Two entrepreneurial brothers synonymous with the Paso Robles wine industry are expanding their reach with the purchase of an iconic Cambria property.
Georges and Daniel Daou, owners and founders of Daou Vineyards and Winery in Paso Robles, recently bought at auction Centrally Grown Off the Grid, an ocean-view restaurant, shop and event complex on the northern edge of Cambria.
They paid $4.3 million for the property, located on the east side of Highway 1, according to real estate broker Kellie Williams.
Georges Daou said in a phone interview Friday that he and his brother have already started the process of remodeling the Centrally Grown buildings and renovating the property.
The restaurant — leased by Mauritzio Lopez of the Black Cat Bistro in Cambria and other local enterprises — closed Sunday, and Daou said it would reopen sometime this year.
The three-acre property offers 360-degree views overlooking the Pacific Ocean in one direction and Hearst Ranch and Santa Lucia range in the other. A rustic two-story building that houses the restaurant has large view-framing windows, a bar, an elevator and a curved outdoor staircase.
The property includes several other structures, as well as arches, footbridges, paths that wind through garden areas and a 23-space parking area. There’s also a problematic on-site wastewater system, The Tribune reported in 2016.
“We’ve identified all the problems with the property and plan to remedy all of them to bring it up to our standards,” Daou said.
Williams said previous owner Dave Robertson put in more than $12 million in improvements after he bought the property for $2.47 million in 2012. Robertson’s Off the Grid LLC and Centrally Grown Holdings LLC filed for bankruptcy in April 2018.
For decades before that, the restaurant was known as The Hamlet at Moonstone Gardens, named for owner-operators Norm and Maggie Hamlet.
What’s in store?
What changes will the Daou brothers bring to their new venture?
Georges Daou said they’re still developing the plan, but he said it will be “wine centric, people centric, food centric and ultimately pleasure centric.”
Daou said he and his younger brother are just as passionate about their new endeavor as they are about their acclaimed winery at 2777 Hidden Mountain Road between Paso Robles and Adelaide.
“We plan to restore the gardens and the back” of the property and renovate the structures, Daou said.
He had been to the restaurant and property before.
“The moment I put a foot on the ground,” he said, he decided, “this was the most beautiful location I’ve ever seen.”
“I just love Cambria,” Daou said.
Many years ago, when he visited Cambria for the first time, Daou said, “I just fell in love. It was raw, clean, wild. It’s hard to explain. I told myself, ‘One day, I’m going to come back to it.’ ”
Then Centrally Grown went on the market in November. The property ultimately was to be sold at auction by order of a bankruptcy judge.
“We were fortunate to be able to acquire it,” he said.
Daou said there was another serious bidder involved in the process — the Hearst family.
“It was a heavy hitter. The Hearst family is not a small-time player,” he said, adding that he has a lot of respect for the Hearsts.
In the fall of 2018, what began as a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy process turned into an involuntary Chapter 7 bankruptcy, Williams said. Robertson “was no longer allowed to make decisions about the sale,” she said.
“It was a difficult sale, because time was of the essence,” Williams said. “I had exactly five weeks, start to finish, to get the two (potential and qualified) buyers to the plate.”
If the bankruptcy sale wasn’t successful by Dec. 18, Robertson would have lost the property Jan. 2, “and it would go to a courthouse trustee sale in San Luis Obispo.”
Over Robertson’s objections, the auction began about 2 p.m. Dec. 18 in the Santa Barbara bankruptcy court, she said. The bidding process started at $3.6 million, and eventually concluded when the Daous outbid the Hearst bidder by $100,000.
“The justice system worked” in terms of “getting as much as possible for the creditors and the estate,” Williams said.
The eventual foreclosure sale of another Robertson property — a 3,205-square-foot home on nearly 133 acres on Noel Way — could also help pay off those debts, she added.
‘A sanctuary of pleasure’
The Daou brothers were born in Lebanon and emigrated to France with their French-Lebanese parents after an errant bomb took out the family home during the Lebanese Civil War.
The brothers graduated at the top of their classes from UC San Diego and founded Daou Systems, a medical networking technology company that they sold a decade later.
Then, the world-traveling brothers wanted to make wine. After years of searching for a vineyard, they discovered — and bought — what was then cardiologist Stanley Hoffman’s Hoffman Mountain Ranch Winery.
“It’s been a fabulous, fabulous 11 years,” Georges Daou said.
Now, Daou said, creating the future of their Cambria property overlooking the Pacific will be part of the Daou dream of “investing in places that feel as if you’re in a sanctuary of pleasure.”
What will the new name be?
“There’s a good likelihood it will have a Daou name attached to it,” he said with a chuckle. “We should know for sure within a week or so.”