For Stephen Kline, it began unexceptionally: business success begat art collecting. But then art collecting begat a completely different business and a different order of success. The new company landed at #417 on the Inc 500 and begat for Kline a whole new round of collecting. All of which begets our moral: Pick your hobbies wisely. They might surprise you.

Today Kline is CEO of Typhoon, a chain of Thai restaurants based in Portland, Oreg. But first he became an avid collector of contemporary art and antiques in Los Angeles, back when he worked in the film industry. As Kline's Hollywood home tripled in value in the late 1980s, making him feel perhaps a bit richer than he really was, he started stocking the house with paintings and sculpture, sometimes spending $20,000 or more on a piece. He was at one time so plugged in to the city art scene that he donated money toward the founding of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, which opened in 1986. And he and his wife became known for the lavish parties they threw to coincide with the annual Los Angeles art fair. Says Kline, "The curator of L.A. MoCA once told me there was a lot of great art around [at the fair], but the word was out that if you wanted great food, you had to come to Bo's" -- Bo being Kline's wife, who was born in Thailand and had exceptional culinary skills.

Then came the 1991 recession -- the financial equivalent, for the Klines, of Munch's The Scream. Film work dried up, their savings evaporated, and the value of their home fell by two-thirds. To regroup, they sold most of their art, moved to Oregon, and, inspired by Bo's art-party successes, opened the first Typhoon restaurant ("Come to Bo's," the sequel). It took off.

As it did, and the Klines began opening Typhoons in other locations, they also reentered the art-buying game, but this time they did it differently, switching from contemporary works to Thai pottery, sculpture, and other decorative items that date back centuries. And now the collection decorates their restaurants.

Their collecting methods have changed, too. They typically spend between a few hundred and a few thousand dollars per piece and buy what Kline calls a "significant" piece, for as much as $10,000, a few times a year, depending on how many new sites they're opening. They buy from dealers in Asia and have tried to educate themselves about how to spot fakes; Stephen even toured some Asian factories that turn out faux antiques to see what they're like.

His favorite among recent purchases? An 18th-century Burmese Buddha with "a great expression of serenity and drama." Just the expression an entrepreneur would hope for.

The Inc Life

Find Trail. Hike. Repeat
Returns: Rational Pessimism
Spoils: Collecting Inspiration

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