The famous revolutionary, statesman, and – in honor of this edition of CSQ – innovator Benjamin Franklin famously said only two things in life were certain – death and taxes. For Kevin Khalili, Los Angeles-native, resident, and under-the-radar hospitality maven, he hopes that the customer experience at any of his properties is also a certainty, a fantastic certainty.
Khalili and his business partners are the proprietor’s of all three locations of Coral Tree Café, all five locations of Comoncy (two of which are in Phoenix), The Red Room Food & Wine Bar, and bonafide Brentwood gem – Baltaire. Across their properties and state lines, Khalili’s Alliance Hospitality Group employs nearly 400, all of whom Khalili admits he still learns from day in and day out.
Iranian-American, his story is one familiar to fellow Angelenos. He grew up in Beverly Hills where he attended middle school and high school before beginning his formal education at Santa Monica College. Khalili ultimately went north to San Francisco where he would complete his undergraduate degree, before returning to Los Angeles for law school and opening his own practice.
In 2000, the self-professed breakfast connoisseur, along with his two best friends (and now business partners) felt the Los Angeles dining scene was missing something. “Together we felt the scene was just lacking … something simple … a breakfast and lunch place where people could not only find honest food and great service, but also hang out, sit, read, work, and be comfortable,” Khalili recalls.
Khalili and his partner’s feelings manifested and turned into desire – though the real estate search was anything but quick, it was effective. In November 2002, Khalili and his partners opened the first Coral Tree Café – now a Los Angeles staple – on San Vicente Boulevard in Brentwood.
Though a simple side gig at first, Khalili and his partners – one of whom owns and operates real estate and hotels, and the other investment banking – quickly realized they had struck gold and had an opportunity to further build, creating something special in the process.
“Though we had a management staff at the first Coral Tree, we eventually realized the special opportunity we had … if we wanted to grow and expand … with each partner owning and operating other businesses, one of us was going to have to be all in and serve as CEO,” Khalili says. “I like people, I like hospitality, my fondest memories growing up involved restaurants … so I wound up my law practice and commit, not knowing much about how to run a restaurant operation.”
Khalili spent much of our time together remembering the simpler times in his life – being young, eating out with friends and indulging in wine as well as the quieter meals on Sunday mornings alone, with a book, and a good meal. This nostalgic passion rang true to me as we sat in Baltaire’s private dining room but it also rang true 15 years prior when he dove all the way in.
Khalili took restaurant management night classes at UCLA, reading every book, news story, and magazine article he could find on the subject. Passionate and now well-versed, one Coral Tree Café turned into two (Encino) and then three (Beverly Hills) and a second brand – Comoncy – sprouted out of a similarly necessity to Coral Tree. Khalili and his partners knew their city and their market, creating a second concept well tailored for surrounding businesses, and the community as a whole, to enjoy.
With a booming California Casual business, fate would intervene, providing Khalili and his team their greatest challenge and opportunity yet. When the Cheesecake Factory in Brentwood (adjacent to their original Coral Tree Café) was preparing to close, Alliance Hospitality Group knew there was an opportunity to seize.
The former Cheesecake space is now home to Baltaire – Brentwood’s best dining experience and one of LA’s most secret. A world class steakhouse that serves its neighborhood and the city like Peter Luger’s serves Williamsburg – with excellence and ease.
Baltaire’s opening marked Alliance’s arrival. Since it opened the team has expanded Comoncy into Arizona and is looking at taking Baltaire on the road, eyeing Phoenix, Dallas, and – of course – New York City. “It’s exciting … but certainly challenging,” Khalili admits.
A challenge is certainly something he and his team are up for. Their methodical expansion and growth has been no accident, but the result of passion fused with hard work. “I always tell our management and staff, ‘the restaurant industry is the hardest but also the easiest … this is the only business where the customer shows up, with money, and doesn’t ask for anything you’re not expecting, – excellent service and a great meal” Khalili says so matter of factly I can’t help but chuckle. “You know what they will ask and you have the answer … you just have to deliver.”
It is the delivery – everything from aesthetic and service to the meal itself – that Khalili notes as, not surprisingly, the most important thing he and his team do. “We want our customers to have the best experience so we push our team to be passionate about their craft, and they in turn push each other toward delivering the best that we can offer as a restaurant,” he adds. “We’re only as good as our last meal … you might have a fantastic meal with us but the next time you come in, the entire experience needs to be the exact same if not better.”
While Khalili and his team continue to dish out salads, sandwiches, wraps, and steaks with excellence, he keeps busy professionally planning his expansion and personally with his wife and daughter, the former his hosting partner when they entertain at home. She cooks, he admits, and he opens (and drinks) the wine.
In between home and work, Khalili still finds time to read but often harkens back to Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises,” which he says inspires him to eat and drink around town, making sure those that do so at an Alliance Hospitality Group property do so blissfully.