Former movie and Broadway play producer, Jonathan Burrows may have a shelf full of scripts on his bookshelf, but his real passion these days is his restaurant chain, Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs.
Burrows is the founder and co-owner of three Los Angeles restaurants, including the white tablecloth version of Mr. Cecil’s California Ribs on Ventura Boulevard in Sherman Oaks that stocks wines ranging in price from $18 to $1500.
Burrows said he might one day pull out those scripts, but for now his eye is on expanding his restaurant chain.
He currently runs three restaurants that he co-owns with four other people. His immediate plans are to grow the number of locations in the United States by 20. Potential locations include New York and New Mexico.
“I have been talking to large corporations about expansion,” Burrows said.
And when he feels his 20 U.S. locations are stable, he plans to scout sites in Europe and Australia. Customers at his restaurants, who were visiting from Australia, France and Germany, have asked why he doesn’t have locations in their countries.
The story of how a successful producer became a restaurateur dates back to 2000. Burrows had hit a dry spell in his ability to get the movies he wanted to produce green-lighted and was becoming weary of shopping scripts so he could get the backing to produce movies.
“I started producing plays on Broadway when I was 25-years-old,” Burrows said. “At some point, I became less enthusiastic about going hat in hand to get the money to back the movies I wanted to produce.”
His friends had been telling him for years that his barbecue recipe was great and he should open a restaurant.
“I never took them seriously,” Burrows said. “When they would say that, I would think, ‘I’m a producer.’”
He jokes that he always enjoyed cooking, but thought its greatest value (at least during his bachelor days) was that it impressed the girls.
But in 2000, at his wife’s urging, he decided to go for it.
He convinced four friends (including his brother Ken Burrows; Ken’s wife, well-known feminist writer, Erica Jong; his cousin, William Burrows; and Larry Jackson, a friend who is also a producer, to join him in this business venture. Each contributed enough money to secure the $175,000 needed for the lease at the first location south of Brentwood and other start-up costs.
His concept was an almost instant success. Three months after he opened a Los Angeles Times reviewer stopped by and then declared in a review that Burrows’ offerings were “plates of meat to dream about.”
“When I read that, it almost brought tears to my eyes,” Burrows said.
The review brought droves of people to the restaurant. So many people came that the restaurant ran out of food and had to close for three days to restock. The meat has to marinate and cook for 36 hours to reach the decadent level described by the LA Times reviewer, Burrows explained.
Although Burrows movie credits have included Fletch, which starred Chevy Chase, he claims that his movie and play reviews have never been as good as his restaurant reviews.
People love Mr. Cecil’s so much that it has made him a celebrity. People ask Burrows for his autograph. And it secured him a parking spot in a situation he thought was going to turn testy.
“I got out of my car to tell this man he took the spot I was about to pull into,” Burrows said. “When he got out, he took one look at me and said, “You’re Mr. Cecil. You can have the spot.”
The restaurant is actually named after a nickname that Burrows gave his father, Selig, because friends were often rechristening him Cecil and other names, because they had difficulty pronouncing Selig. Burrows jokingly called his father Mr. Cecil.
His wife suggested the name – and it stuck.
“A restaurant name is like the title to a movie – it has to be catchy,” Burrows said.