SLMan Meets… The King Of Miami | SLMan

SLMan Meets… The King Of Miami

Back in the 90s, David Grutman set out to make a name for himself in the wild west of Miami nightlife. In the noughties, he opened LIV and it became one of the US’s most successful nightclubs. His empire has expanded quickly since then and so has his circle of celebrity mates - that includes David Beckham, Conor McGregor, Diddy and more. Here, David tells us more about building a big-league career, working with Pharrell Williams and his favourite hotspots on both sides of the Atlantic.

After graduating, I knew I didn’t want to rush back to where I grew up. South Beach was an exciting place, so I decided to bartend there for a year. At the time, Eric Omores (founder of Nikki Beach) had the primo VIP club called Bash, and it was on another level. I really wanted to bartend for him, but he didn’t hire me. We still talk regularly today, and when I remind him of this, he says: “You were destined for greater things.”

Despite my attempts to network around Eric back then, it didn’t work. In nightlife, in Miami, a good network is essential – it’s the driver of all our places and helps determine their success. Wherever I am, I want to be the key holder for that market. But to do that, people have to feel safe with you and trust your recommendations. People also like to let loose here, so there’s a degree of discretion which goes with the job. We always want to look out for people here. Plus, if I only recommended my own places all the time, people wouldn’t be getting a fair assessment of Miami – though these days I feel I have enough variety across our portfolio, so it’s a little different. 

It took the best part of a decade to set up the Miami Marketing Group (MMG). At the time, my business was all about merging nightlife with entertainment. Prior to this, we’d opened Tantra Restaurant & Lounge, which turned out to be one of the most popular clubs in Miami Beach – it really helped put me on the map. By 2008, the idea was all about hosting events in a specific space and using other people’s marketing power to enhance my brand – it was a bit of a lightbulb moment to be honest.

Goodtime Hotel
Swan

At this time a lot of what we call ‘marquee events’ were starting to come to Miami. Things like the Super Bowl and the MTV VMAs. Our goal was to fill a void for those brands who were really trying to gain traction in the city – giving them the kind of access and service they weren’t going to get from a New York or LA-based agency. We also started to build properties in which we could sell spaces to sponsors. It was about creating experiences and raising awareness of those brands within our spaces.

That’s what led Jeff Soffer to ask me to open a nightclub as part of his hotel, The Fontainebleau. It had just undergone an extensive renovation and it needed an anchor after-hours attraction. He was basically trying to turn it into a resort, and LIV needed to be an entertainment/marketing venue – not just a nightclub. 

Hosting the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was a real turning point. At the time it was the marquee event of all marquee events and when I got the LIV gig, I brought Ed Razek (then chief marketing officer for Victoria’s Secret) to the city. We walked to the back of the property, which was then still under masses of construction, but I told him he should move the show to Miami. He said okay, and it was life-changing for me. 

I eventually sold MMG to SFX Entertainment. Initially, I stayed on, but the company ended up going bankrupt and I spotted an opportunity to get my company back. I wanted to bring all the businesses we had under one roof – clubs, restaurants, hotels – and create a powerhouse hospitality firm founded in Miami with an international reach. It’s what led to us setting up Groot Hospitality. 

Strawberry Moon

We own some big brands which have real potential overseas. These include Papi Steak, Komodo and Swan. They’re all dining/entertainment concepts, and there are more in the works, like Winker’s Diner (a take on the classic American setting), Strawberry Moon (a poolside Mediterranean hangout) and Toothfairy (our first dedicated bakery). All of them are very scalable and all of them could be your night out, if that’s what you want. Not everything has to be about raging at a nightclub – sometimes people want to experience their nightlife differently. It’s something that’s become even clearer to us as a result of the pandemic. Even as we come out of it, more people now want to spend their time outdoors, and experience outdoor nightlife and dining. 

Every deal I make, I want to be the one in control. Ideally, though, it’s a win-win situation for everyone. We’re long-haul players, which is why we want leases for 15-20 years – we don’t do pop-ups. It’s all about longevity, not a money grab. There are plenty of deals that aren’t right for us – or the other person – because of that, and that’s okay. London is one market we have our eye on, and we’ll continue to look for the right opportunity there. The Middle East is somewhere else we’re considering – there are so many markets which are evolving at the moment, so I’m not ruling anything out. Even Egypt – I hear it’s on fire right now. So you never know…

The partnership with Pharrell on the Goodtime hotel came about in a very organic way. He was thinking of moving back to Miami, loved the hospitality space and we met in a hotel in LA to think about how he could be more involved. He knows so much about entertainment, art, design, music, fashion… everything, really. He also has a different perspective to me and so far working together has been great. In fact, I’d go as far as to say it’s one of the best ventures I’ve ever done. 

Winker's
Strawberry Moon

Learning how to play tennis is another of the best decisions I’ve made. I’ve only been playing a year, but I love it. Three years ago, I partnered with [tennis brand] Prince to elevate them into a proper country club brand off the court. I loved the heritage and thought we could give it a real second lease of life. Having achieved that pretty well, I started hitting balls during lockdown. Once you get one good top-spin shot in, it’s addictive. I also hate cardio – I don’t want to jog or sit on a bike, so it gave me a whole new perspective on fitness. Team sports are great for building character and camaraderie, but me, I like the one on one. 

I have so many favourite spots in Miami. Hometown BBQ is one of my favourite restaurants. It’s in the Allapattah district, a real up-and-coming area. I also love Uchi, Red Rooster and... Chick-fil-A – you can’t beat it. Another big part of the city is Coconut Grove, which doesn’t get as much attention as it deserves, and everyone should see Wynwood and the Miami Design District. The latter is like our version of Rodeo Drive. 

Some of my favourite destinations include Turks & Caicos (Amanyara is the place to stay) and the Exumas (part of the Bahamas). London – and I’m not just saying this – is genuinely one of my top cities in the world. Scott’s is probably my restaurant of choice, but Yauatcha in Soho was incredible when I went. As for hotels, I love the luxury of the Bvlgari and La Réserve in Paris, but the Fasano brand, which is Brazilian, probably takes the top spot. 

 

AND HERE’S HOW – AND WHY – DAVID HAS BEEN SUCCESSFUL...

What time do you wake up?

I wake up every morning at 6:45am on the dot and go to bed anytime between 1am and 5am. I must admit if it’s nearer five, I don’t get up until maybe 8am… That’s a rough one. 

What’s the most important lesson you’ve learnt in business? 

To be honest – both with yourself, and with other people. 

What qualities do you look for in your staff?

I always look for that entrepreneurial spirit. If you’re growing a business, you need people who feel the same way and want to take a degree of ownership of the place. The most important thing is employees take it as personally as you do. 

What does success mean to you today?

Getting kisses from my daughters in the morning.

And what do you want your legacy to be?

When people talk about David Grutman, I want people to say he didn’t just care about his business but he cared a lot about his city, too. I’ll happily tell anyone who’s willing to listen that Miami is one of the greatest cities in the world. 

 

To see more of David’s venues, visit GrootHospitality.com. 

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