Susan Disney Lord is the granddaughter of Roy O. Disney (Walt Disney’s brother), and the eldest daughter of Roy E. and Patricia Disney. She is also a wife, and the mother of five children. I had the opportunity to chat with her at her restaurant, The Bel Air Bar and Grill. You can hear more about Susan and her restaurant on my segment in the DIS Unplugged – Disneyland Edition.
When I think of the name Disney, immediately certain traits come to mind: High quality, entertainment, world-wide appeal, and more. There is a good reason why the name Disney evokes high expectations. Walt and Roy O. Disney established a legacy due to their vision, hard work, and a commitment to bring the best. Meeting Susan, I quickly came to understand that these qualities have been passed down, and she carries that same commitment and caring to bring the very best to her family, her customers, and the greater community. This is evident in the recently renovated Bel Air Bar and Grill.
The Bel Air Bar and Grill is easy to find, since it sits nestled in the Bel Air district, right off the 405 freeway, just one exit south of the Getty Center offramp. I drove there, and left my car with the valet.
I went in to visit with Susan, and enjoy a delicious dinner. In talking to Susan, it quickly became evident the things that are important to her – family, commitment to the community, doing good for others – and in everything she does, there is a sense of integrity. This interest in her community led Susan to buy the Bel Air Bar and Grill. She closed it for 18 months so that she could renovate it with her own style, and it recently reopened in November 2012.
When I arrived at the restaurant, my eyes were drawn to the floor to ceiling windows covered in bougainvillea blossoms. What makes these windows unique is that Susan used an artist she has known for about 30 years, and this artist created this work of art using local flowers for the restaurant. Since Susan had admired her work for so long, she took the opportunity to showcase this beautiful talent.
As you enter, you can either go upstairs to the banquet area, or enter the restaurant to the left. When you enter the restaurant, the lounge/bar area is to the right, and the dining area is to your left. My immediate reaction when I walked into the restaurant was just how welcoming and inviting it is. The colors, decor, music, and smiling servers really just entice you to go in. There were several people sitting at the bar enjoying drinks and conversation.
Throughout the restaurant and banquet room there are various works of art by the Cal Art students, the same Cal Arts that was founded by Roy O. Disney. The artwork is periodically changed out, so you never know what you will see on each visit.
The dining rooms also feature a fireplace, and what looks like beautiful marble tiles on the wall that is actually cork. This allows for guests to enjoy their own conversation without having to compete with other people talking. Another thing I noticed both outside and inside the restaurant – Hidden Mickeys – for us Disney fans.
The Bel Air Bar and Grill is one way Susan is giving back to the community. She is definitely hands on, and worked with her staff to set up the restaurant and choose the menu items, keeping in mind the various preferences diners would have. I think it is important to note the high standards when building the restaurant. Susan cares about our planet, and built a Gold LEED Certified building with solar panels and LED lighting. Everything is recycled, the food waste is composted, and the water served is filtered and carbonated in house, so the restaurant does not need to buy water in bottles. The food is fresh, and as the name Disney implies, high quality. The meat is free range, with no hormones, and the chefs are dedicated to providing the best.
For dinner, I chose the ahi tuna dinner, and Susan told me that that particular dish used to be a special, but she enjoyed it so much that she had the chefs make it a regular menu item. That was a good decision because the ahi tuna was delicious, and you get a really good portion with wasabi mashed potatoes and julienne vegetables (my mouth is watering just remembering that meal). We also had grilled artichoke for an appetizer and for dessert we had the Warm and gooey chocolate chunk skillet cookie à la mode. (I will do a restaurant review in another blog, but trust me, the food is really good).
The Bel Air Bar and Grill is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner, and has Happy Hour, Monday through Friday, 4:00pm to 6:00pm, that is affectionately called the “405 Happy Hour,” since the restaurant sits next to the freeway. The banquet room upstairs can be divided into two smaller rooms for intimate settings. There is also an elevator that leads to the second floor for those who might need it.
One way to tell a good restaurant is to see if it is busy or not, and if it generates repeat customers. The night I was there, I saw many repeat customers come in. I believe that Susan is a big reason why the restaurant is a success. As various diners came in, she told me a little background story about them, and she did this with a twinkle in her eye. She is obviously very involved because many of these guests greeted her as they came in and were seated.
Just behind the sit-down restaurant, there is The Shack, offering take out food for people on the go. It is a great alternative to fast food diners, and uses the same kitchen as the Bel Air Bar and Grill, offering breakfast and lunch until 5:pm each day. It is very convenient since it is so close to the freeway, and right next to a Chevron gas station. You can get bagels, sandwiches, salads, and various coffee drinks. When you go to the Shack, see if you can find the Hidden Mickeys there. I was able to find three of them.
In addition to running the Bel Air Bar and Grill, Susan Disney Lord is the President of the Roy E. Disney Family Foundation, soon to be the Roy and Patricia Disney Family Foundation. This foundation is very important to her because she deeply cares about environmental issues, and the foundation also supports early childhood education. This is definitely a family affair, with many of the Disney nieces and nephews involved. The younger members learn at an early age the value of giving to the community and caring for our planet. Susan also serves on the Board of the Alzheimer’s Association and the Cal Arts CAP council.
During our chat, Susan did talk about the early years, and shared pictures of her family. She and her siblings grew up understanding that they represented the Disney name, and what it stood for. Not only does she appreciate what both of her parents stood for, she embodies that spirit in her own actions. She gave me permission to share these pictures with you.
Oh, and I asked Susan who her favorite Disney character is – Donald Duck.
For visitors to the Disneyland Resort, looking for a non-Disney (well, non-Disneyland Resort) day, I recommend a visit to the Getty Center accompanied with either breakfast or dinner at the Bel Air Bar and Grill. Personally, I would choose a leisurely dinner, thus avoiding that LA heavy rush hour traffic.
The Bel Air Bar and Grill is also a good location for people in the San Fernando Valley and Los Angeles to go meet for a meal or drink in the lounge.
The Bel Air Bar and Grill: 662 N. Sepulveda Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90049 | tel (310)440.5544 | fax (310)440.5545 | firstname.lastname@example.org
BREAKFAST: Mon-Fri 8:00am to 10:00am LUNCH: Mon-Fri 11:30am to 3:00pm HAPPY HOUR: Mon-Fri 4:00pm to 6:00pm
DINNER: Mon-Fri 5:00pm to 10:00pm, Sat-Sun 5:30pm to 10:00pm
Beginning September 14, the restaurant will begin offering weekend brunches on Saturdays and Sundays, from 9:am to 3:pm.
Reservations for the Bel Air Bar and Grill can be made via Open Table or by calling the restaurant directly. (I already made my reservation to go back.)
Here is some fun news for the restaurant: Currently, The Bel Air Bar & Grill is having a Facebook contest to win dinner for four! The link to the contest is here : http://bit.ly/16sWtzH .