Karma (kär'ma) in Indian religions is the concept of "action" or "deed," understood as that which causes the entire cycle of cause and effect. To Michael Zislis, a believer in Karma, it simply means, "good things happen to good people." If there is truth to that concept, Zislis has been very good.
A stroll down the streets of downtown Manhattan Beach reveals many of Zislis' hospitality creations, including Brewco, Rock 'N Fish (also in Laguna Beach and at L.A. Live) and Mucho Ultima Mexicana restaurants. He is developer and owner of Shade Hotel-downtown Manhattan Beach's only luxury boutique hotel, listed by Condé Nast Traveler as one of the top-100 hotels in the world. His latest undertaking was to transform the Manhattan pier-facing property that long served as Beaches eatery into "the best restaurant ever." The completely revamped Strand House with its awe-inspiring ocean view is described as having an "strand home-esque aesthetic" by Eater.com. It opened this past August, serving up a New American "modern heirloom" menu created by chefs Neal Fraser and Travis Lorton.
"It was a piece of real estate I'd been looking at and making offers on for 20 years," Zislis said.
Persistence paid off. In 2010, the Bloomfield and Hunter families, two well-known Manhattan Beach philanthropic families, purchased the property. "They were looking for a restaurateur to partner with and my name kept coming up from my charity work and business developments around town."
Preferring organic marketing to traditional paid advertising, he has instead sought out sponsorships of local charity campaigns and events, such as the effort to save the Manhattan Beach Roundhouse, Walk with Sally's White Light White Night event and The Honda Gourmet Food and Wine Festival, which benefits Torrance Memorial, to promote his properties. As a member of the Torrance Memorial Health Care Foundation Board he has underwritten the hospital's quarterly Miracle of Living at the Beach Community Health Education Series at his Shade Hotel property for the past two years. The Zislis family hosts a private reception for Torrance Memorial's annual Distinguished Speaker Series and has also been a generous donor of live auction items at its annual Holiday Festival.
"I can think of no better way to display your brands than to associate the with acts of goodwill in the community," he said.
Michael Zislis first became involved with Torrance Memorial after being approached by Judith Gassner, director of major and corporate gifts for the Health Care Foundation. He was already a longtime fundraiser for the Manhattan Beach Education Foundation. He joined the Health Care Foundation Board in 2008 to help raise funds to build the new Main Tower.
"Judy said to me, 'You love to build and we are in the midst of building one of the greatest medical institutions in California.'" Zislis said. He continued, "For me it was a no brainer. It was the perfect timing and opportunity for me to give back in a way that keeps on giving to the community that has served me so well."
He continued, "I want to help ensure there is no need to drive to the Westside to get top care in a health crisis. If you have a stroke or a heart attack, time is of the essence. We need to have a world-class regional medical center right here in the South Bay."
He hopes to help build momentum for the Foundation, which has already raised more than half of its $200 million target goal. "Here in the South Bay the money is there, and also people who want to get involved. It's my mission to sell the benefits of the Patrons program and a world-class hospital to the people of Manhattan Beach and the other beach cities," he said.
Zislis, who was raised in Rolling Hills Estates, and his wife Andrea, who grew up in Rancho Palos Verdes, are quite familiar with the hospital's quality of care. Their daughter Milla, 4, and son Ben, 2, were born at Torrance Memorial, as well as their twins Sam and Ava Rose, in early September. The twins were born at the hospital on two different days, which hasn't occurred at Torrance Memorial in more than five years. Forty minutes after Sam was delivered, Alexandria Bujor, M.D., OB/GYN, successfully delivered Ava Rose in the breech position without complications or emergency C-section.
"Andrea really wanted to avoid a traumatic birth with the twins and Dr. Bujor impressively granted her wish. It was so nice to see the same nurses and doctors that had been there for the first two births," he said. "Of course seeing Pinky (a 90-year old Torrance Memorial Auxiliary member) again delivering warm chocolate chip cookies was a treat."
Andrea, the daughter of Croatian immigrants still has close ties in the motherland. Last summer, the Croatian consulate recommended that two young Croatian women on J-1 visas contact the Zislis family for work opportunities. Zislis hired Sendi to work at Brewco and Dajana as the family nanny. After getting to know Dajana, Zislis asked if there was anything that could be done to fix her undeveloped right eye. In her youth during the Croatian War of Independence, she had been told it was not correctable.
As a Foundation member, Zislis began asking doctors at Torrance Memorial what could be done. He located a physician who made her a prosthetic eye, which is a perfect fit. "Word quickly spread around Dajana's hometown of Pula that she had a secret to reveal when she returned home. Everyone thought she had gotten married," Zislis said with a chuckle."
When she returned home to finish college, her friends and family were amazed by her life-altering appearance." When Andrea learned she was pregnant with the twins, Zislis called Dajana to see if she might be available to return to help out the family once again as their nanny. She happily accepted and flew back to the states the day after her graduation.
Redondo Beach will soon be home to another Zislis endeavor. A second Shade Hotel will grace the waterfront of Harbor Drive. The opening is still a few years away. For now, he embraces the daily challenges of raising four small children and managing his company, The Zislis Group, to continued success. He believes Karma will continue to guide his way.