Blueprints are jammed into every nook and cranny of the Agoura Hills offices of Design Development Co. Poster boards that show the fabrics, flooring and color schemes for a number of different restaurants line the conference room and hallways. The crowded workspace is testament to just how busy it gets at Design Development, an interior design firm that specializes in the hospitality industry. At any given time, the principals say, there are about 50 or 55 projects in the works, everything from new restaurant designs and renovations to hotel and nightclub projects. What keeps Design Development so busy is a business model that offers a wide variety of services to the hospitality industry. But just as important, the company has established a niche for strong, yet casual design geared to clients that cater to mainstream clientele. Some interior design firms strive to get their names on the covers of posh architectural magazines and onto Page 6 of the New York Post, but at Design Development the emphasis is on the long haul. “If you’re going to be on the edge, you’re going to fall and I never want to be in that position,” said Ron Lieberman, one half of the father and son team that makes up the company. Not that Design Development hasn’t done some pretty upscale projects. The company recently completed a ground up design including the exterior and interior for Cuistot, a Palm Springs restaurant opened by noted chef Bernard Dervieux. It has also designed and renovated a number of hotels including the four-star Hotel Monaco in San Francisco and it has worked on some elaborate, theatrical projects like a Hard Rock Caf & #233; with a recreation of the Coliseum in Rome. But Design Development has also worked for restaurants like Carrow’s and Shakey’s Pizza Restaurant, and even when it is engaged for more upscale work, clients say that the company’s designs keep a tight focus on what a restaurant needs to operate efficiently. Business understanding “What makes them stand out from the pack is that they have an understanding of the business, not only from a design standpoint but from a business standpoint,” said Marty Breverman, the owner of Cosmos Grill in Calabasas and Caf & #233; Cosmos in Temecula, who figures he has worked with Design Development on about half a dozen restaurants he has owned through the years. “I’ve used several different designers, and they’re probably the most creative as far as being able to come up with interesting looks and make it work for the guests and the operators.” Ron Lieberman started the business in 1983 with his wife Corinne, who still handles the administrative and financial end of the business. After graduating art school he worked for several prominent design firms before landing at Associated Hosts Inc., the operator of a large chain of restaurants. The post suited him well Lieberman grew up in a family of restaurant operators, and he liked the business. By the time he struck off on his own, Lieberman had established a number of contacts in the industry and a reputation for understanding not just the design needs of a restaurant, but many of the operational requirements as well. In addition to interior design, Design Development provides concept development, site planning, kitchen design, graphic design and other related services. More recently, the company has added a kitchen equipment purchasing arm. David Lieberman who studied fine art in high school, began early on to prepare to follow in his father’s footsteps. He graduated California State University at Long Beach with a degree in interior architectural design and joined the family firm in 1989. With David Lieberman’s entry, the business began to gear up for meatier design projects. High-profile projects In addition to Cuistot and Hotel Monaco, the company took on numerous projects for Kimpton Group, operators of boutique hotels and restaurants, it designed Roy’s Flemings Steakhouse in Woodland Hills and Silk Night Club, a flamboyant Vegas-style venue at Pechanga Hotel and Casino in Temecula. “When David joined, he brought an element we didn’t have before,” said Ron Lieberman, who describes himself as more practical and conservative than his son. “We were able to go and introduce ourselves to a different level of client. We met Bill Klimpton and we did about 50 restaurants for him. The recognition we got from that helped us really grow the upscale clientele. Design Development now has a range of projects in its portfolio, from Roy’s to Fox Sports Grill in Irvine and a number of Hard Rock Caf & #233;s throughout the world. The company is currently working on a new restaurant for longtime Valley restaurateurs, Brent’s Delicatessen, which is opening a new location in Westlake Village. While David Lieberman enjoys the more stylish projects he works on, he also believes that the company’s niche leans more to Southern California than to South Beach. “Our biggest thing is keeping the clients happy, keeping their customers happy and having a good time,” said David Lieberman. “We’re not going to be the trendiest group, but we’re more into what’s real.” The principals expect that the moderate growth the company has experienced over the past 23 years will escalate in the future, thanks to several newer ventures and to what seems to be a relentless demand for more restaurants and new restaurant concepts. “There’s such a need for food service facilities that the design architecture portion of the business is probably growing at 10 percent to 15 percent a year,” said Ron Lieberman. Although Design Development has always offered furniture and fixture purchasing services, the company five years ago began providing a food service equipment purchasing service, a business that is expected to contribute to a substantial portion of the future growth. Meanwhile, David Lieberman has his eye on different types of venues for future expansion. “I would like to see us grow in size and expand some of our services into other forms like (more) hotels and retail,” David Lieberman said. “I would like to expand our horizons in the amount of work and the size of our company.” Design Development Co. Year Founded: 1983 Revenues 1990: $2 million Revenues 2006: $3.5 million Employees 1990: 8 Employees 2006: 15 Driving Force: “Diners want to be entertained by the environment they’re in,” said Dave Lieberman, “so the environment has to be just as important, if not more important than the food.” Goal: To become a $5 million business.
The Art of Dining