LEE MAEN MAY be celebrating his 20-year anniversary in the restaurant business, but to the entrepreneur, the legacy of Innovative Dining Group is no reason to rest easy. “Every day is a new day,” he says. “In the restaurant business, we feel like the meal [our clients] are having right now could be their last with us. We don’t ever take anything for granted.”
With a new restaurant opening in Chicago this July and a wider expansion abroad in the works, Maen and his long-term business partners, Philip Cummins and Craig Katz, are busy looking ahead. But their impressive milestone is a good opportunity to take stock in the success of restaurants like Sushi Roku, Robata Bar, Boa Steakhouse and Katana, which in the past two decades have helped transform the L.A. food scene.
The first in Los Angeles to combine the sushi bar concept with a full bar and high design, IDG’s philosophy is that, in their establishments, everyone is a star. “You should feel that you can make it your own night,” says Maen. “It’s like a play that you can manipulate. When we open, it’s showtime. We just try to keep you happy—and everybody’s happy with something a bit different.”
For Maen, the greatest joy is still walking into one of his 17 establishments and seeing people enjoy the experience of which he and his team had a vision. “Sometimes, we go to one of our restaurants that’s been around for a while. It’s not close to where we live or work and you don’t know that many people at all. But you see a ton of people having a great time at your place that started from nothing. That’s what we love.”
Though the restaurateur admits cooking is not his forte, what he lacks in kitchen skills, Maen makes up in hospitality. “We’re making things for ourselves. We’re designing places that we want to go to. And we hope that if we want to go there, other people will too.”
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