Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis: Restaurant Owners

Neatorama presents a guest post from actor, comedian, and voiceover artist Eddie Deezen. Visit Eddie at his website or at Facebook.

For ten years (1946-1956) Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis were the hottest act in show business. The combination of Dean's laid-back, devil-may-care crooning and Jerry's hilarious, unpredictable comedy was a smash in films, television, and nightclubs all over America. Together, Dean and Jerry made 16 films (all money-makers) and were guest hosts together for five seasons on The Colgate Comedy Hour, a very popular '50's variety show. They were headliners at every popular club in the U.S. over the decade, routinely playing to SRO crowds.

But by 1956, Dean had grown weary of being regarded as the "second banana" in the act and Jerry's "semi-talented" straight man. When the pair split as a team in 1956, both parties were bitter and glad to break the bonds of partnership and strike out on their own.

Now it was the spring of 1958. Dean Martin, now a solo act after splitting up with his multi-talented partner, was having a hard time getting on his feet. Unlike Jerry, whose initial solo film The Delicate Delinquent was a hit, Dean's initial solo outing Ten Thousand Bedrooms was a massive flop, both critically and financially.

In debt and looking for investments, Dean and his business partner, Maury Samuels, decided to try the restaurant business. They bought into a popular restaurant on the sunset strip in L.A. called The Alpine Lodge. The eatery's name was soon changed to the much hipper “Dino's Lodge" and Dean's caricature was prominently displayed out front.

Dino's soon became a hugely popular dining spot, featuring steaks and Italian cuisine. Dean even hired his brother Bill to run the place. That first year, Dean would often make personal appearances at Dino's, posing for photos and signing autographs. Sometimes he would bring over his celebrity friends, including Frank Sinatra and Shirley MacLaine.

Interestingly, Dino's did have vocalists appearing, but only ladies. Of the dozens of singers who warbled at Dino's spot over the years, every one was female, Dean reportedly not wanting any guy there who might possibly be competition.

Always a hip spot, Dino's featured Dean's "early morning breakfast from 1 to 5 am.” Dino's became nationally famous and the Dean Martin icon was seen on several TV shows including Dragnet, The Andy Griffith Show, and was featured every week on a then-popular series called 77 Sunset Strip.

Now we cut to October of 1961. Jerry lewis, Dean's erstwhile partner, decided that he needed to indulge himself in a new business venture himself. Any guesses what?

Jerry, no doubt spurred on by the success of Dino's, bought himself a restaurant several blocks down the sunset strip from Dean's joint. Jerry's idea of a "copycat" restaurant to Dean's was financed by $350,000 out of his own pocket. He dubbed his eatery "Jerry's" and, not to be outdone by Dean's famous caricature adorning Dino's, had a huge neon caricature of himself in neon lights, 100 feet above the building.

But in spite of Jerry's copycat plans, differences between the two establishments were soon apparent. In contrast to the Italian chow at Dean's place, Jerry's restaurant was "specializing in American and Hebrew viands.” Other contrasts existed between the two establishments.

Whereas Dino's was a tasteful pace to eat, both in terms of service and adornment, Jerry's was the exact opposite. According to Mark Evanier, a longtime L.A. resident, "Dino's suggested a classy evening of good food and wine, whereas Jerry's implied an evening of food thrown at you by loud waiters".

Jerry's was also garish and gaudily decorated including thick doors with "J" and "L" handles, black velvet, silver and purple highlights, huge chandeliers, thick drapes and a huge portrait of Jerry as a hobo clown.

As if to show his competitive immaturity and childish jealousy, Jerry threw a wad of money at Maury Samuels, Dean's business partner, and took him away to help run his place. Then he threw a wad of money at two of the main chefs at Dino's and stole them away. Then, for good measure, he threw another wad of dough at Dean's maître d and got him to welcome the guests at Jerry's. The maître d, an italian guy named Luigi, would be welcoming guests into a joint that featured "Hebrew viands."

Like Dean in the early years of Dino's, Jerry would often drop by, table-hop and schmooze with his guests. Unfortunately for Jerry, and unlike Dean, his joint was a flop almost from the word go. By February of 1963, Jerry's was "in the red for a quarter of a million or more.”

According to author Shawn Levy, "Dino's Lodge had the initial purpose of keeping two separate entities financially solvent. Jerry's, on the other hand, was born of insecurity, petty jealousy and narcissism." Jerry's quickly bit the dust, but Dino's was still popular and going strong. But Dean Martin, a man quickly bored, was losing interest in his place.

All was not well behind the scenes at Dean's place, and in 1961, Dean sued his partners, "charging mismanagement and fraud in the operation." (Ironically, Dean had pretty much totally parted with his namesake by February 1962, right around when Jerry was just getting established with his place.) Dean soon lost all interest in his place and wanted to wash his hands of it.

Of course, when he left his eatery, Dino wanted his name and likeness removed, too. But not so fast. Dean lost his legal attempts to get rid of his mug on Dino's and it remained there, adorning the place, until it's final demise in 1985.

According to one of Dean's daughters, her dad would often watch the TV series 77 Sunset Strip, which had a shot of Dino's featured at the beginning of each episode. Dean's daughter said she never forgot her dad's visible "grimace" every time his former place came onscreen.

Dean was later quoted as saying a person would "have to have his head examined" to open a restaurant.

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