New Nightlife Trends Emerge at 13th Annual Bar & Restaurant Show

The 13th Annual Bar & Restaurant Show will hit the Jacob K. Javits Center in NYC on June 26th and 27th. Operators today can’t pigeon-hole themselves into concepts like "I’m a nightclub operator" or "I’m a restaurateur.” Today’s market place often demands more than the usual revenue streams. Club guys basically sell air and booze, and restaurateurs throw in food. Money from before-hours or late bar sales may keep a place afloat or help it suddenly thrive. More than ever, nightclub operators recognize the need for a food component/kitchen since it helps the venue maximize corporate catering revenues and provides early revenue streams. Look around town and see the pairing of the restaurant with the lounge as the norm. Trade shows give hospitality managers the latest info that can change red ink to black. I asked Steve Wesler- CEO and producer of The Bar & Restaurant Show for On-Premise – to tell us all about it.

What will make this 13th annual show a lucky bet?
The lucky bet is that I guarantee attendees will leave with more information and knowledge then when they arrived. After years of hearing from On-Premise Food and Beverage Professionals’ owners and operators complain that they are overwhelmed, with no time to attend Las Vegas trade events and no one to help them develop better tools to succeed, it became obvious to me that this is the right approach for the industry; keep it local, keep the educational series relevant and simple, bring in new and hot products and services that can only be seen at our show, and make the show floor fun and user-friendly.

What type of innovations will visitors see and be able to bring back to their bar or club?
Social media and how the competition is using it is the latest innovation that has developed with the acceptance of the smartphone. How do you create an app that will increase traffic and not cost a fortune? They will be able to compare different approaches and products so they can make an educated choice among the various new apps available at the show. New digital signage, quick printing for advertising, social media awareness, and POS systems will all be highlighted through product displays as well as through our seminars.

Tell me about the liquor components to the show.
There are a few components when it comes to spirits and wines. Cachaca from Brazil, new whiskey brands, spirits directed toward women, acceptance of kosher wines for everyone, as well as the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition, that takes place during the show. This Competition is produced by Anthony Dias Blue, and hundreds of new wines and spirits are being judged for medals that these manufacturers can use for promotion and advertising.  This is where so many new brands come before they hit the street.

Who is showcasing their products and who typically attends?
Brand manufacturers, distributors, APP developers, POS, craft spirits and beers, NY wines, kosher wines, furniture, bar games, mixers, music, lighting, signage, ATMs. The people that attend are owners and operators of bars and restaurants, beverage and food directors, distributors, importers, casino staff, caterers, bartenders, chefs and their staffs.

Nightlife is constantly evolving. What are some of the innovations or trends now commonly used in the industry that were hawked in the last 13 years?
One of our sponsors is the Hero Campaign, which promotes having a designated driver. They promote this through the bars and restaurants to make sure they don’t over pour. This is a national trend which is being an absolute trend throughout the industry.

Other trends include more computerization through POS, and inventory control systems that help multi-unit establishment control theft and keep their employees honest.

One of our seminars is The New York Cocktail Scene Trends, moderated by Mike Ginley of Next Level marketing. The panel includes representatives from Zubrowka Vodka, Pisco Porton, Ultimate Vodka, and a mixologist  from the Boom Boom Room. These guys are on the front line of what is happening in NYC and throughout the US and world.

Age verification is much more sophisticated than it used to be. Systems now can identify phony licenses and IDs quickly.

What are people in the industry NOT doing now that they used to do?
Smoking, doing drugs on site, putting drunks out on the street. Managers of these establishments are more aware of the liability that is present everyday in their establishment. Fire liability is a constant issue if bands and performers use smoke and fire. Insurance will not protect licensees if drugs are found on the premise and if you over pour to your patrons. There is also much better age verification now, as compared to everyone years ago having a phony ID.

What makes your spirits competition unique?
It all goes back to who the judges are; Anthony Dias Blue of Blue Lifestyle, is the editor of The Tasting Panel and the executive director of the San Francisco Int’l Spirits and Wine Competition. He heads our competition.  The judges include VPs, directors, sommeliers, journalists, and presidents from such places as Corton,Junoon, Landmarc Tribeca, Bourgeois Pig, Gin Palace, and Huckleberry Bar.

Are mocktails a real trend? Have bars promoted and seen an increase in serving these to sober patrons, designated drivers, or families?  What’s the audience for mocktails?
One of the hardest things to do when you go out with friends and family is to be a teetotaler. Our Mocktail Competition is unique and the first of its kind. It allows customers to feel like they are drinking but without the side effects of alcohol. Is it trend?  According to the Hero Campaign, designated drivers are looking for more than soda and fruit juice. The Mocktail Competition, sponsored by Ocean Spray and, has created many new recipes that are unique and quite tasty. The winner can walk away with a $1,000 prize; 2nd place:$750, and 3rd Place:$250. The judges rate the cocktails on taste, appearance, originality, aroma, and overall impression. Participants have six minutes to make four drinks.

Why New York? What makes it the right place to hold this show?
There are more establishments with a liquor license within 100 miles of NYC than any place on earth. And where else can you see the best theatre, museums, a wide range of hotels, great restaurants and bars, visit Little Italy or Soho, see sports, sightsee, and more.  New York City is the entertainment capital of the world and that is why we are here.

Industry Insiders: Joe Poulin, President & CEO of Luxury Retreats

Originally operated out of founder Joe Poulin’s bedroom in 1999, Luxury Retreats has become one of the largest villa rental specialists in the world. The secret: “We only do what’s in the best interest of our guests,” Poulin says. “That is how you build a consumer brand, by listening to your guests and clients and responding with the right product experience.” Such experiences include staying in villas on the shores of Hawaii, cliffs of Santorini, and coconut plantations in Thailand.

Born in Montreal and an entrepreneur since the age of 11, Poulin manages his 150 employees and his properties intensely but fairly, expecting the best from his staff, and testing every villa under a more than 700-point inspection that it must pass – no exceptions. “The integrity of our name is our single greatest asset,” Poulin says. “Just be honest and transparent; you can never go wrong.”

Industry Insiders: The Men Behind Rockit Ranch Productions, Rockin’ it to the Top

As the original pioneers of two of Chicago’s storied nightlife districts past and present–Weed Street and River North–it appears that the gentlemen of Rockit Ranch Productions possess the Midas touch.  With the continuing success of their current venues, The Underground and Rockit Bar & Grill, Billy Dec (CEO/Founder), Arturo Gomez (President), and Brad Young (Chairman/Founder) seem to have perfected that elusive formula for success and longevity (more on that later). Amid a whirlwind lifestyle spent constantly managing, honing, and promoting their venues, their brand, and their city, Dec, Gomez, and Young found time to chat with us about how they all met, what you need to do to create longevity, and why Chicago simply has everything.

How did you guys all meet?
Billy Dec: I opened Dragon Room in 1998 [which is] where I met Arturo.
Arturo Gomez: I actually started working for him at the time as a barback.  I had recently graduated from University of Michigan where [I studied] biology and Latin American Studies. I’m using absolutely zero of what I studied. I was supposed to go to dental school and I had cold feet so I moved here to see if there was anything that sparked my interest in the year I was taking off.  When I jumped in, I quickly realized I had a passion for the hospitality industry.  
Billy Dec: The cool thing about Arturo was he started as a busboy, a barback, and then he made his way up to head barback and then manager and now he’s the president of the company.  
Young: I [had] left a job working at Mesirow Financial and I had planned on taking the whole summer off and traveling, going to Europe. It was probably two weeks after I left Mesirow, I happened to run into an old high school friend who was in the nightclub business and was partners with Billy at Dragon Room.   The direction of the club scene in Chicago at that time was going really small. There were a lot of boutique clubs but not a lot of big dance clubs like there were in New York and Miami. We began a partnership to start Circus in 1998 and it was a 17,000 square foot dance club that people would perform live circus acts over your head when you were dancing. It was really over-the-top. People loved it. It was a great way to get my feet wet in the business.  
You guys ushered in that era where Weed Street was crazy.
Dec: Yeah, it wasn’t there before we got there. We totally pioneered Weed Street; no one was there. Brad and I, in 2002, went off and started our own company, Rockit Ranch Productions, and looked for a desolate, up-and-coming area, and it happened to be Hubbard [Street]. No one was in River North, which is now the #1 entertainment district in Chicago. One of the first things we did in 2002 when we looked for a new space [was] we took a consulting deal with ownership at a club called Le Passage, which wasn’t doing well [at the time]. [We] took it over, made it a hit. They were losing their butt in the first two years until we came in in 2002 and made all their money back.
Le Passage was huge in the early aughts.
Dec: Yeah. Then immediately we started building Rockit [Bar & Grill]. We were building it in this area that everyone said we were crazy to be in. It was called Hubbard/River North and we pioneered that neighborhood.  
Young: Basically we looked at [Rockit] kind of how we looked at Circus. Not necessarily that the concept was the same but we looked for voids in the marketplace. What are the things people might want but don’t know they do? At that point, personally, I was sick of dance clubs and hearing the same kind of techno music or trance or hip-hop or whatever. I was in my car driving one day and listening to Guns N’ Roses and thinking, “God, what an awesome song.”  This was nine years ago already. “How come I can’t go somewhere and listen to rock music and not have it come out of a jukebox at a dive bar?” So we also said, “You know, there’s not a lot of places where you can go out to dinner and have a great meal and not spend $50 a person.” There was nothing that fit that middle market. So we combined that into Rockit Bar & Grill, which tailored to a very mainstream [crowd]– no velvet rope, no guest list, no VIP. We had rock music, pool tables. It was a place that I would want to go to and hang out. We always build places that are places that we’d want to go to because if you don’t enjoy what you do, what’s really the point?  
How would you summarize the three of your respective roles?
Dec: I’m mostly focused on branding and communicating to the rest of the world outside of our four walls. Marketing. PR. Social media. What I do has a lot of celebrating what our team of top talent is constantly creating and is capable of creating. I do a lot of external communication at large, rapid volumes. I’m constantly meeting with influencers from around the city or people who are visiting the city. I’m hugely into creating new products and new brands and new business and new relationships for the company.
Gomez: My personal responsibilities as the president are really to ensure that all departments that exist within the company are focused, given clear-cut directions, and have the resources needed to achieve and accomplish the goals we set out in the beginning of the year. It’s also to make sure there’s consistency in all of our products. A lot of my time–I would say a vast majority of it–is focused in on the four walls of our businesses. Billy is focused on business development and outward messaging. He’s become an ambassador of the company. Brad also shares that responsibility with him so together they are really focused on how the company is going to grow. Brad is the person who is really the front person for all of our investor groups. Brad is the person who has become a liaision to those individuals.
Young: My role was always the creation of the entity from the ground up. Everything that people take for granted, as far as the actual opening of a place from the financing of it to the actual construction to the design to the conception. Not just raising money but making sure your place is [going to be] profitable.
Dec: I think a really cool way to look at it is that anything that happens within the four walls of any property we have, whether it’s training, the temperature of the food, a lightbulb, anything a customer can touch or see or taste, that’s Arturo. Anything that happens outside of our four walls that a customer can hear, perceive, learn about, that’s me. And things that customers will never know about or see, that’s Brad.  Like accounting, finances, architecture, design, things before we even open that people will never know about.
What do you think the Rockit Ranch brand signifies today?
Gomez: I think three words: Elevated Entertainment Experience. That’s something that we preach and we focus on in everything we do, whether it’s a nightclub experience or a higher-end culinary experience. For us, it absolutely means looking at every single detail start-to-finish and making sure people enjoy our products as much as we do. It’s giving them a mental vacation when they stop by. That’s the mantra we focus on and [we] make sure we’re always delivering that elevated entertainment experience.
What has been the secret to your longevity when people are so fickle about nightlife?
Young: I think the key factor is we have three partners: Billy, Arturo, and myself who all do different things. I think a lot of the problem with a lot of operators is that they start off with a common goal because they’re either friends or they’ve always wanted to do a certain thing – whether it’s a restaurant or nightclub – but their skill set overlaps a lot. What that doesn’t allow you to do is expand or cover each other’s weaknesses. What Arturo and Billy and I have set out [to do] from the start is truly to have a mission to define our roles and do what we are best at and apply it not only to Rockit Ranch Productions but also to our venues.
Dec: No one in this entire organization is more important than any other–it’s a collaboration. That mix and commitment to the mix is what separates us from everyone and what has kept us in business. We have our separate strengths, [so] we need to work together and keep them equally valued.
Gomez: We pride ourselves on really staying very, very close to the pulse of the way the city is moving in likes and tastes. Relationship-building is something we put a strong emphasis on too.  
Dec: Chicago is a very relationship-based city. It’s not as transient as, let’s say, L.A. or Miami or even New York. People here create relationships and a lot of that is built on dependability, so when people like Arturo execute consistency and Brad has implemented accountability, which helps solidify the relationships, you have true relationships in place. People will then communicate with you how you’re doing.  If they like something, they’ll let you and 100 people know and if they don’t like something, they’ll let you know so you can have honest feedback and you can improve. The whole relationship-building thing is literally at the core of our mission statement.  
Gomez: It’s [also] really continually coaching our people that the overall experience–whether it’s an entertainment aspect, service aspect, or actual product aspect–has to continually evolve to accommodate to changing tastes but also have some consistency.  
As guys who have traveled to a lot of different cities, what would you say Chicago has that other cities don’t? What do you think is a misconception about Chicago?
Young: First and foremost, I think Chicago is the best city, really, on the face of the Earth. Maybe I’m being biased but Chicagoans are good people to their core.  What I think separates Chicago from the primary markets–L.A., New York, Miami, Las Vegas–is that those are way more transient cities than Chicago.  Most people who live in Chicago are either from Chicago or from the Midwest.  
Gomez: I think the misconception–from people who haven’t been here–is that Chicago is still some ho-bunk town in the backwoods of the Midwest. Obviously, if you’ve ever been here, you know that’s not the case.
Dec: [People] don’t understand the different diverse offerings [in Chicago] and the levels within each of those different offerings. Diversity in culture, diversity in income and flash. People don’t realize how beautiful the new buildings are to the old architecture. They don’t realize how cosmopolitan, how business we are.  They don’t realize how hardcore our business and financial scene is and they don’t realize how beautiful our parks and lake are. They don’t realize those extremes. The extremes are bigger than anywhere in the world and the diversity is really special. Basically what I’m trying to say is we have everything!  We have everything!  
Gomez: I’ve had so many people who have come to visit and been floored by everything Chicago has to offer. This is a world-class city without a doubt. For me, growing up in the Midwest, it’s the epitome of everything I’ve ever known. It has true Midwest hospitality–that means welcoming everybody with open arms, and you don’t necessarily get that in every major city. From an entertainment aspect, Chicago is on the level of any other city, no problem.
What can you share about the two new venues you have in the works?
Dec: Basically we just have two new places that we’re opening! They’re like restaurants and bars–they’re not clubs. I can’t really say anything about them because partially we’re still in the process of formatting the concepts.
Gomez: We think that there’s going to be some more movement in the more casual sector.  
Dec: But what people don’t have with casual and quicker as we know it is [something] as innovative as Sunda is, so we won’t compromise the innovative part.  It’ll still be ridiculously cool and innovative and we’ll combine that with quicker and easier.
Do you have a timeline for them to open?
Dec: I would say one is gonna happen spring/summer and the other will happen summer/fall.