Guillermo Zapata can’t help but share the “buena onda” or good vibe. As a successful restaurateur, model, actor, and producer, he’s feeling it and he’s living it.
Vacationing in Los Angeles in 1992 and far from his hometown of Buenos Aires, Zapata realized he was destined to stay. Never mind that he barely spoke English. At then-renowned Café Luna, he started as a dishwasher, worked his way up to waiter, and ascended to restaurant manager in just five years.
His bigger dreams materialized when he founded SUR (Sexy Unique Restaurant) in 1998 at the tony corner of Melrose and Robertson in West Hollywood. Proudly serving “upscale global cuisine,” he and his wife Nathalie make culinary magic with “Real Housewives” celebrity co-owner Lisa Vanderpump and her husband Ken Todd, who both joined forces in 2005.
Bravo’s addicting reality series “Vanderpump Rules” is shot inside SUR. Zapata starred in the show’s first season but now has other priorities. Find out what else is cooking with him in a BELLA LA exclusive…
With no shortage of restaurants in the area, how does SUR stand out?
SUR is based upon the experiences and international tastes of the four of us: myself from Argentina, my wife from France, Lisa and Ken from England, and our chef, Jose Martinez, from Mexico. We want a healthy, appealing menu with things we like to eat. If a great atmosphere doesn’t combine with great food, it won’t be what we — or our customers — want it to be.
You’re a successful model. PEOPLE and others say you look a lot like a certain household name: George Clooney. They even said you’re “even hotter.” What say you?
I have enormous respect for George as a director and actor and for his stand on human rights. It’s an honor to be compared to him, plus my wife does not complain that I look like him!
We see you looking oh-so-natty when you model men’s clothing. You’re looking good in ads for Old Navy, Land’s End, and Guideboat Co. But what do you really like to wear?
Fifteen years ago my French wife showed me the European way of style and dressing up. I like a nice suit and I like to “play” with that by adding the right tie. I prefer nice jeans, and shoes are very important — I work from the bottom up. I read fashion magazines to stay updated on trends, and am lucky to travel the world and collect clothing from local designers.
You have to stay in shape to model and act. How do you do that?
I’ve done martial arts all my life, and I do boxing, I run, and I play tennis.
You have a degree in dramatic arts. How has that classical training prepared you for film work?
I worked in television in Argentina. When I came here I left everything — family, work and more — to start a new life. My English was poor, but because I was an actor, I could communicate with passion, my eyes, and my movements. My acting skills also helped me to relate to restaurant customers.
How did you do all this?
You have to really want something to make it happen. You put all your energy into it, and there are no excuses. I want my employees to follow that example, as well as my kids. I instill my passion for work into all of them, and I want to show them the way to their dreams.
You have such a passion for acting and for film — you produced the short film, “Tango Amargo,” in 2013. We can watch it online and we’re intrigued by the summary of the film: “In a world with so many temptations … a man must be true to no one but himself.”
You can wait for the phone to ring, or you can go create. I returned to my roots with that film, more than 20 years after coming here.
And you have a new project, yes?
I am producing and acting in an action thriller currently titled, “Cat’s Revenge,” with Danny Trejo. We may shoot it in Argentina. Here’s the theme: A successful businessman must travel back to Colombia and confront the demons of his past when his 16-year-old daughter is kidnapped while visiting family in Medellin. Stand by.
You’re a family man. You love it, yes?
I am so blessed to have two beautiful daughters, Miarose, age 7, and Loulou, age 11. They’re both SAG members already, are doing great in school, and they love to play tennis. Who could ask for more?
Contributed by Stephanie Stephens