For Brent Bolthouse, there's no time like now. Here the SpotOn Restaurant Advisory Counsel member talks about his rewarding role crafting immersive dining experiences that captivate guests and compel them to be present in a remarkable moment.

Being present is one of the most rewarding things you can do, but man, it’s so hard. We’re always wanting something in the future, or regretting something in the past. When I do my job right, what’s happening right now is so enticing that for a few hours, people are able to forget about what they did right, and what they did wrong—they forget what they’d do over, and they forget what they still need to do.

After spending over 20 years producing events all over the world, like after-parties for the Oscars, I realized something. People love a good house party. Forget a formal venue, when we’d do after parties in these huge mansions in the Hollywood Hills, they were always hands down the most fun any of us ever had. Charlize winning her Oscar, dancing in the middle of a house party, you can’t beat that.

With my restaurants, I set the stage for an immersive experience by tapping into the senses and the subconscious. Most restaurants are a boxy room with a bunch of tables, which is really foreign. With The Bungalow, I wanted to take that insight—that people crave the intimacy of a familiar environment—and bring it to a dining experience. To make going to a restaurant feel as remarkable as going to a house party.

A glimpse inside The Bungalow Santa Monica.

To lend authenticity and texture to each of The Bungalows, I invoked a mythological muse. In Santa Monica it was an old French lady who collected things from all over the world. That’s her son’s surfboard that he learned to surf on when he was 15. From the lighting to the soundtrack to the cuisine to the décor—there is a story and the guests become part of it. I’m putting pictures on the walls. I’m putting books on the bookshelf, so it’s not this feeling of being in a manufactured environment, you get the sense that you’re in a house a person has decorated with the memorabilia they’ve collected over the course of a lifetime. It needs to feel authentic. Because the truth is people know when something’s paper thin.

A glimpse inside The Bungalow Kitchen.

Music is a huge piece of this mood-setting. At one point in my career, I was a DJ, so I really enjoy curating all the music. The Bungalow Kitchen is more Rolling Stones, and the Bungalow Bars are more Motown, Memphis Soul, just fun happy music. Of course, the sound system is essential. When you bring it all together: music that evokes an emotion, food that sparks a memory, décor and lighting that elicit curiosity, and—of course—conversations that foster connection, you bring the “now” into beautiful focus. For a few hours, you’re as free as you could possibly be because you are in. the. moment. You’re not the person checking your texts, absentmindedly scrolling social, or thinking about that looming deadline. You’re the person soaking it all in. That’s what monks do in Tibet, day in and day out. It’s a pretty awesome feeling, not feeling stressed or worried about anything, just enjoying what’s happening because the space is taking you out of that harsh part of reality that permeates through all of us.

A glimpse inside The Bungalow Huntington Beach. 

My job is to get you into a mood, into the now, and make sure that you have a good time. It’s an amazing job and I feel overwhelmed with gratitude every day. The attention to detail that I bring to finding just the right things to go in just the right places of the environment I’m creating is like a chef going to the farmers market.  The chef is going to look through 25 tomatoes to find the five that he thinks are just right for the dish he wants to make. I think that energy, that attention to detail, and that connection with the ingredients (of the food, or the environment) infuses itself into the experience. This is why Michael Mina and I are such good partners. He cares as deeply about the service experience as I care for the atmosphere and the music. You know, for me that's been the greatest part of our partnership is that we’re in each other's lanes without driving the other one off the road. We trust each other. It’s a beautiful thing.

Chef Michael Mina and Brent Bolthouse.

In some ways in my career I went from being the star of the movie to being the director. For so many years of my career, there was so much pressure to be onsite and be on, like Rick from Casablanca. Thirty years in, I don’t want to be the star of the movie any more, I want to be the director.

Read more from the Real Talk with Restaurateurs blog series.

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