John Terzian is a perfectionist with a “crazy drive” and work ethic that has made him one of the most successful restaurateurs and club owners in Hollywood and beyond. Chances are you’ve been in one of his venues—or at least tried to get in—where you’d rub shoulders with Rihanna, Leonardo DiCaprio, or Katy Perry. The stars love the privacy and Angelenos enjoy the chill, fun vibes.
Turned down for more than 100 jobs in his lifetime, this LA native flipped rejection into unstoppable ambition by opening up hotspots like The Nice Guy (no photos allowed inside the venue), Bootsy Bellows, Blind Dragon, and his latest baby—Delilah.
Luxury, service, and exclusivity are what Terzian does best, and that’s why everything he touches turns to gold. He tells BELLA LA how he does it…
Where did you grow up?
I grew up in LA, so it’s a major aspect of what I’m doing. I was born and raised in the West LA/Westwood area.
What was your family life like growing up?
I’m Armenian, and family is everything. I have an extremely close family. My mom is a music teacher and my dad’s a lawyer. I have an older brother with whom I’m extremely close and a ton of cousins I see regularly.
What was your first job?
I was an intern at the talent agency ICM when I was a freshman in college. I got turned down for over 100 jobs, including as a cabana boy at the Beverly Hills Hotel. But I had this drive in me to prove everybody wrong. I think it’s caused me to be a crazy person when it comes to work. To this day, I’m pretty well known for working 24/7 and not sleeping. I have this level of determination – like how athletes talk about Kobe playing angry — that’s literally how I am.
You launched the H. Wood Group with Brian Toll nine years ago. How has your relationship evolved over the years?
Brian and I are essentially like siblings at this point, including fighting like brothers. But we have a very good partnership because we do very different things well, and we do them together. We’re extremely complementary of each other, which is how a partnership should be. I would probably be homeless without him.
There’s no real hierarchy in your company—tell us about that?
I’m very big on embracing talent and propelling people around me. Brian and I had an assistant once who is now an equal partner because he earned it. I want people to succeed. I’ve learned to do it within our company, because when you approach it that way, you get more passion from people. I’ve been around too many people who try to keep people around them from growing. I don’t know everything and I take advice from everyone in my company, down to my 20-year-old interns.
Everything you touch seems to turn to gold. What have been some of your disappointments?[Sighs] Right away, I’m the type who thinks I’m always behind and nothing is successful. But that’s just how I am. Hooray Henry’s wasn’t unsuccessful, but there were a lot of things I learned from that. I’m a very positive and optimistic person, but I always want to talk to people who have critical input. I really don’t care about compliments or anything that’s good. I wanna hear what’s wrong, because I want to do better.
Your venues always have a line outside the door; why do you think they’re so successful?
I really credit it to being so loyal to my group of friends from day one. That’s how everyone is around us, and as long as I have that, everything else follows. I also pay a lot of attention to detail. Like the very, very small things people think don’t matter. I think the key reason people eat four times a week at The Nice Guy is because it’s literally as easy as going into their own kitchen. I don’t care about the resumes of people I hire; I don’t go by if they worked at the Four Seasons. I go by their love of hospitality and people, and that’s why we have great service.
What is the concept of your latest venue, Delilah?
Delilah is a really special place and basically what I wanted to do since getting in this business. It is a true restaurant, but it has the elements of a lounge with vibrant music and a nightlife aspect as well. In LA it’s historically hard to have all that in one place. Delilah really gives a nod to the 1920s and how supper clubs were the one place where you eat, drink, socialize, and listen to music. Delilah is going to be the first that does all of that.
What has been the most pivotal time of your life so far?
A major business milestone would be when H. Wood was shut down for various reasons and I had to move back with my parents. I lost everything and it was a turning point for me at that moment. I could’ve gone into a depression, or fight…obviously I was driven to fight and come back. On the personal side, I would say when I was growing up, my brother was diagnosed with leukemia. He lived in the hospital. I noticed there wasn’t much going on for it, and I made it a point to always give back to charities. I started specifically with Children’s Hospital, but I support several others, including Imagine LA, which helps homeless families.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
The best advice I’ve ever received was, “Never get too high with the highs and low with the lows” in this business. That was 10 years ago, and it has stuck with me.
You have a lot of celebrity clientele—how does that work?
I was fortunate enough to grow up with a handful of people who became big celebrities, managers, or agents in their own right. We’ve all stayed best friends and supportive of each other. It’s one of those things you can’t really buy.
You recently got married. How did you know she was the one?
I first met my wife nine years ago and I really knew then. I don’t think she knew, but I knew [laughs]. She had moved here from Texas, and I loved how she was completely unfazed by anything in LA. She was a perfect fit for me, and I just knew.