Nightlife is often dependent on the vision of one or a few individuals. And the Gerber Group's beginnings can be traced back to one high profile person. Rande Gerber, a top male model, was the operator and face of The Whiskey at the Paramount Hotel in 1991. The Paramount is arguably one of the first boutique hotels and Whiskey was the hot spot to see and be seen. In 1998, Rande married top model Cindy Crawford and his brand recognition expanded exponentially.
Scott Gerber, at first an investor, came into run the Gerber Group with serious plans on expansion. The exported brand needed to transcend the individual without feeling like a franchise. It must carry the cache, style and vision of the founders without them physically being tied to the venue. Expansion requires systems and the hiring and training of managers and executives who can further the brand.
Noah Weinstein has been made managing partner / director of special events of Gerber Group. He joined them in 2004 and is now responsible for managing the company’s extensive calendar of celebrity, corporate and VIP-driven events. He oversees the brand’s overall marketing strategy, image development and cross-promotional opportunities. Nightclub Confidential sat down with Weinstein to get an in-depth look at the success of Gerber Group.
Nightclub Confidential (NCC): Gerber Group was the first trendy hospitality brand to roll out in multiple locations and often found in partnership with hotel. Today, Gerber Group has expanded to how many locations? And how are you as managing partner able to ensure quality control over so many venues?
Noah Weinstein: We have 22 venues globally. We've developed strong partnerships and those relationships often lead to new opportunities. When we begin a new project, we have a corporate opening team which oversees the build-out and hires and trains our new staff. We typically import experienced existing staff and property managers to help with this process. Those trainers stay in place until we're comfortable with the quality of the product we're offering our guests.
NCC: As a global company what stays the same and how does the Gerber Group cater or adjust to local conditions?
Weinstein: There's a general continuity in our venues. The points of service are identical or very similar. When we come into a market, we work diligently to absorb the local culture and weave it into the product our guests will eventually experience. This might be a region of the world, which would dictate so much of what we do or simply how people in a neighborhood prefer to drink and eat, meaning more or less casual, sharing what they order, etc. The most important thing is to understand and respect the local values. Pay attention to the locals or they won't be paying attention to you for long.
NCC: What can be said about Rande and Scott that hasn't been said?
Weinstein: Obviously, Scott and Rande are very smart, accomplished men and I respect them tremendously. What you don't know is how important family is to each of them. The importance placed on family carries over to how we run Gerber Group. They've shown me that being a titan of industry and a great father and husband are not mutually exclusive.
NCC: How did a nice guy like you end up in all these places? When you were in school did this industry have an appeal?
Weinstein: Did you just call me a nice guy, Steve? I studied Communication, Public Relations and History in college. As a student, I had little interest in hospitality and my career began by accident. Growing up in New York City, I returned home after graduation and doors opened, literally, when I went out at night. I began hosting small get togethers for friends who weren't as well connected, a relative term, as I was. I wanted my people to experience the VIP treatment as I had – skipping the long lines, getting a great table, free drinks or bottles, etc. I was fascinated by the combination of entertainment-like production and real hospitality - actually being hospitable to your guests. Lounges and clubs in the late nineties and early 2000s were much less homogeneous than today. I enjoyed bringing together people from all walks of life, sitting back and watching their interactions. In 2001, I was working in the clubs at night and at a boutique PR firm during the day. The owner of the PR firm was forced to layoff two employees. Instead of seeing a colleague lose their job, I walked in to the boss' office, told him I was quitting because I had another opportunity and co-founded Gotham Event Management with my best friend. We ran our events, marketing and promotions company for seven years before I joined Gerber Group.
NCC: Nowadays, some say, hospitality can be learned from books/courses. For a young guy, you're old school…what do you say?
Weinstein: Although I learned the business on the job, I think a formal education in hospitality can be valuable. However, I believe the best way to learn this business is to immerse yourself in it. There are so many talented, creative people in our industry. I've been fortunate to watch many of them do it right. People such as yourself (Steve Lewis), some of whom didn't necessarily know it, taught me invaluable lessons. I was also lucky to work for some of the best operators in New York City. Many of them are considered polarizing figures, but I think that is because they're passionate about what they do. I still have valued relationships with most of those people today. The one commonality between all these successful operators is they surrounded themselves with great talent. At Gerber Group, we have an incredible pool of talent. Whether it's our corporate staff or the ladies and gentlemen working our doors, everyone on our team is capable of great things.
NCC: Bottle service has taken over much of the business. You ran top bottle service spots before joining Gerber Group. How does this translate into your work at Gerber?
Weinstein: I do come from a bottle service background and I appreciate the economics involved. I've always said there are bottle buyers and bottle sellers. Today, I can afford to buy a few bottles but I'll always be a bottle seller. When I came to Gerber Group, I welcomed the notion that every guest is a VIP and shouldn't have to buy bottles to be treated as such. I'm very happy when a group takes a tables and drinks cocktails all night. I know they'll have a great time and will be back to see us again soon. While we do have venues where bottle service is popular, in those places we're accommodating the local culture and we tend not to enforce offensive minimums.
NCC: Music has increasingly become a worldwide common language, how do you program music and adjust on local levels?
Weinstein: I believe music is one of the most important aspects of the social experience we aim to create. While we've traditionally skewed rock and roll, we spend a good deal of time and effort focusing on what's next while not forgetting our past. Members of our team travel to major music festivals to help determine what works best for our brands. Our programming is tailored to each location: the music at Whiskey Blue in New Orleans is different from the music at Lilium in the W Union Square. That said, you're unlikely to hear a chart-topper in our bars but you will hear some music you know and some you're being exposed to for the first time. Additionally, it's not just the songs we play but the tempo and level that are important. A room that's too loud or too quiet can be uncomfortable or awkward.
We also have great relationships with talented DJs and music management companies. We host film premieres and exclusive private events where we secure top DJs, many of which I've become friends with over the years. Stone Rose Lounge in Time Warner Center is the Official Lounge of Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. For this partnership, we program well-known DJs every night for a week each Spring and Fall.
NCC: Rooms with views (i.e. hotel rooftops) are becoming increasingly attractive. How do you look at this trend?
Weinstein: Rooftops are great if executed properly. A few years ago a rooftop in New York City virtually guaranteed success. Today, with much more competition, rooftop operators are forced to step up their game. Outdoor spaces have great potential but also present unique challenges relating to service, décor, and weather. An experienced rooftop operator will overcome these challenges and capitalize regardless of the weather.
We have our eye on truly unique rooftop opportunities here in New York. In the meantime, we have spectacular rooftop and outdoor spaces around the world: Whiskey Park NY's outdoor café on Central Park South, WET in Fort Lauderdale, Whiskey Blue in Atlanta, Whiskey Bar & Grill in Chicago and Red2One in Santiago are just a few.
NCC: How global are your systems? Can a bartender or waitron move from one place to another and be fairly familiar with the way things are done?
Weinstein: Our systems are indeed global. In fact, our managers and staff often relocate to another city and continue to work for us. It's great be able to reward our loyal team members with new opportunities and support them when their lives take them to different places where we operate.
NCC: What are the next hot cities or what cities are becoming super-hot?
Weinstein: We've operated in some of the hottest cities in the world. We're very careful to ensure each opportunity is a good match for our team and our brands. We're more concerned with longevity than trends.