Industry Insiders: Jamie Mulholland, Big Game Hunter

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Cain Luxe’s Jaime Mulholland on sailing to New York’s promised land, surviving the W. 27th Street club disaster, partnering with the Brazilian female mafia, and almost going broke before hitting the big time with his expanding nightlife empire.

What places are you involved with? The first summer [after opening Cain in New York] we took over Cabana in the Hamptons. It had been a dead space for a while. We redid the whole space to make it look more like Cain, the South Africa beach club. We also took all our staff. It wasn’t just hanging a sign. It was taking what was authentic to Cain and putting it there. It was incredible. It was packed, lines around the corner. Luckily it was very successful. The following year we didn’t know if we wanted to do it and David Sarner owned the space and brought in Pink Elephant. We went to Jet – another successful year. The third year we were opening in the Bahamas on Paradise Island. Three pools, a restaurant, DJs, all outdoors, very celebrity driven, high-end clients. In a new tower they opened, The Cove, that’s $800 to $8000 a night, beautifully designed. It’s a great extension of our brand. We opened GoldBar the same time we opened in the Bahamas. It was insane. It’s half the size of Cain. We kept it under the radar, away from Page Six. It has a great following. Lenny [Kravitz] wrote a song with GoldBar in it on his new album. Great clientele. It will have long legs. It has a tight door and the quality is good. I am proud of it. We have four venues in four years and are now regrouping. We bought a hotel in Montauk and redid it. It’s called the Surf Lodge, very chill.

Known associates: Jayma [Cardoso] was a cocktail waitress at Lotus when I was a bartender. I remember watching her and there was something very special about her. For her it is very much like people in her living room. She wants to take care of people. You watch her put a room together and it’s brilliant. She was born for this business. She is exceptional at it. I remember getting my team together and thinking that a big part rests on getting Jayma as my partner. She came in when I first got the space and there was water dripping from the roof. I had been talking to her for a long time and I told her this was it. I remember walking her through the room with her Brazilian mafia, like five girls all speaking Portuguese. I didn’t know what the fuck they were saying. She came back and said she would do it and said this is what I would need financially and I said fine. She came in the next day – his woman is so bloody driven – with a pad of paper covered in notes. She said we are going to do this but this is how we are going to do it. This company has done well cause I have surrounded myself with the best in this business. Everyone says you have done so great. It’s not just me, it’s the whole team. As long as they were positive and didn’t run on ego. It was the idea of warmth. We look after our clients. You have to hard at the door but once they are past that door it’s a different world. They should feel like they own the venue. There is warmth from every staff member. It comes from the top. If Jayma and I walked around with massive egos making people feel they are lucky to be in here, it just doesn’t make sense.

Point of Origin: I worked at a club in South Africa called Legends. Then I said I got to go to the States.You prove yourself in the States. I didn’t just want to be a big fish in a little pond. I wanted to prove to myself I could do it and do it well. I knew that the best were here in the States, especially in New York. I couldn’t come here directly cause they wouldn’t give a young South African papers at that time. So I sailed on a boat to St. Martin in the Caribbean. I lived there for 2 years and ran a bar there. One day this guy said I need an extra crew member to sail to Connecticut. I didn’t know where it was but I knew it was in the States. I handed over the keys to the bar and said I’m gone. I only knew one person, Anthony Bourdain. So when I arrived I called him. He was writing his book. He hadn’t done anything at that time. He has done great things since. He helped me out a lot.

Then I worked at Supper Club and some bar in Jersey until finally a friend of mine invested in Lotus. I had been trying and trying. It was one of my best friends who invested in Lotus. So I met with David Rabin and he gave me my first shot. I have such fond memories of that place. It was a Goliath. To have started in New York in that place…it was such a college for so many people who went on to do other things. I remember standing at the bar and seeing the caliber of people coming in, the energy and the vibe…it was just perfect. This incredible place. I was their crappiest bartender. All the other bartenders were so good. So one of the girls there, Christy Dugan, who now works for me, used to bartend there. She used to see that I was terrible. She would put me behind her and say just watch. She would take half my section so that no one would see that I was weak. She is amazing. I got better and better and then left Lotus. I went to two other venues, not the caliber of Lotus, then to PM, and found the space I wanted. It was just right. I said, “Fuck it I am going to do it.” While I was working at other clubs I tried to learn about business plans. I would work until 4 a.m. then be up at 10 a.m.working on my business plan. It took me like three years to put my business plan together. The only place on this block at the time was Bungalow 8. It was perfect. Friends of mine in the business thought I was crazy. They said it wasn’t going to work. I said, “Fuck it, it will work.” I maxed all my credit cards and used mine and my wife’s savings. It was so bad that the night we opened I didn’t have the $500 for each of the bartenders’ registers. I remember breaking down and thinking I can’t do this. How did it get to this? My wife had received a modeling check, only you can’t cash a check on an empty account so she begged the bank manager. I remember her coming out with tears on her face and saying we got the money. That night was a blur to me. I don’t remember much of it but I remember being exhausted at the end of the night and looking at the bar and there were just piles and piles of money. Then we knew it was going to work.

Any nights that stand out? There have been so many nights that have been special. I think my first birthday that my wife and Jayma threw me at Cain stands out. It was the first year and we were doing amazing and Bob Sinclair was spinning and his album had just come out. Just before the summer and my wife had secretly flown my brother here. It was amazing. Everything just seemed right. It’s an important part of New York.

Tell me about running a club in this city: This business is hard. It’s ever-changing, the competition is fierce. There are strong people you have to go up against. The city doesn’t want you either. We generate so much revenue for the city and they are trying to make 2 a.m. licenses. It’s ridiculous. It’s a crime. Running a clean operation and one that’s truly concerned about its clients is hard. You follow all the rules that are there from the city, you are having a great night and because of what’s going on, on this street, we have task forces walking in and killing the vibe. It kills everything you are working so hard for. I remember Amy [Sacco] and I standing on the street one night, Jon B had just opened his venues, and the police were out in full force and Amy and I were just freaking out. We said to Jon B that we can’t even get our clients to our venues because of the clientele you have brought to this street. It was a turning point for 27th street. That was the toughest thing, having other operators bringing in elements we didn’t need here. It sort of destroyed what we were working for. Look at Amy. She is incredible at what she does. She is a pioneer and opens on what was considered the outskirts of town and she has this happen. This must be the most frustrating for her. Cause it’s nothing she has done that’s affecting her, it’s other operators. She has done everything right. If it had been Cain, Pink Elephant and Bungalow 8 it would be been a different story. All the foot traffic has gone to the meatpacking district. I will always have a place in New York. If I left New York it would be over. I could have sold Cain for a lot of money a long time ago. But I stuck to my guns. I believe in this brand and what we do. For Jayma and I it’s not about putting a lot of money in our pocket and walking away. It’s a vision of a company, a long term vision. We are passionate about what we do. The passion is here in New York. New York is the best city in the entire world. This is where it all happens. We produce the best stuff. None of the clubs in London can hold a candle to New York. New York is where you prove yourself and the best product is delivered. Our loyalty is to New York.

Projections: We try to challenge ourselves at every venue we do. Next we are opening in Dubai and I’ll be moving out there and bringing some of our best people. Clubs are great but they are not the end goal. They are a great starting block.