In April, Harvard Business School released the first case study conducted on the business of nightlife with a 22-page document researching the business success of New York City’s ultra-popular Marquee Nightclub, which ranked #32 on the 2009 Nightclub & Bar Top 100. Several students at the post-graduate university took an interest in the concept and pitched it to their professor, who agreed it was an absolutely relevant topic. The students met with the club’s partners: Jason Strauss and Noah Tepperberg, who opened up their business to the students, even divulging information that the nightlife industry usually tries to protect as if it were classified government documents.
“Obviously we were tremendously honored,” says Strauss, who accepted the students within the venue even with the understanding of the responsibility it placed on the venue. “In the past, nightlife has been perceived as a dark cloud, as a business not to be taken seriously, but we wanted to show the positive side of the business, that amazing things are happening and that real operators are running these venues the same as operators in the hotel and restaurant side of the industry.”
The students conducted a series of interviews with many members of the Marquee team, including not only Strauss and Tepperberg but also the club’s accountants, doormen, general manager and VIP services manager Andrew Goldberg. “The success of nightlife venues in New York, Las Vegas and Miami have helped bring the nightclub business to a more reputable place,” Strauss continues. “This case study helps further legitimize the industry.” Strauss and Tepperberg have played a tremendous role in the industry, not only in New York, but also in Las Vegas where the pair are co-managers of the highly successful TAO Asian Bistro, Beach Club and Nightclub (#1 on the 2009 Nightclub & Bar Top 100) and the popular LAVO Italian restaurant and nightclub.
When the case study was released, Strauss and Tepperberg were invited to Harvard to watch the presentation of the study as well as to participate in 45-minute Q&A sessions with two classes, each consisting of 75 graduate students. “It was pretty amazing, as an owner, to see some of the top young business minds in the world debate and discuss the nightlife business, where it’s going and its strengths, weaknesses and opportunities. It really sunk in that top business graduates from all over the world will be studying this as a true discipline of hospitality and that one day it will be recognized on equal footing with hotels and restaurants in the hospitality world.” When asked about his triumphant return to the Bean-town area where he studied at Boston University, Strauss laughed and noted: “I was never smart enough to cross the river when I was a student there; now they invite me to come and talk about my business. What an honor. It really was fun!”
Although it was only released last month, the case study has been a tremendous hit, garnering publicity and national recognition from media sources like Page Six of the New York Post. With their second Big Apple venue on the way — Avenue Lounge, which opens at the end of May and is described by Strauss as offering “cocktail cuisine in a vintage chic environment”— the pair have again offered to open their venue for a follow-up study, should the business school be interested. “A follow-up would be very interesting,” Strauss says, nothing that Avenue will open only 10 blocks down 10th Avenue from Marquee. “It would allow them to cover not only the opening of the new venue, but also the impact it has on the business at Marquee and how we handle the expansion of our company. It would be really interesting to watch and analyze the new business, especially how it affects the existing business,” Strauss says.
With a case study completed by arguably the nation’s top business school, it begs the question of the future of academic involvement in an industry that had been too quickly dismissed for many years. “Maybe sooner rather than later we will see someone really step out there with the understanding that this truly is a business, operated successfully and honestly by businessmen,” Strauss pines optimistically. “Hopefully Cornell or Stanford will be one of the first to [start a curriculum program] because they both have successful hospitality programs.” With TAO Nightclub perched atop Nightclub & Bar Magazine’s list of Top 100 grossing nightlife venues and Marquee enjoying renewed success in its sixth year of operations, one wonders if they shouldn’t just save all that tuition and go study with the ‘Deans of the Scene’ instead. Besides, wouldn’t that be much more fun?