If you have an Instagram account, chances are you see Palm Springs come across your feed on a daily basis. From the abundance of palm trees, sunshine, people partying poolside and sweeping desert vistas, there isn’t much to not love about this incredibly photographic oasis. Wouldn’t it be nice if this magical place was not just a vacation idea but a place to call home? Tara Lazar is one of these lucky people who gets to do exactly that. After living in San Francisco and working in finance, she pivoted her career to head back to the desert where she grew up and jumped feet first into the restaurant biz with her husband Marco. Desperate for for some place she’d enjoy to hang out for brunch, she opened Cheeky’s, the cult-favorite breakfast spot famous for its bacon flights. She then went on to open 3 more restaurants and a boutique hotel under the umbrella known as F10. Read on…
Tara, you have built a little empire with three insanely popular restaurants and a boutique hotel in Palm Springs with little experience in the industry. How did all of this get started?
By fluke, and a little luck! I always loved breakfast and didn’t like the greasy spoon offerings here in Palm Springs so I took a stab at it. The rest just grew organically as I wanted to expand what experiences were on offer.
Did you have a mentor? If so, what was that like?
Oh my yes! So many. Two come to mind. The first is Bill Lupien who is as conservative and rational as they come (total opposite to me). He says you have to know when to walk away from a bad deal no matter how bad your heart is telling you, yes. And Erik Oberholtzer, owner of Tender Greens who is fanatically uncompromising on quality and sourcing of product.
Each of your restaurants have a distinct personality. What is your process like in defining each of your spaces?
I think it speaks to my multiple personalities. I love food and hospitality in so many ranges; I love a great funky dive, I love a perfectly polished server, I even like those painfully overly tattooed hipsters that will regret 90% of their sleeve in 5 years, probably because there is so much care and love nonetheless. I try to build noticeably different atmospheres in the restaurants because that’s so much of the experience. There is no point in going to a different restaurant of mine if it’s going to be “sort of” the same thing as the others. I also think people usually come to Palm Springs for two nights. One is a casual hang out with friends with your hair in a bun and the other is a night to get a little foxy. Birba and Mr. Lyons or vice versa. And Cheekys, well you should really eat there both mornings because one day doesn’t cover enough territory on the menu.
Your business partner is also your husband, Marco. What is it like working together? Do you have any “rules” for separating work and home life?
Yikes, don’t work with your husband! It’s tough and we’ve set very tight boundaries on the aspects of the restaurant that are our domains. I am always back of the house, menu, food, etc., and he is great at schmoozing with guests. And we don’t interfere with each other’s strengths. Also, we try to never speak about work during meal times. I’ve heard others say not to do it in the bedroom but we think about work the first thing we wake up and we broke that rule so many times, we decided to just keep it to meal times which are quite sacred to us….until that kid came along at least.
What advice would you give to other woman wanting to open a restaurant?
Women have an innate ability to know what customers want better than men. Men typically cook what they want to eat and women typically cook what others would want to eat. Huge generalization, I realize but it is such an advantage from a business perspective. When you look at some of the most successful restauranteurs/empire builders, you think, “Oh wow! So many are women! Alice Waters, Nancy Silverton, Suzanne Goin, Susan Feniger…”. However, it’s a rough environment still in the kitchen, so the other thing I would say is don’t sink down to the level of immaturity of the men in the kitchen. Stay classy and don’t go out getting wasted and talking dirty.
Your father had a huge influence on you. What was the best advice he gave you?
Well my dad offered to pay me to not go into the restaurant biz so I obviously didn’t heed his advice too well. But he did say pay the people who help you a couple extra bucks. Yeah, it costs you more, but those few dollars to them mean a lot more than they do to you.
When you look at some of the most successful restauranteurs/empire builders, you think, “Oh wow! So many are women! Alice Waters, Nancy Silverton, Suzanne Goin, Susan Feniger…”
Palm Springs is continually evolving. How have you seen your clientele change over the past few years?
Yes and no. The Ace Hotel opened around the same time we did so we got that great wave of youngsters that Palm Springs had never seen except for Spring Break in the late 80s. Besides that, the clientele gets better and better because more people are buying houses and spending more time out here which makes for a more relaxed guest, which is what Palm Springs is all about.
Describe your perfect day in the desert.
Hiking the Lykken trail. Or a quickie up the museum trail, right behind the museum. The BEST burger (and coleslaw and potato salad) at Tyler’s. Kiyosaku’s grapefruit and sushi exravaganza, Pappy and Harriets on Sunday nights for ribs and tri-tip, camping for ten hours in Joshua Tree (and coming home to shower first thing in the morning), Flow Modern for jewelry, Trina Turk for the best one piece swimsuits, Wil Style for sunglasses, Elizabeth + Prince for big city threads, and of course the countless pool fabulous parties that make Palm Springs the magical place it is!
You’ve dominated the Palm Springs food scene for years now. How has becoming a mama changed your outlook on your career?
Some days I want to hang up everything, sell the farm and play legos all day and laugh and play! And then other days I want to show my son the importance of hard work and determination and what it can create. I’ll let you know how I feel if I have another one, however…
What is it like raising a family in a town that is known for vacations? Have you found a mom tribe?
I used to joke how nice it was to not know anyone at the school because I could roll in with mascara smudged down my face and lipstick still on from the night before. But then, one ill-fated party I went to and I met four other moms. It was devastating. But it’s nice. We’re all working moms so we all share that sigh of relief when we walk out the school gates after dropping them off. It is a little boring with only two museums for kids but we get creative!
How do you unwind in Palm Springs? Do you feel the need to go to a big city sometimes?
We hike and drink martinis an awful lot. Swimming in the fantastic public pool by the high school, farmers market on Saturday, pilates plus with ron duran. Also, lots of dinners with friends and of course, I love going to Mr. Lyons for the service. I know I’m the big cheese but still the service is so elegant and luxurious. It’s hard for anyone not to feel special there… And yes, we go to the big city any time the weather gets too hot for some menu “r&d”- eating our way through DTLA, Monterey Park, Venice or Little Tokyo any chance we get!
Who’s on your “must see” list for Coachella this year?
Jamiroquai!!!! Then Amine and Chromeo.
Never judge another mother.
A chill mom is a chill kid.
Mothers have the best instinct. Stick to it.