Vanderpump Rules is reaching its sixth season and we have enjoyed watching the lives of the employees of Sur Restaurant & Lounge. We recently had the opportunity to speak with Guillermo Zapata co-owner of the restaurant. Learn more about how he went from a successful actor and model in Argentina to dishwashing at a restaurant in Los Angeles to founding one of West Hollywood’s best-kept secrets!
You came to Los Angeles when you were 22.
Yes, I came from Buenos Aires in 1992. Back in that time, I was acting in Argentina. I was working in soap operas and participating in films. But my goal was to come to America and perhaps take a picture with the Hollywood sign and see what the city is all about. I was able to buy a ticket with the little bit of money that I had. I was only going to spend two weeks in the city. But the fact is when I came here, I fell in love so much with the city and with the energy.
I started working in a restaurant in Los Angeles in the kitchen and then worked my way up. I always say that from the two-week vacation that I was here, it took me eight years to come back and see my family, and my country again. The process of a new life was a big disappointment to my parents, friends, and family. But I knew that I’m 22 years old and you have to follow your dreams and this is the time to do it.
I think its the desire for you to go to a different level of life and pursue your dreams. I knew that me being in Argentina will never be satisfying. If I don’t try it at that age that I was single, full of life and energy, I couldn’t do it in the future. My father was very, very poor in Argentina then. He became very successful and until today at 86 years old, he’s one of the biggest celebrities in Argentina as a singer and actor. But my father didn’t give me economic support. He raised me with advice, a beautiful family, and a middle upscale class family.
You were a dishwasher and now you own one of the most popular restaurants in Los Angeles. Can you tell us how that transpired?
See what you want to do, have a plan and be realistic. At that time, I realized acting had to be put on the side. It’s a long way for you to first learn the language and then get the right paperwork. So I knew that even if I decide that with all my heart to be the new Antonio Banderas at that time, it would be almost impossible. So I put that on hold and used all the tools that I learned as an actor which is creating characters. I tried to always be this positive guy around with a big smile, and willing to work. It will open doors even if you don’t speak the language. But when you speak the language of good energy, you can be successful around people and that’s mostly what I’ve done. I proved that I’m able to be a dishwasher, a busboy, and learn English. That tool that I learned as an actor, was the one that helped me to work in a restaurant. And then in the restaurant, I realized that I can be in front of people, people admire me, and they like me. So I was very passionate to work in the restaurant, and I was growing. I noticed from the dishwasher, I became busboy, and then a waiter, and I was going to school to learn English. I was then able to jump into acting as well because I became a citizen and I had my green card. So, I was growing on both sides. In the restaurants, I was growing. As a model, I started doing commercials on T.V. and little parts here and there. I was full of energy and I was always thinking that the day is too short, get cash, and be ready for the next day.
When first-time goers come to Sur Restaurant and Lounge, what should they expect?
First of all, you want to expect a place established since 1998. I opened the doors of Sur with ten tables. We’re talking about a long way of experience. So when you walk in there you are already walking into a history of West Hollywood area. Plus you add the food, the vibe, and the decor. Coming from me as an Argentinean, my wife who is French, and my business partners which are from England our goal is to create something particular and unique. Sur is eclectic and it is energy.
If someone could only try one thing on the menu, what would you suggest that they try?
Well, I will go for the most popular which is the crispy chicken. Our fried chicken is more baked than fried. So the technique is to deep fry for ten seconds and then put the chicken crispy in the oven for 20 minutes. It comes with mashed potato and gravy, and string beans. This is one of my favorite dishes to recommend. Then, if they ask me what’s my favorite one, it’s the Atlantic salmon.
Another secret to the restaurant is that the chef has stayed with me from day one. So for the last 20 years, I still have the same chef. It’s difficult for restaurants to survive when you switch chefs. In my case, I still have the same kitchen.
What are some tips for someone who wants to be a restaurateur?
First of all, you should have a little bit of experience in that territory. Because it’s not all about money. If you have no experience working in a restaurant, it is very dangerous to invest. Partly because you will depend on other people to do something that you don’t know. It’s better for you to know all the aspects. I would advise whoever to try to work in a restaurant first. Try to work for somebody even if its a dishwasher.
Family orientation is valuable. In my case, my wife is the one working in the daytime, doing the office work, counting the cash and doing the payroll. So you always need to have somebody that you really trust. When you have a family, it’s a condition that you have that trust.
How is your experience with being on Reality TV?
The experience is great. I can say honestly that we have everyone including celebrities come to our restaurant. Before the TV show, it used to be the secret place in West Hollywood. The place that people were going to be with the owner. I know a lot of people that represent actors and since I was there they were very comfortable to bring them then I would make them feel comfortable because nobody would bother them. But then the challenge is when you have an offer to become bigger with a TV show. It was a waste at the beginning. It was something to think about. Because when you have something already running and then you say, “Well, should I go to that territory?” It might be good or it can be bad. It can be a disaster and then I will lose a lot if this is going wrong because you will lose when you start putting cameras and be known like that. The regular celebrities or the other customers you have, they will be gone because they don’t want to be exposed to TV or to a lot of people. But sometimes, you have to think “should I?” You make the right decision and then make all the effort to make it happen. When we had the opportunity to create a show based on the employees of the restaurant, it was a challenge that I was 100 percent in and it was successful. Now we are at season number six. So moving forward, I can just say that you can’t stop dreaming because everything can be possible.
What can we look forward to from Guillermo Zapata?
I’m going back to my first love which is acting and modeling. You can see me in commercials on TV. I want to go back to acting and I figure that the producer that I am in my own business, I need to produce my own characters. That’s why I starting creating and producing shows. It’s still a process to develop but I’m close enough to get all these put together by next year. So it’s like a big puzzle but I’m working very, very hard for that!
Make sure you tune in to Vanderpump Rules which airs Monday, December 4th on Bravo. Check out the trailer below.