Restaurant maven and former “Ladies of London” reality show star Marissa Hermer is determined to keep summer going all year long at her new L.A. hotspot Issima, where the Euro beach-inspired poolside DJ and dining scene almost always turns into a dance party.
“Everyone is coming ready to have a good time, and I say you are going to go on a Med crawl and have the best night of your life!” the Laguna Beach native said on a recent Thursday night, referring to the cocktail menu inspired by Mediterranean resort destinations that Issima patrons have been known to try to drink their way around. (Soak up Cannes, a film festival-inspired Champagne spritz, sip on the Santorini, a martini with caper berries, throw back a Sorrento vodka limoncello concoction.)
Now open at the La Peer Hotel in West Hollywood, it’s the third L.A. venture in four years for Marissa and her Brit husband Matt Hermer’s Boujis Group. In 2018, they teamed with retail impresario Rick Caruso to open neighborhood pub The Draycott at Palisades Village, followed in 2020 by Italian-inspired Olivetta in West Hollywood, which is walking distance from Issima (a take on bellisima).
And they aren’t stopping there. Continuing in one of L.A.’s most competitive dining neighborhoods, they have taken over Robert DeNiro’s Ago space on Melrose Avenue, a Hollywood power lunch spot for 21 years that closed in 2019.
“We start with what we think is missing,” she said. “The Draycott was born out of the need for a local pub; Olivetta, was because there wasn’t a place in L.A. like Annabel’s or Chiltern Firehouse, where you can have a wonderful dinner and stay on for a boogie. And Issima was born out of global pandemic and a need for an outdoor dining space!” she laughed.
Chef Michael Fiorelli created all the menus. The Draycott has fish n’ chips and Eton mess; Olivetta bone marrow pasta and a vegan double double, while Issima’s food is rustic Mediterranean ceviche, wood-grilled Sonoma lamb ribs, steaks, whole fish and fries after Paris’ L’Ami Louis.
“I love when you go to the beach and they throw fish on the grill and you eat it with your hands,” said Hermer, who has a penchant for Borgo de Nor floral dresses. “We have a whole sea bass that’s like deconstructed fish tacos with tortillas from Tehachapi Grain Project, avocado, coleslaw and you mix it all together.”
Fixtures first on the London scene with buzzy restaurants and nightclubs Eclipse, Boujis and Bumpkin, the Hermers moved to L.A. in 2017. Matt runs the back of house for the business, and Marissa is in charge of “everything you see.”
He was a successful entrepreneur before she joined him, but Marissa brought her own experience in hospitality, from public relations roles in London and New York. Her first job was working with Ian Schrager to open the Gramercy Park Hotel.
“He would remind me it was all about the mix. That I needed the Lower East Side DJ and the Upper East Side Voguette and the photographer in town from Paris and a scattering of people no one knew but who were bursting with smarts and spirit,” she said. “I still think of our dining room this way and love seating people.”
More recently, she’s been inspired by Caruso. “He wants to create environments that feel like they’ve been there forever,” she said, noting how he visited main streets all over the country as design inspiration for Palisades Village.
There’s plenty to notice at the L.A. restaurants decorated by Tom Parker of Fettle Design. At Olivetta, the oval jewel box bar is an Instagram dream. And at Issima, Adam Ellis-designed tropical wallpaper, mustard velvet banquettes and colorful glass tumblers sourced from Eden Roc in St. Barths create vacation vibes.
“Ian would tell me ‘good design is good business,’” Hermer said. Fashionistas Elyse Walker, Andrea Lieberman, Rachel Zoe, Jennifer Meyer, Tamara Mellon and Nicholas Kirkwood have all hosted events at Hermer’s spots.
No doubt, exposure from the first season of Bravo’s “Ladies of London,” has also helped draw attention, especially in L.A. where “The Real Housewives” have made a cottage industry out of restaurants and retail. “It was a great experience…it gave me a platform, it gave me a cookbook deal.. I’m not a chef but people were interested in what I made for my family at home,” she said.
Would she do it again? “Never say never. If I have learned anything in the last year, it’s that I never know what is going to happen,” she said, explaining they had to furlough 225 employees three times because of COVID-19 restaurant shut-downs.
The Hermers have dreams of more restaurants and maybe even hotels. But for now, they are focused on what’s in front of them — and Ago, where they are converting the parking lot into a courtyard for al fresco dining and the food will be “French but no foam.”
“August is a quieter month,” she said. “But people still want to go out. They are ordering caviar, champagne and lobster arrabbiata. Because if you are going out…you are going out!“