Just a few months ago, I had the opportunity of sitting down with two of the greatest minds in the nightlife business. Sylvain Bitton and David Jarrett are a part of a nightlife and hospitality group that currently own two restaurants (Aventine and Beso) and one of the most popular night lounges in LA, Warwick. I don’t believe I’ve ever met someone like Sylvain, who radiates energy. Building long-lasting relationships is so second-nature to him. In the hour that we were sitting at Aventine, several people came up to Sylvain, just to say hi! David Jarrett is the powerhouse on the business side. He handles a majority of the business operations for their group. His experience extends to working for the top restaurants in the world. He turned a concept of a sushi place called Geisha House, into a worldwide phenomenon. Overall, I believe this interview will provide a lot of insight into the business of building relationships, but also give you a new perspective.
Questions I ask:
- What were your responsibilities as an intern at Dolce?
- When you were in college, did you know you wanted to be in the hospitality business?
- How do you find investors and how do you get them behind your idea, as a young college student?
- What’s the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned?
- If tomorrow, you lost everything you had, where would you go and what would you do?
- Why do you think the customers are coming in, staying, and keep coming back?
- Have you had a memorable encounter with someone that you had worked with or met at one of your venues?
- What’s some advice you would give to somebody to build relationships, to network with other people?
- Do you have any final words for this interview, something we haven’t talked about?
What you will learn:
- David Jarrett’s story from answering a Craiglist ad to rolling out a restaurant concept in 25 places across the world
- Sylvain Bitton’s first major job at Saks Fifth Avenue and how he used that to fuel his first business
- How to raise money from people in your circle that trust you
- David’s first time meeting Prince and how Prince would call him from his cell phone
- How to effectively network with people
- The importance of building relationships
- What to do and how to execute during tough times
- How Warwick was built after Les Deux was shut down
- A powerful tactic to stay relevant in the minds’ of people you meet
Listen to the interview below. The interview took place at Aventine, one of their restaurants. There is background noise. In case, it may be hard to follow along we’ve transcribed the interview as well.
Sylvain: My name is Sylvain Bitton. I’m one of the partners of Aventine-Beso-Warwick. I’m originally from San Francisco – born and raised. I came here in 2000 and I used to work at Saks Fifth Avenue in Beverly Hills. This is where I got my start. I knew I wanted to be around people that had something going on. So, I immersed myself in the world of Beverly Hills. Every single person I met was someone big or someone that could do something for me. In the following five years, I went to bar mitzvahs, quinceañeras, birthdays, lunches, all of it. I developed rapport with all of these people and got them to believe in a concept that I had. It was going to be called Posh. Posh, later became known as Les Deux. We opened up Les Deux in 2006. I was two years out of college. I was 25 and in a very successful place. I learned a lot. I believe it was a lot of timing, a lot of skill, and a lot of luck. From there, we opened up some more places. We got involved with a company called the Dolce Group. They had a vision of expansion, quick! They thought, “Let’s go to different cities, states, continents, etc.” We were very mom and pop mentality and we wanted to stay in Los Angeles. We can’t run places in Alabama and Texas. We know Los Angeles. You know what, some people may see this as a fault. We see it as something we thrive on — we like to be at the place every single night. People know that we’re going to be sitting at these places. They know that we’re going to be at the club. They know that if you text us, that we’ll answer (if you have the right number, of course).
We did Les Deux, Beso, Aventine, and Warwick. Aventine and Beso are social restaurants. We have celebrity investors behind them. A lot of our places have celebrity investors. They’re very social. It’s not so much fine-dining, it’s more “fun-dining”. People will sit for a few hours, due to its European feel – not such a churn and burn. Warwick is a very high-energy lounge. It’s a hybrid between club and bar. There’s no moving lights, no CO2, no sparklers in the air. We thrive on service. In all of our places, we try to be the customer. We build places based on where would like to go and hang out. This has helped our success. That is what steers our ship. We train the staff from the customer’s POV. Every single customer matters, it’s from the ground up. Warwick is our prize-baby, right now. It’s our flagship. Diana Ross and her kids are the main investors.
David: My name is David Jarrett. I’m 31 years old. I was born in the East-Bay outside of San Francisco, in a town called Walnut Creek. I moved to LA when I turned 18 to go to University of Southern California. During that first year of school, I answered a Craigslist ad to work at a restaurant. It was called Dolce. I was the first intern at this restaurant, right as it was opening. It was a celebrity-backed place. It had investors from the cast of “That ‘70s Show”, just as they were becoming famous. There was Ashton Kutcher, Wilmer Valderrama, Danny Masterson, etc. I started in the office and began learning the business. The restaurant exploded and started becoming very popular. Essentially, I got to touch all parts of the operation. That’s when I met Sylvain, while he was still at Saks. The restaurant was going gang-busters. I was helping to manage the place, running the books, etc.
What were your responsibilities as an intern?
David: I started as an intern in the office, answering the phone calls, and doing every miserable job that nobody wanted to do. From there, I worked as a busser in the restaurant. I worked in the kitchen and host-stand, and even served people. After 6 months, I was in charge of the reservations. I had the keys to the hottest reservation book in LA. I got to meet a ton of people that way – all the celebrities, business people. Then, I took a step further in the operation, started managing the place, doing the finance for them, and managing their accounts. Since the restaurant did well, the investors wanted to do more. They said that we need to open a second restaurant, which we did. It was a sushi place called, Geisha House. I did the business plan, projections, and helped sell that to investors. With that company, I ended up doing about 25 places all around the country and in the Middle East. I stayed with them for seven years and split apart to go with Sylvain and another guy named, JT. We started doing a lot of projects on our own. This led to Warwick, Beso, and everything else.
When you were in college, did you know you wanted to be in the hospitality business?
Sylvain: Yeah, I did. For sure. I knew that when I moved here from Oakland. I grew up in the hospitality business. My father was in the restaurant and hotel business. I learned it innately. He never taught it to me, I just saw it all the time. There was nobody better than him in a room. He’s the best host you’ve ever seen in your life. He was incredible. He would bring the energy to every table. He’s still like that. When he comes in the room, you would know and you would feel it.
So, I came down here and I did it all on my own. I met these guys on my own. So, all the people I used to help with Saks, all these ladies – I got 14 of them to invest. They gave me the first round of money, which was $600K. This was all from selling at Saks. You ask somebody at Bloomingdale’s to give you a check for $20K, they would be like, “are you f*cking out of your mind?” (Is it okay if I cuss on here?)
Thibault: Of course, go ahead.
Sylvain: Anyways, this led to Les Deux. Then I started another one, and a lady gave $500K. This was all from Saks Fifth Avenue. This was what catapulted me – it was those relationships. I still have these ladies, from ten years ago, texting me.
David: Me, not at all. I was just looking for a job and some free food. I didn’t know a single person when I moved to LA. I was standing in that restaurant and a year later I knew like 2,000 people or something like that. Everything changed instantly. I was getting Christmas cards from the president of CAA at the time.
How do you find investors and how do you get them behind your idea, as a young college student?
Sylvain: A lot of it was because I was very humble. I had limitless drive. If they told me I couldn’t fly, I would be like I’m going to fly no matter what – I don’t care even if I die. I developed this confidence and rapport with these people over so many years. They weren’t investing in the restaurant, they were investing in me. They believed that I was going to do it. It was my credibility.
David: It’s not that we were meeting new people from the streets and tried taking money from them. Instead, we had developed these relationships over years. We are friends with them.
Sylvain: Now, we have all these exclusive parties with Giorgio Armani, and we’re curating guest lists for Armani, which is pretty crazy. We have Delta Airlines and Air France.
David: We do parties at the Playboy Mansion, we do all this stuff. It’s just all out of these relationships that we’ve developed over years and years.
Sylvain: Places that we couldn’t get into before, now we’re curating guest lists for these people, which is pretty awesome.
Yogin: If someone likes you and they trust you, they’re going to invest with you.
Sylvain: Yeah, a lot of this is because we know our roles. Between David and I, we share completely different roles. David, as you can see, is more of the business side of the operation. JT and I share a very similar role, yet different. David does the negotiations, the contracts, talks to the company lawyer and the consultants.
David: The thing about restaurants and nightclubs is that they’re not traditional investments. If you stack this up next to a technology company, we’re never going to compete. People invest in the deals because not only do they make money, but it also benefits their life in different ways. For example, it might be an agent in Hollywood, who wants to always have a corner table. There’s always some other benefit to it. So, we try to find people where the investment checks a lot of options in their life, rather than going after people that simply ask for the projections.
Sylvain: We do have those people though. We have the guy that has $31K in the bank, and gives us a check for $30K, but just wants to feel as though he’s involved and a part of something. We’ve also got the guy that’s worth a billion dollars that wants to come in here and have twelve girls sitting with him at the table, and say that he owns the restaurant.
David: The ironic part is that people look down on restaurant investments. If you ask any accountant, they’ll say it’s the worst f*cking thing to invest in on Earth. However, we pay people really well. We’re paying back people two, three, and even four times their original investment.
Sylvain: The first investment I got for Aventine was a guy I never met before. He lived in New York and was a plastic surgeon. I’ve never seen him nor talked to him since he wrote the check. He wrote a $51K check and he’s never even been here. I was thinking about this yesterday. I’ve never seen him nor met him. One of the reasons we’re successful today is probably because of our failures in the past.
What’s the most valuable lesson that you’ve learned?
Sylvain: Nothing is guaranteed. We might have the most beautiful restaurant in the world on the best corner with huge celebrities. It doesn’t mean it’s going to work. It’s a fairweather occupation.
If tomorrow, you lost everything you had, where would you go and what would you do?
Sylvain: I’d probably go to David’s house and say, “what the f*ck are we going to do?” I would go pound the pavement just like I did.
David: We’ve been there before.
Sylvain: Yeah, it all went away one day. We had all these things going on with Les Deux and it got shut.
David: Yeah, it was shut down. Also, there was some stuff with the city and the landlord. All of a sudden, our business was gone.
Sylvain: So, we left. A big reason for our success at Warwick is because we did have to go pound the pavement after Les Deux closed. Les Deux was probably Top 5 in the history of LA – maybe Top 3. It was pretty legendary. Then, it just went away. It was very humbling. At that point, we learned that it’s hard to quantify knowing all these people and making money with them. We can know a million people that earn a billion dollars, but how do we make something of that?
So, we went out to parties. We threw parties. We had to stay relevant and make sure that people knew that we’re okay.
David: I think a lot of people, when times get rough, want to disappear. They want to go hide. They’re ashamed of what’s happening to them. For us, it was the exact opposite. We needed to be more visible than ever to cultivate the next opportunity.
Sylvain: We went to a few parties, we met all the guys – our promoters, etc.
David: You also learn who your true friends really are because when you have the hottest place in the city, everybody in the f*cking world calls you. All of sudden, those people disappear in thin air. They don’t call you. They don’t pick up your phone calls. On the other hand, you learn that some of those people really do care about you and those relationships get deeper during those times. I have people that I met the first week at Dolce that I still talk to and that come out with us. It’s so good to see. We work really hard and we hold onto people that we can trust.
Sylvain: So that helped a lot with Warwick, meeting all those people, throwing those parties, we just rolled it over. We knew who was working and who was fake. A lot of these kids out here, they just check in. They go out, throw a party at the club, and the second there’s an opportunity to make $1 more than they’re making, they leave. So they can be working at a place like “* 15:44*” when it was open. You offer them $1 more, he’s gonna go work at “**”. So we learned the guys that actually bring great people, that bring tables. There’s promoters in LA and hosts, and they all fall in a different category. This guy is known to bring 20 beautiful girls. This guy is known to bring 100 great fillers. This guy is known to bring 1 f*cking big table and nobody else. This one’s good for couple celebrities. So, I knew that I’m going to paint this Picasso with these guys and we outed these people, no matter what people said at the beginning. Everybody stayed there since the day we opened. We snowballed it, hired very slow in the beginning, and now the training won’t stop. The numbers we do are better figures than we first opened, probably double or triple than we did at Les Deux; and the caliber of celebrities is f*cking bananas!
David: We’re two and a half years in and we’re doing better a number than ever. At a certain point, you don’t want to be in a club every night of your life. That’s just not our scene any more. I was 22 when Les Deux opened, and a month out of college. Sylvain was 25. It was different times.
Sylvain: Oh, the stories we had from that place. There was a lot of crazy stuff!
David: At the same, just like the customers, a lot of the employees that worked for us at Les Deux are still working for us now. Loyalty is the key to everything.
Why do you think the customers are coming in, staying, and keep coming back?
David: We’re very, very personal with our service. It’s all about relationships. We’re giving our cell phone numbers. Everybody that walks into these places knows Sylvain or knows who Sylvain is. Same thing goes for JT. A lot of times, we’ll give our customers gifts. We’ll surprise them, or treat them. We’ll send cars to their house to pick them up. Anything that we can do to stick out and be different.
Sylvain: We do six free parties at Warwick every year, on our biggest nights. New Year’s Eve is completely free. We comp all the bottles, we invite all the people, there’s no ticket sales, there’s no online advertising and its f*cking great! You get invited to the best party with the best crowd and we’ll take care of your night. We do that six times a year.
David: We spend a fortune doing that and people can tell. We are reinvesting to keep the business fresh, new and exciting.
Sylvain: We’re in the entertainment business. We’re entertaining nightly. It’s a big movie, there’s actors, there’s supporting actors, there’s directors, there’s a set production. It’s all a big film and we’re directing.
Have you had a memorable encounter with someone that you had worked with or met at one of your venues?
David: Prince just died, so I’ll give you a Prince story. Right when I started working at this restaurant, Prince showed up one night, completely out of the blue. A limousine pulled into the back alley. The bodyguard comes up to the front and says he has Prince in the back and we need to get him situated. This became a beautiful friendship. I ended up talking to Prince, and he got my cell phone number. I was 18 years old and I have Prince calling me from a blocked number from then on with all these innate requests. He would want to come in to eat at 2:00, when the restaurant opened up at 6:00. We were an Italian restaurant and he would call and ask for Teriyaki vegetables to-go and I would get all sorts of crazy Prince things happening week after week, right after I moved to LA. I thought it was the coolest that had ever happened to me.
What’s some advice you would give to somebody to build relationships, to network with other people?
Sylvain: Number one. Stay in their mind. It’s the follow up. Get in their mind somehow, and be different. Go against the current, do not follow the herd. I would get dressed up every night and act like I had a million bucks in my pocket, but I didn’t have anything. People wanted to be around it. I would just act like I had a million bucks.
David: I wore a suit and tie every night for like 6 years and then drove back to a horrible apartment. Fake it till you make it! Every single person, I would get a business card and send them a letter the first thing in the morning. I would send them a handwritten thank you note. I’ve written 10,000 handwritten notes to people. You just want to do something different than every other person they have met.
Do you have any final words for this interview, something we haven’t talked about?
David: One thing that I think is really important, all the great advice is cliche. It’s the same stuff that you’ve heard a million times, but you don’t take seriously. I think perseverance is tremendously important in this business. We’ve been through ups, we’ve been through downs, we’ve been sideways, we’ve been left and right, we haven’t known where we are, we haven’t known what we’re going to do tomorrow, but we got up everyday and kept working, kept trying and we figured it out. What I see after so many year in this business and the other things I do is that people fall by the wayside because they give up or get tired of the fight. You can never lose that fire inside of you. Even if you don’t know what the f*ck you’re doing, you’ll figure it out soon enough and you keep going.
Sylvain: But even if you don’t know what you’re doing, you have to enjoy what you’re doing. I love it, I f*cking love it!
David: You have to do something you love. It’s another cliche but it’s very true
Sylvain: Honestly, if money wasn’t an issue, I would do it for free and I would still enjoy it equally to how I do now.
If you’re ever in Los Angeles, definitely make a trip out to Aventine for some great food or Warwick for a night out.
Written and Recorded by Yogin Patel
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