30 Undercooked Celebrity Restaurant Ventures
Studies show that roughly one in four restaurants fail within their first year of business, and an additional one in five don’t make it to their second anniversary. Apart from the name recognition factor, celebrities don’t have it much easier when trying to launch a new restaurant. Here are 30 celebrity-owned restaurants that ultimately didn’t make the cut.
Back in 1995, inspired by the early success of Planet Hollywood, supermodels Naomi Campbell, Elle Macpherson, Claudia Schiffer and Christy Turlington pooled their money to invest in Fashion Café, a theme restaurant that opened in New York City’s Rockefeller Center to great fanfare.
The joy was short-lived, however. Schiffer, feuding with Campbell, split the scene. Meanwhile, Campbell and Macpherson realized that the restaurant’s co-founders, Francesco and Tommaso Buti, had been cheating them out of $300,000 a month. The restaurant was closed by 1998, and the brothers were arrested in Italy on charges of wire fraud and money laundering. Two years later, the American government filed its own charges against the pair.
When Jennifer Lopez opened a Latin-themed restaurant in Pasadena in 2002, the Los Angeles Times said Madre’s served "the worst Cuban food in Southern California," describing several dishes as "close to inedible." That didn’t seem to deter J. Lo’s fans, though, who kept the restaurant packed.
The food wasn’t the only problem at Madre’s. Lopez’s first husband, Ojani Noa, said she hired him as a manager, but cut him loose after just a few months, prompting him to sue for breach of contract. (She settled that case for $125,000.) By 2008, the restaurant had closed for good.
Dreamworks wasn’t the only collaboration between Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg in the mid-1990s. The Hollywood moguls also launched Dive!, a restaurant so committed to its nautical motif that the building was a giant yellow submarine grafted onto the side of the Century City shopping mall — at a cost of $7 million.
The gimmick never fully caught on, and within five years, the LA branch of Dive! sunk. An outpost in Las Vegas, better positioned for the tourist trade, lasted a few years longer, but eventually met the same fate.
In 2002, at the height of her fame, Britney Spears opened Nyla, a midtown Manhattan restaurant where the menu originally had a Cajun flair, reflecting the pop star’s Louisiana roots. It only took a few months, though, for the menu to undergo a complete rewrite, switching to an Italian theme.
By then, Nyla had already been cited for assorted health-code violations and was being sued in small claims court for failure to pay its suppliers. Five months after its grand opening, Spears disassociated herself from the restaurant and it went bankrupt the following year. A decade later, she’d try again at the Meatball Spot in Las Vegas, which is also now permanently closed.
D. Wade’s Sports Grills
Looking for opportunities to make more money in the off-season, NBA superstar Dwyane Wade agreed to become a partner in D. Wade’s Sports Grills in 2007. The deal rapidly deteriorated and the handful of restaurants that opened were quickly shut down. Wade’s business partners sued him for breach of contract — he settled with them a few years later.
Wade blames his youth and inexperience for the failure and has recently become an investor in 800 Degrees Woodfired Kitchen. He’s even taking an active role in the chain’s Miami outpost, which opened in 2018.
Saybrook Fish House
Former NBA superstar Vin Baker grew up in Old Saybrook, Connecticut, and as his playing career wound down, he looked back to his hometown, investing millions in a seafood restaurant that had been there for years. But the Saybrook Fish House became a financial black hole, contributing to the loss of his $100 million fortune. (Baker would later sue his financial advisers for mismanagement.)
Years later, after getting sober and turning his life around, Baker became a manager at a local Starbucks. Today, he’s back in the game as an assistant coach with the Milwaukee Bucks.
New Yorkers were excited when Questlove opened a gourmet fried chicken stand in the spring of 2013. But the name, Hybird, was slightly confusing — a few press reports inadvertently "corrected" the spelling to Hybrid.
It was over and done within six months when Questlove turned to Facebook to announce the closure. "If anything it’s from the heart (my real one)," he wrote, "and [if] it's not satisfying that heart it's not satisfying at all. And so bye bye birdie. Chicken, scratched."
Flav’s Fried Chicken
Before becoming co-frontman of Public Enemy, Flavor Flav was a cooking school graduate, and over the years he’d developed his own blend of seasoning for fried chicken. At some point, he started selling his wings at Mama Cimino’s in Las Vegas — and then Nick Cimino, the owner’s brother, invited Flav to open his own restaurant in Clinton, Iowa.
Soon after the opening of Flav’s Fried Chicken in 2011, the relationship between Flav and Cimino had completely deteriorated. Cimino claimed Flav didn’t know what he was doing while Flav countered that his reputation was taking a hit because of how badly Cimino was running the place. Though Flav had once dreamed of taking on KFC, his restaurant lasted only four months.
Siro’s was a dining institution near the racetrack in Saratoga, New York, and had been since opening back in 1945. It made sense for Yankees pitcher Mariano Rivera to invest in bringing the restaurant to Manhattan in 2012, taking over a location where Ruth’s Chris had flopped.
Rivera assured co-owners that he was prepared to do his bit to promote the spot, but the following year, a lawsuit claiming the property’s managing agent ordered the restaurant to downplay his involvement to avoid attracting a "ghetto" clientele. The alleged racist inference, owners said, forced them to close ten months after opening.
Eva Longoria was at the height of her Desperate Housewives fame when she opened Beso on Hollywood Boulevard in 2008. With Todd English helping to run the kitchen, the place soon became a hit. The Los Angeles Times had mixed feelings about the swanky supper club, but admitted it had "possibly the best paella in town."
Longoria tried expanding into Las Vegas, but that Beso location went bankrupt. Back in LA, at a party for the premiere of Longoria’s film Lowriders in 2016, one of the guests claimed he’d been beaten up by a security staffer and sued. The restaurant was already closed for remodeling, but the suit pushed the reopening back even further. When it finally reopened, it was called Viva Hollywood.
SHe by Morton’s
Beso wasn’t Eva Longoria’s only attempt to make it in the restaurant business. In 2013, she partnered with Morton’s, the steakhouse chain, to open SHe at the same Las Vegas location where she’d tried to make Beso work before. The gimmick was simple — different sized portions of steak for men and women, with the ladies getting the smaller cuts.
The concept was derided as sexist, and getting shut down for health code violations a year after the launch surely derailed any momentum there might have been. By May 2014, SHe’s burners were turned off permanently.
Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar
From the moment it opened in Times Square in the fall of 2012, Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar was the restaurant that food critics loved to hate, earning an infamous ZERO-star review from The New York Times. Soon after, Bobby Moynihan started poking fun at Guy Fieri on Saturday Night Live — and even Fieri eventually conceded that the jokes at his expense were brilliant.
After five years, though, investors had apparently had enough. Although the annual revenue at Guy’s American Kitchen was in the ballpark of $17 million, it wasn’t enough to keep a restaurant open in Times Square. At the end of 2017, New York’s supply of Donkey Sauce was cut off.
Gordon Ramsay is one of the most famous chefs in the world — and one of his most popular TV shows is based on the premise that he can come in and turn failing restaurants around in a single weekend. It’s not always that easy in real life.
Maze had been one of the most prominent jewels in Ramsay’s crown since opening at the London Marriott in 2005. After his restaurant group took a major financial hit in 2018, though, Ramsay was forced to shut the venue down — though he promised he’d be right back in the same location with another restaurant.
Jamie Oliver is another celebrity chef who’s faced major setbacks to his business. In 2018, he was forced to close down some of his restaurants, including Barbecoa, an upscale London steakhouse, along with several branches of the Jamie’s Italian chain.
Oliver poured some of his own money into keeping one Barbecoa outlet open, but by the spring of 2019, he was forced to place his entire restaurant group into administration (as the British refer to bankruptcy proceedings). The move affected more than 1,000 employees across the UK.
Ludacris is actually a celebrity restaurant success. Yes, he opened an Asian fusion restaurant in Atlanta called Straits in 2008 that closed four years later, but that’s only because the rap star found a better opportunity.
In 2012, Ludacris won a contract to open a restaurant in Atlanta’s airport, so he closed Straits to focus his attention on Chicken + Beer (named after his hit album). It took a while to get the new place up and running, but it finally opened for business in 2016.
It’s not really fair to describe Justin’s, the restaurant that Sean Combs named after his son, as a flop. After all, the original Justin’s in Manhattan lasted 10 years and the Atlanta location stayed open for 14. Ultimately, according to a statement released to the press, Combs simply decided to focus on "other business ventures in music, television, fashion, fragrance and spirits."
When it was open, though, Justin’s garnered generally good reviews for its soul food menu. One of the main entrées, fried chicken with mac and cheese, was praised as "delicious" by The New Yorker, which also singled out a five-item app platter that included catfish and barbecue.
Chrissie Hynde, the lead singer of The Pretenders, is a vegan from Akron, Ohio. So, in 2007, she decided to open a vegan restaurant in Akron. VegiTerranean offered up artichoke appetizers and fake meat entrées one local reviewer described as "all chunks and shreds of strange texture bonded together." But, despite its appearance, the food was pretty good!
In fact, VegiTerranean was regarded as one of the best vegan restaurants in the country — but it wasn’t enough to keep it alive. In 2011, still reeling from the recession, VegiTerranean closed up shop. "We tried everything we could to keep the restaurant going," Hynde posted to Facebook, "but unfortunately due to the current economic climate this has not been possible."
Rapper/producer Jermaine Dupri opened Café Dupri in Atlanta during the summer of 2005. The menu showcased healthy spins on southern cuisine, including the dish titled Tomatoes Dupri, which featured fried green tomatoes and blackened catfish.
Three years later, Dupri closed the venue, blaming the recession. "The economy has changed dramatically and people just aren’t eating out as much anymore," he said in an interview. "If the business isn’t making money, I feel it’s a smart move to shut it down." The move caught employees off guard, with several saying they’d been denied their final paychecks.
Ashton Kutcher’s almost as famous for his investment strategies as he is for his acting career. As the head of the Dolce Restaurants and Entertainment Group, he’s made several forays into the food business, starting with Dolce, an Italian joint in the heart of Hollywood that had additional backing from co-star Wilmer Valderrama.
Kutcher’s other ventures in LA included a sushi place called Geisha House and an upscale diner called Ketchup — a concept he also imported to Dubai. Despite initial buzz, none of them were able to survive the long haul.
A decade after starring together in "Law & Order," Jill Hennessey and Benjamin Bratt became co-investors in Irving Mill in 2007. The restaurant should have been a hit with its prime Manhattan location on Union Square and burgers that got rave reviews.
Unfortunately, the first chef sued the restaurant after he was fired, claiming he hadn’t been paid, and the new menu never brought in as many diners as one would hope. After two and a half years, Irving Mill finally threw in the towel, and the site is now home to a Brother Jimmy’s BBQ joint.
Scott Disick, aka Kourtney Kardashian’s boyfriend, tried to open a Japanese restaurant in the Meatpacking District, one of the most fashionable sectors of Manhattan, in 2012. You might remember this, because apparently it was a plot line in an early season of "Keeping Up with the Kardashians."
Ryu was expensive — the menu included a $35 cocktail called the Shogun’s Grip that was, by many accounts, awful. One reviewer went so far as to describe the ambiance as "like a bad subway car." Small wonder it stayed in business less than six months. Toward the end, it was reduced to selling waffle fries and cheesesteak sandwiches out of a side window.
Kevin Costner is another example of how it’s not always fair to call a celebrity restaurant a flop. He went in with golfers Jack Nicklaus and Fred Couples to open The Clubhouse, a country club-themed eatery that made its 1997 debut in Chicago and then opened additional locations in California and Georgia.
Those had both shut down by 2009, but the original Clubhouse is still going strong. The Clubhouse isn’t even Costner’s most successful dining investment — The Midnight Star, his casino/restaurant in Deadwood, South Dakota, stayed open for 26 years before closing in 2017.
Alaia and Luahn
When Stephen and Billy Baldwin opened a Manhattan restaurant called Alaia in 1999, the New York Post dismissed it as a "B-list bomb." Other critics gave the menu high marks, but that didn’t keep the place from closing down the following spring.
The failure was enough for Billy, but Stephen wasn’t done trying to make it in the culinary biz. He opened a seafood place called Luahn in the same location. (He named it after a fishing boat he used to see growing up in Long Island.) That venture only lasted until 2002.
Danielle Staub, who initially rose to fame on The Real Housewives of New Jersey, was one of seven contestants on VH1’s "Famous Food," a 2011 show where minor celebs worked in a new restaurant, competing for a stake in its ownership. (The restaurant, Lemon Basket, was located at the former site of Ashton Kutcher’s Ketchup; his Dolce Group was a co-investor.)
Staub and DJ Paul of Three 6 Mafia beat out such luminaries as Heidi Montag and Jake Pavelka, but their victory was short-lived. Five months after the grand opening, having already shuttered temporarily after health inspectors found cockroaches, Lemon Basket was kaput.
Jim McMahon, the quarterback who took the Chicago Bears to the Super Bowl, agreed to become a partner in McMahon’s Steakhouse, a massive, 400-seat restaurant decorated to celebrate his career. But it closed a year later, and McMahon ended up suing his partner for breach of contract, settling in 2006.
That wasn’t the first time McMahon had tried to make a restaurant work in Chicago. At the height of his career, he backed a venue called Jim McMahon’s, which also fell prey to the vicissitudes of the business. (It definitely wasn’t the location — the place that opened there next lasted twenty-five years.)
Lohan Beach House
If you were flipping through the channels a few months back, you might have noticed Lindsay Lohan’s Beach Club, which was set at the former pop star’s nightclub on the Greek island of Mykonos. The show didn’t last, and neither did Lohan Beach House.
The word is spreading on social media, with one commenter reporting that the site of the former club is now just "a pile of rocks." Nobody’s there to answer the phone, either. One source claims the show’s producers hoped to keep it alive by generating tension between Lohan and her mother and sister, but Lohan refused to go along with the idea: "They wanted ‘breakdowns.’ That’s not where [she’s] at with her life anymore."
Kenny Rogers Roasters
On paper, Kenny Rogers Roasters was a solid concept for a fast-food chain. It had one of the biggest names in country music up front, and the former CEO of KFC running the business side of things. All went well for a while after the company launched in 1991. At its peak, there were more than 350 outlets, mostly in the United States — including, as you may know from that one episode of Seinfeld, Manhattan.
By 1998, though, the company had to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The last one in the United States closed in 2011, although the chain continues to survive in Malaysia and the Philippines, and has even expanded into China.
Of all the celebrity restaurant ventures we’re looking at here, the oddest is undoubtedly Woody Harrelson’s O2. You can’t even call it a restaurant, really — it was an oxygen bar, located on the Sunset Strip in West Hollywood.
Seriously, in 1999, you could pay $13 and put an oxygen mask over your face for 20 minutes. For another two dollars, your air could be fruit-scented. O2 did serve food, too — a raw vegan menu, heavy on the salads and fruit juices. Anyway, it only lasted about a year before closing down.
When Hulk Hogan opened his Pastamania restaurant at the Mall of America in 1995, several of his wrestling colleagues came out for the opening ceremony — and he did his best to keep the hype going every week on the WCW wrestling show. But very few people were willing to make a special trip to the Twin Cities for mediocre pasta — even the locals couldn’t be bothered.
Pastamania lasted less than a year. The Hulkster would try again with Hogan’s Beach in Tampa, but after a tape of the former wrestler’s racist comments about his daughter’s boyfriends went viral, the restaurant broke ties with him and changed its name.
Remember America’s Next Great Restaurant, the NBC series from 2011 where contestants pitched an all-star jury (including Bobby Flay) their restaurant ideas? Jamawn Woods beat out the competition with Soul Daddy, which started out as a quick, casual spin on chicken and waffles and evolved into a more intricate, healthy soul food menu.
Chipotle, which backed the show, opened three Soul Daddy franchises for Woods in New York, Los Angeles and the Mall of America. They closed the first two within a month — and even Woods’ dedication to overseeing the third restaurant himself couldn’t keep it open for more than a few additional weeks.