The reimagining of the Riviera
Iconic East County bar and restaurant reopens with help from industry vets Lance Felix and Derek “D.J.” Mull
Lance Felix and Derek “D.J.” Mull are both East County natives and hospitality industry veterans.
Together, the two friends have joined forces to bring back one of their favorite East County spots: the Riviera Supper Club & Turquoise Room, which closed back in March due to government orders to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Now reopened for indoor dining at a reduced capacity, Felix and Mull want people to know that their favorite cook-your-own-steakhouse is back and better than ever — with an updated look and menu that still stays true to its roots.
Felix earned his culinary chops at local restaurants like Sea Rocket Bistro and Cowboy Star, while Mull has worked as the bar manager at the Coin-Op Gaslamp for the past few years, in addition to running several bars during a stint in San Francisco.
“We want to bring people back to something they’re comfortable with, but also add something new to it that they can look forward to instead of the same Riviera. [We want to] still hold true to what everyone loves about the Riviera, but then bring our own personal flair to the restaurant as well,” explains Felix during a phone interview.
What everyone loves about the Riviera is its retro vibe and classic menu, not to mention affordable prices. It’s an industry hangout, a place where your favorite bartender can be found on nights off.
“The Riviera is an institution for the area,” Mull says. “It’s definitely a destination bar. There’s not much around it. We have a very big regular base, and in times like these, we’ve realized that a little bit of normalcy, a little bit of what you’re used to, having a little bit of that comfort, goes so far.”
“And that’s something that the Riviera really is known for,” he continues. “It is known for having a very similar menu for a very long time. So that’s something we’re trying to stick to. We’re adding a few different things that we believe fit into that category, but really we’re just very excited to go into the Riviera and have this amazing restaurant that has this great vibe, that’s known as the spot to go and see live music and to have a really good steak dinner in that area. There’s not anything like it. We’re excited to be a part of it and to help with the reimagining of it and adding our little twist to it.”
The Riviera has been an institution in San Diego since its inception in the 1940s, although it wasn’t known as the Riviera until the mid-2000s.
When the pandemic and stay-at-home orders hit, Felix and Mull found themselves jobless — and feeling helpless.
The two decided to dedicate their time and effort to an endeavor they called Soup & Spirits Co. The idea was to provide food to their industry family members who didn’t qualify for unemployment. Their friend (and owner of the Riviera), Aleksander D’Avignon, offered up the Riviera’s kitchen, which wasn’t in use, for Soup & Spirits Co.
And from there, the idea of the Felix and Mull becoming partners in the Riviera was born.
“The Riviera is too good of a story to fail,” Mull says. “Through all this, we started talking. We both spent time in the Riviera, Lance and myself. And it’s special to both of us for different reasons, but also similar reasons. We fell in love with it. After talking with the owners, we figured a deal where we could go in and together, we would be managing partners and we would reinvent their food and cocktail program and keep the things that keep people coming back, but make sure that it makes sense also.”
Cosmetically, Mull and Felix have already invested in a second patio. They are also making changes to the back of house in ways that cater to the employees. “Like the kitchen, organizing, changing it up, putting a new floor down,” says Felix.
“But all in all, as far as the interior of the restaurant looks like, we’ve kept it pretty much the same for the time being just because we wanted people to be familiar with the same exact spot.”
As far as the menu goes, the things that the Riviera is known for are staying. That means diners can expect the same large portions of elevated comfort food classics: chicken wings, baked macaroni, deviled eggs, a wedge salad and their famous Bacon Chocolate Cake.
“It’s a three-layer chocolate cake with bacon caramel and bacon crumbles in the middle, and it’s covered with a nice chocolate frosting that we make in the restaurant, and some chocolate sauce on top as well. It’s very filling, for sure. One slice for two people is the best thing to do,” Felix says.
They’ve added a few things, too. The appetizer menu now boasts a Blooming Onion and various styles of tater tots.
“We have animal-style tater tots, we have fully loaded baked potato tots, thinking of making a steak and tots kind of thing. Just having fun with the ideas that were already part of the Riviera,” says Felix.
The cocktail menu offers steakhouse classics like the Manhattan and the Old Fashioned, along with some more whimsical and tropical concoctions: the Hibiscus Paloma (Tosca Tequila, hibiscus, Nixta Liqueur de Elote and lime), Turquoise Room Gold Rush (peach tea-infused bourbon, honey, lemon and actual gold) and the Sneaky Tiki (Rum Haven Coconut Rum, amaretto, pineapple, lime and orange juice).
Felix and Mull have high hopes for the future of the Riviera. They hope to add a speakeasy-type dining concept with an approachable coursed menu in the near future that they believe will attract diners from all over the county.
Mull and Felix know the story of the Riviera’s reimagining isn’t common: two friends starting a charity to feed restaurant workers in need during a global pandemic leads to the opportunity to revamp a favorite neighborhood spot. It might not be ideal circumstances, but they are grateful for the chance.
“There’s two sides to every coin,” says Mull. “This is a story of a bar that’s reopening. Not to be insensitive to people who are going through a lot of loss right now, but I do believe that we’re going to see a lot of really amazing concepts from a lot of people that maybe wouldn’t have the opportunities to open up bars or restaurants. And now they’re going to have opportunities to do these cool concepts and it’s going to really help our community.”
For more information on the Riviera Supper Club & Turquoise Room, visit rivierasupperclub.com or follow them on social media @rivierasupperclub.
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