WINTER 2018 / VOL. 18 ISSUE 1
From Ireland to Playboy, A Jackeen Restauranteur Tells All
By James Bartlett
The Wilde Wine Bar & Restaurant sits alongside yoga studios, designer sneaker stores and coffee shops on trendy LaBrea Avenue in Los Angeles, yet few of its neighbors would guess owner Lorna Donohoe went from Ireland to Playboy – and is now looking to the future with Miley Cyrus and Snoop Dogg.
Born in Dublin, Donohoe moved to New York in 1995 as the lucky winner of a green card from the famous (and infamous) lottery, and originally had plans to be a journalist. She got her lucky break behind-the-scenes at magazine giant Condé Nast, and then at the multi-media Playboy company when she was hired as an assistant in the PR department.
She worked her way up to chief marketing officer and head of integrated marketing, which meant that she was in charge of all public relations, marketing and strategic initiatives, a job that meant she was often at parties. She regularly traveled all over the world.
"I even went to Ireland a few times" Donohue admits, "though often I traveled alone, which gave me a really good chance to spend time at restaurants and see what worked and what didn’t."
When Playboy founder and icon Hugh Hefner died recently, Donohoe found her phone ringing as journalists wanted to know her thoughts on this end of an era:
"I loved working with Hef and found him always to be a gentleman and a scholar," she says. "He was really a visionary to work with, and while I was very sad to hear he had passed away, he certainly led a full and impactful life."
By now, she was well along the path of her new adventure at Wilde, which will celebrate its third birthday this year. Donohoe’s Iranian-born husband and business partner Nader Naderi is the chef at Wilde, though when they first met he was working in a different arena too.
"He had opened a couple of restaurants here in L.A. in the early 1990s,
but then he got out launched a fashion label, which means he also traveled
extensively through Europe. When I got pregnant, we decided to do something
that would keep us a little closer to home. I love wine, so it was always
a dream of mine to work in the wine business."
The restaurant showcases a lot of female winemakers and Donohoe is involved with a start-up that supports women-owned businesses, but whether it’s because of Lorna or Wilde or both, the restaurant has also become a kind of unofficial Irish hangout and party venue.
"Ireland Week held their kick-off meeting here," she says, "as did the Irish Film Festival. But we don’t market ourselves as an Irish bar – even though we serve Guinness and do the odd Shepherd’s Pie nights."
That’s certainly clear when you walk through the door into their smart, modern and intimate European-style brasserie. There’s nary a shamrock or a shillelagh to be seen, let alone any old bicycles hanging from the wall.
For Donohoe, the best part of running Wilde is having access to amazing wines and fruit and vegetables from the many farmers markets across the city, though running a restaurant is notoriously difficult:
"It’s really hard to find good staff," she says, "because everyone here is an actor or has three other jobs, and they can be pretty unreliable – always running off to an audition."
More than that, Los Angeles is one of the most competitive and trend-driven "foodie" cities in the world.
"People really care about what’s hip and cool more than what’s actually good," she explains, "but we decided not to do the celebrity thing at Wilde: it’s very low-key and chill."
Donohoe, 45, lives in West Hollywood and still wears several hats, running boutique company LMD branding as what she calls her "day job," consulting to big brands and small start-ups in the areas of marketing, business development and licensing.
"I never get time off these days, but when I can I love to escape to the beach or ocean – it must be that island girl in me," she laughs, adding that life with her 4-year-old daughter Ava has meant she hasn’t had a chance to get back to see family in Ireland for over four years, "though I am coming home this spring for a wedding – I can’t wait!"
The new year will see other big changes too.
"I am running a cannabis marketing agency (partially owned by Snoop Dogg and Miley Cyrus), as I see cannabis as one of the biggest future industries," she enthuses. "It’s truly a miracle plant, and from a wellness perspective it can help beat the currently opioid and heroin crisis, as well as helping cure everything from cancer to anxiety."
Then she reveals a bigger secret: in January she will have transferred the ownership of Wilde at to a Michelin star chef – "I just can’t say who right now" – and that she may well be looking back across the Atlantic.
"I may still be involved with Wilde, which will be renamed Le Pull-Over Bleu, but we’re looking at opening up some new concepts – including Ireland as a potential location," she says furtively, "though I hate to say too much now, as sometimes things move so fast!"
With that hanging in the air, Donohoe has to meet another wine distributor – and lets it slip that Grammy-nominated Irish singer/songwriter musician Hozier ("Take Me to Church") popped in recently, and, as she leaves, offers a few personal favorites for wine lovers:
"Pinot Noir and Riesling are the little black dress of wines – they
go with everything, whether it’s turkey or ham – though the Riesling is
a little richer for winter. Personally, I prefer red Rhône wines
like Cotes du Rhône or Chateau Neuf Du Pape for a treat, and of course
bubbles goes with everything too!"
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