of Blues - Owned By Dan Akroyd & Jim Belushi
House of Blues gets its name from the 1980 movie classic “The Blues Brothers” that starred Dan Ackroyd and John Belushi as two soulful brothers trying to save their childhood home by getting a band together. There’s no doubt that the venue has established itself as a place for great music. It has 12 locations across the U.S., and you can always find either a true superstar on stage or one whose star is definitely on the rise. However, House of Blues loses us on the restaurant part of their establishment. The food is pretty much overpriced bar food. While that might be what you could expect from a dive with great music, this chain of restaurants needs to up its menu (or lower its prices) to make the value of the food match the value of the music.
11 Try: Little Pine - Owned By Moby
We already told you that we have a heart for restaurants that have a heart. Like Soul Kitchen and Saints & Sinners, Little Pine strives to give back while it serves great food. Founded by rocker Moby, Little Pine is located in Los Angeles. The menu is all vegan and plant-based, and 100% of the profits go to animal organizations. We’re usually all about the meat, but with dishes like fried cauliflower with a kimchi aioli, fennel flatbread pizza, and mushroom crostini, we're all about eating the vegan way. Oh, and did we mention the desserts? S’mores ganache, gingerbread cheesecake, and sticky toffee pudding are highlights on an impressive list. Moby, you’ve converted us to your way of food preparation and consumption. Really, you had us at s’mores ganache.
10 Avoiding: Tagine - Owned By Ryan Gosling
We’re the first to admit that there isn’t much that Ryan Gosling gets wrong. Sadly, his restaurant is something we’re just not crazy about. It’s Moroccan, and we’ll give them props for the ambiance–it looks just like we picture an authentic restaurant in Morocco to look. But the reviews for the service have been mostly negative as of late, with rude workers and a lot of mistakes coming from the kitchen. The last thing you want when you show up hungry at a restaurant is the wrong order served by impolite staff. They also have a corkage fee of $25, so you can bring your own wine, but they’ll charge you $25 to open it. There are places that charge more for that, but there are places that charge a lot less, too. Unfortunately, these missteps mean Tagine is pretty low on our list of places we must visit.
9 Try: Southern Hospitality - Owned By Justin Timberlake
Ah, J.T. and his buddies have brought BBQ back. And with a location right in the middle of New York City, they had a lot of competition. They’ve succeeded with menu items like fried dill pickles (not surprisingly, they fry a lot of food at this restaurant), chicken and waffles, baby back ribs, and Beale Street Chicken. All pay direct homage to their Southern roots and the comfort food that the South has become known for. You can’t taste any North in their food; this is all South, right in the heart of a major northern metropolis. Fun fact: since Southern Hospitality has been around since 2007, it’s officially lasted six times as long as Justin’s wife Jessica Biel’s foray into the restaurant world.
8 Avoiding: Walton's Fancy & Staple - Owned By Sandra Bullock
The premise of Walton’s Fancy and Staple is that it’s modeled after an old-fashioned deli. You can get your lunch, stop by the bakery, pick up a sweet, and then also grab a few little touches for your home or flowers for your kitchen table–all in one place. Walton’s also boasts a coffee bar for those high-end caffeinated beverages and a summer happy hour where you can drink and snack with your friends. And the end result is just kind of a hodge-podge of places all rolled up into one. It feels like a restaurant married a bakery and gave birth to a coffee bar. We'd love to see them pick one or two avenues and stick with those. Redefining their focus (or creating one at all) just might make us change our minds about the place. For our money, Magnolia Table is the new Walton’s.
7 Try: Cutting Room - Owned By Chris Noth
Yep, Mr. Big owns a restaurant. And a fantastic one at that. Cutting Room combines great food with great music, hosting a variety of star and star-on-the-rise musicians through its years of operations. (Lady Gaga, John Mayer, and Sheryl Crow have all had shows here, and if that doesn’t impress you, we aren’t sure what will.) But the club doesn’t just attract great talent and leave it at that. They also serve great and creative food to match the creative artists who are performing. On the menu, you’ll see things like zucchini tacos, Reuben cigars, a lobster roll, and chili over pasta. You’ll want to come for the club vibe, enjoy the great shows, stay for the food, and do it all over again tomorrow.
6 Avoiding: Joanne Trattoria - Owned By Lady Gaga
Lady Gaga has made a name for herself in the entertainment industry by wearing outlandish outfits (who can forget the meat dress?) and singing loud and powerful songs. And that image is the opposite of what you see when you hit up Joanne Trattoria in New York City. Instead, the Italian restaurant can only be described as “quaint” and has décor that's more early-’90s throwback than modern eatery. It’s reasonably priced, and the menu has a wide array of Italian food, but we just can’t get past the vibe. We want it to be more like Gaga and less like our mama.
5 Try: Spin - Owned By Susan Sarandon
So, this is a bar. With ping-pong tables. We feel like we could cut off our description right there, but we won’t quite yet. They take pride in being totally unpretentious, and we love that as an alternative to the pretentiousness of other restaurants on the “10 to Avoid” portion of our list. There are nine locations across the country, and each features a cool vibe, fun snack foods, creative sliders, and tasty treats to help you get the most out of your Spin experience. Susan Sarandon, along with a now-ex-boyfriend, founded these, and her Spin menu and ambiance are just as notable as her impressive body of work in film.
4 Avoiding: Bongos Cuban Restaurant - Owned By Gloria Estefan
We feel a little bit like our beloved Gloria sold her soul out to Disney when she created this restaurant. Sure, it looks like Cuba with its bright colors and warm atmosphere. Sure, it tastes like Cuba with its island-inspired flavors. But we can’t get over how Disney-fied the whole thing is. Sure, the restaurant is in Disney Springs, the shopping and entertainment area of Disney World in Florida. But being on Disney property doesn’t mean that you have to sell your soul to Walt. And we think that’s the issue here. The soul of the place doesn’t seem Cuban; it seems like Disney’s version of Cuba. Only there will they serve a chicken breast for more than $20.
3 Try: Magnolia Table - Owned By Chip & Joanna Gaines
Any list of places we want to go has to include something touched by Chip and Joanna Gaines. This list is no exception. We want to hit Magnolia Table, and we want to hit it hard. We're looking to see Joanna’s magic decorating in person, seeing for ourselves how her country chic minimalist style plays out in a bustling restaurant. (Hint: the stark white and black look super clean, and the wood accents warm it up so we know we’re in for a treat.) And then, there’s the menu of down-home goodness. Some of the vegetables are actually grown in Jo’s garden and therefore are magical. Some of the dishes are named after the family and therefore must be wonderful. There are a lot of basics on this menu, but none are overpriced, and all are farm-fresh, just like we expect everything Gaines to be.
2 Avoiding: Cheeseburger in Paradise - Owned By Jimmy Buffett
We have nothing but love for Jimmy Buffett. The guy has made a career in living, promoting, and singing about the laidback, beach-vibe lifestyle. What other vibe can you possibly get from a guy who sings barefoot and whose most well-known song is about wasting away in Margaritaville? So, we had high hopes for his “Cheeseburger in Paradise,” whose name comes from a song of the same title off his 1978 album “Son of a Son of a Sailor.” But despite the heaven on earth described in that song, we don’t see even a slice of heaven in the dark vibe of this hole-in-the-wall burger joint. We expected lighter and brighter décor and ambiance. Instead, we got dark beach after sunset, not the breezy feel we want in a Buffett-inspired establishment.
1 Try: Mermaid Oyster Bar - owned by Zach Braff
Nestled in the Greenwich area of New York City, Mermaid Oyster Bar is just as fun as you'd hope a place with “mermaid” in the name would be. The menu is all seafood all the way. (Well, they do have duck on there, but we’re going to go ahead and say that’s close enough.) They strive to show you that there are many different kinds of oysters and many different tastes to them, and they achieve their goal. Once you get your fill of oysters, you move on to the other fantastic seafood offerings. They even have cocktails with fun names like “Mermaid Mary” and “Dark and Stormy.” Zach Braff, best known for his quirky character on “Scrubs,” has invested in a winner with this magical mermaid oyster experience.