Industry Insiders: Matt Shendell, President of Paige Hospitality Group

Two decades of experience in New York nightlife prepared Matt Shendell, president of Paige Hospitality Group, for the challenges of opening the Ainsworth, an upscale gastropub that has TVs for big games, but keeps them turned off at other times. The concept was a hit, and he’s keeping it going with other Ainsworth locations, as well as 121 Fulton in Tribeca. We chatted with Shendell to get the lowdown on his first job at a legendary nightclub and the delicate balance required to elevate the sports bar concept into something classier.

How did you get started in nightlife?

I got my first job working at Limelight, clicking at the door, in 1990. I started working there to make extra money, but I became enamored of the industry. I started doing some promoting, working doors here and there, then moved on to Danceteria. When I went away to college–I went to University of Delaware–I was supposed to go to law school, but I wanted to open a bar before I did that. So I opened a place called China White on 31st and Madison. It went really well. We blew up from there. We did a place called Shampu and kept going until we are where we are now. I always had an affinity for the business, and it went into the right direction. We winged it at the beginning but we had a nice following. On the opening night of China White in 1997 we had Derek Jeter, Marky Mark, and Cameron Diaz in attendance.

How did you learn how it all worked?

As far as operations go, we learned as we went. I don’t think we had ice when we first opened. Always plug your ice machine in two days before you open. Make sure there’s change in the registers. I learned everything on the fly. From there we opened a club called Nativa on 19th Street, and our first real food endeavor was called Dip, which was on 29th and Third. It was a fondue bar. Fondue had its moment for like a minute back then. The Food Network was there all the time. We turned that into the Hill.

And then you ventured out east?

We purchased Jet East in the Hamptons and made that Dune. For Dune, we partnered up with Noah (Tepperberg) and Jason (Strauss), the guys from Strategic Group who own Tao and Marquee. We made Dune the hottest nightclub in the Hamptons. Dune brought us to another level, and it was great to partner with those guys.

What’s the story behind the Ainsworth?

We decided in 2009 that we wanted to get in the big sports gastropub business. We got a space on 26th Street in Manhattan, which became the Ainsworth. That was when the whole brunch thing really took off. It turned Sunday football into a Sunday football brunch party, and now it’s the hottest party in the city. We made it a real food venue in the vein of the Breslinthe Spotted Pig, and the Dutch. You name it, we do it at the Ainsworth on 26th.

Is it all sports, all the time?

It’s more of an upscale gastropub with sports. The TV’s are only on during games. We turn them off at night. We’re not a regular sports bar. We want to have that dinner vibe that works for dates. Because of that, the Ainsworth has become one of the most successful bar/pubs in the city.

And you expanded from there?

We found a great spot next to the World Trade Center which became The Fulton. The legal name is 121 Fulton. We built a beautiful 6,000 square foot old world gastropub with lanterns and great design. We thought, let’s take the TV dining concept to the next level, let’s make the place beautiful but give it a sports duality. So we covered all our TV’s with antique mirrors and moldings. When you go to the Fulton and there’s not a big game on you don’t realize there are 40 TVs in there.

How did you find yourself in the men’s apparel business?

We decided to do something different. My right hand man and VP of the company, Brian Mazza, is very into fashion and style, and we are both into custom clothes. We realized that we had a very stylish crowd, so we thought, What kind of amenity can we offer them that would be a cool hook to our business? A bespoke, speakeasy-style, appointment-only custom men’s clothing shop. So beneath the Ainsworth we opened up Windsor Custom. Not only can you come to the Ainsworth, have a great dinner, and watch sports, you can also get measured and get bespoke clothes downstairs. It’s become a busy business, with custom suits and shirts. It’s a good amenity for our crowd, and right on brand for our clientele. We hired Ryan Grayson, who was a top guy at Ralph Lauren Made to Measure. Instead of a gimmick, it’s become a real business.

And you’re still active in the Hamptons, right?

After six years we got rid of Dune and opened up Southampton Social Club, a restaurant in Southampton. We partnered with the current owners, Ian Duke and David Hilty. What people really want to do in the Hamptons is sit outside for some alfresco dining and alfresco drinking, so that’s what we offer. Our first summer (summer 2012) was phenomenal. The food was great, there was great weather, and everything clicked.

And the Ainsworth brand keeps growing.

Yes, we wanted to expand the Ainsworth brand, and opened up Ainsworth Park. It’s 7,500 feet, with 65 televisions, all covered with mirrors. We do it classy, with oak molding and high-end details. Then we landed 3,500 feet in the lobby of the Hard Rock in Vegas for Ainsworth Vegas. We opened up Ainsworth Park and Ainsworth Vegas on the same day, September 5, 2012. That was a long day for me.

And you’re not taking a break any time soon.

We’re trying to open up The Chester, which is our newest brand. It’ll be a good brunch spot. But the goal now, in the next year, is to make sure these new places are great. I want to hone what we have.

You’re succeeding in a business where so many have tried and failed. What advice would you offer a young person looking to follow in your footsteps?

Stay calm and only make a move when your heart’s in it. Having a good team around you is important. You’ve got to learn to delegate. Hire great people and trust them.

Do you enjoy going out in New York? Then check out BlackBook’s New York Guide for all the best spots. Raise your nightlife game by downloading the BlackBook City Guides app for iPhone and Android. And to keep up on the hottest openings and events in New York, Miami, Chicago, and LA, sign up for BlackBook Happenings, a fun, informative, non-spammy email newsletter with the latest and greatest goings-on, delivered to your inbox every Monday.

Despite the Naysayers, It Was the Best Season Out East In Years

At the start of every season in the Hamptons a pall of despair, cast by bellwethers of doom, predicts that this will be the year it all falls apart. This will be the summer that the septic system in Montauk finally succumbs and fills Fort Pond with raw sewage. The year that the East Hampton Town Board pawns their power for a fat check from Ralph Lauren and absconds to Argentina. The year the piping plover finally falls victim to rising oceanfront real estate prices and cashes out of this world forever. And every season, Labor Day slips by with about as much ceremony as a wet fart, leaving locals slack-jawed and staring at each other with glazed eyes, like six-year-olds after a Pixy Stix binge. 

After breathless predictions that when the rising tide of excess, self importance, and big city ‘tude finally breaks the East End will be a desolate wasteland of empty Moët bottles, snapped stilettos, and the acrid smell of precision-engineered German rubber lingering over still-smoking patches in the westbound lanes of Route 27, one can almost hear the wah-wah of a muted trombone over the collective sigh of service and retail industry personnel headed to newly-deserted beaches with their pockets full of Benjamins. 
 
The Hamptons are embodied by hyperbole: big houses, big bank accounts, big events, and big personalities. Because of this, for the three months and change that the Hamptons are, well, the Hamptons, they personify everything we love to hate, and perhaps more tellingly, hate to love. These dour perennial premonitions stem from the fact that the Hamptons represent something special to everyone—whether it be as a home, an escape, a party, or another notch on the social ladder—and when it appears that something is about to change that sacred place we all hold dear in our collective unconscious, it kindles the irrational, almost xenophobic the-end-is-nigh fear that fosters overblown rants about zoning laws, the fluoridation of water, and insidious plots from the far right.
 
Truth be told, this season ranks as one of the best. After a few touch-and-go years, Montauk’s social scene emerged from its chrysalis as something far more fun, yet far less reckless, than the whistleblowers foretold. The Surf Lodge had a solid season with its summer concert series, with no repeat of the potential septic nightmares and stack of citations of last year. Montauk Beach House committed no heinous offences and certainly did not herald the undoing of the sleepy fishing village aura some in the town have tried so hard to preserve. We’re not about to embark on a discourse of the problems facing small scale commercial fisheries in this economy, but seriously, nobody is really complaining about having dingy and dying business give way to popular new sources of revenue, even if some visitors don’t know how to clean up after themselves. 
 
Moby Dick’s was a seriously chill, laid back spot that popped up this summer and somehow stayed somewhat under the radar, and when Swallow East finally went live, the place was a hit (the end of season employee party featured tattoo artists, and no one gets tattoos to commemorate an awful summer). And the first public incarnation of SUPERBURGER was an end-of-summer coup de grace. Trust us, we were there, glistening, greasy, fat, and happy, reveling in the August sunshine. Let’s not forget Momofuku: please, please come back next summer, we promise to eat so much pie.
 
Elsewhere, things were business as usual. Sag Harbor got a few new restaurants, the yachties kept doling out their owners’ loot on Main Street, chef Matthew Guiffrida found a new home with his restaurant Muse on the Harbor and David Lowenberg’s new venture The Bell and Anchor kept the North Haven celebrity quotient suitably stuffed. 
 
Heading south to Bridgehampton, the big news was that the Polo Classic toned down the spectacle, um, debacle, under the VIP tent into something that actually resembled a VIP tent and not a slightly damp, champagne fueled upscale bacchanalian frat party with a horse thing happening somewhere. 
 
With so much focus on Montauk, the two Hamptonian juggernauts—East Hampton and Southampton—were almost forgotten in the social media grist mill. Even though the venues change, it all really stays the same. Southampton Social Club kept things social, no big news there, and Nammos repping the luxe Mediterranean vibe in place of Nello’s made sure the Euro set had a place to spend 15 bucks on a beer.
 
Even in East Hampton, boozy brunches on Three Mile Harbor Road barely raised any eyebrows or tongue clucks from the village fun police and the jeroboams of rosé kept coming at Beaumarchais, but the real party, as revealed by the ladies at Guest of a Guest, was down at Indian Wells beach, where a week after their story ran, nervous nellies started reporting about nudity and people drinking hard alcohol on the beach. Well, um, that’s kind of what happens on a beach, in the summer, populated by young people who are mostly nude to begin with. What a shocker.
 
Now that another tumbleweed Tuesday has come and gone, plans for the postseason get underway.  The weeks after Labor Day aren’t quite like most people imagine, with sheets of plywood in short supply as business owners close shop and McMansions are locked down for the winter months. September is quite easily the best month to be out East, especially if you’ve been working the whole summer, you know, making hay while the sun shines. The ocean is as warm at it ever gets, the crowds are gone, and everything is on sale and up for grabs. It’s sort of an inside wink among those who slog, heads down, working through the summer months while the rest of the world is on vacation. Hotels have vacancy, tables are available for 7pm dinners almost everywhere, but it certainly isn’t desolate. It’s still the Hamptons, just a little bit more reasonable. It’s also far from over, the Topping Rose House in Bridgehampton has yet to open its doors, and we are interested in what Tom Colicchio will be putting on the menu.
 
So where does this leave us? New stores and restaurants have opened, Montauk’s nightlife scene turned it up to 11 (but was considerate enough to turn it back down after 2am) parties were had, charities funded, share houses shared, and at the end of it all, there were fewer tears (and code violations) than in years past. Despite the traffic, the crowds, and the near-record level of DUI traffic stops, the sanctity of the Hamptons has emerged intact. Thanks for a great season. Now leave us alone, we have a beach to enjoy. 
 
For a complete rundown of all the hotspots, check out the BlackBook Guide to the Hamptons

Beach Blast: The Hamptons Flip Out This Memorial Day Weekend

After a few sleepy summers, shit is once again getting real in the Hamptons. What’s that mean? It means throw some wedges and a DSO-worthy outfit in the Birkin bag you’ve been using for the gym, because you are not going to have time to work out with all the new openings out east, though you’ll definitely have an opportunity to work it.

Under the best of circumstances, Hamptons properties see more flips than the schedule board at Penn Station, but this season has been off the charts. To wit:

Out: Madam Tong’s/ Madam Tong’s Redux In: Southampton Social Club Ian Duke (of NYC’s Prohibition) and David Hilty took over Jen Luc’s ill-fated Madam Tong’s last year, but not in time to change the concept (they just amended “Redux” to the offensive name), but this year they’ve taken the place speakeasy chic.

Out: Jean Luc East/Prime 103 In: The Beachhouse Micheael Gluckman, proprietor of the Boathouse, has added one of the marquee spaces to his “house” line. The huge space, with indoor and outdoor seating, has not had a restaurant worthy of it in quite some time. Will this one be different? Signs point to yes.

Out: Bamboo In: Shiki Gluckman unloaded his sushi place in East Hampton, perhaps to concentrate on Beachouse. There’s another sushi place there now. Raw fish and cold sake will set you right.

Out: Le Maison In: The Pomme Café The last vestiges of Jean Luc were exorcised from the Hamptons when the Trata guys took on JLX to make a go at their own French Bistro. It didn’t last. This season the folks behind The Pomme, a successful bistro in Astoria, toss their chapeaus in the ring.

Out: Almond In: Agave Almond vacated the building it’s been in for years for greener pastures. A yet-to-open restaurant called Agave will take its place. Do you really need to be told that it will serve Mexican food and tequila?

Out: Ocean Grill In: Almond Almond’s new digs are right on Main St. in Bridgehampton, and its loyal following is sure to follow to the larger space (with the added benefit of sidewalk cafe tables).

Out: Capri In: Capri Languishing after its Pink Elephant heyday, the Capri Hotel’s new owners (Steven Kamali of the Surf Lodge among them) have classed up the joint with a Nobu, a Cynthia Rowley boutique and a daytime/nighttime hang space called The Bathing Club.

Out: RdV In: South Pointe One of the largest dance halls in the Hamptons goes through yet another change of hands, and this time it gets spruced up with tiki bars and “extravagant” crystal chandeliers. Why is there an “e” on the end? Probably so they don’t get sued by the Vegas club “South Point.” You see, it’s totally different.

Out: Polish people In: The Elm OK, that’s not entirely true. Long ago the space now occupied by a veritable superteam of veteran club promoters was once a Polish social hall, but in recent years has been an event space for hire. It’s another cavernous Southampton space, and this summer is sure to be an nightlife epicenter, with high-profile acts and the Koch brothers “Day and Night” champagne brunch for daytime revelers.

Out: Lily Pond In: SL East Michael Satsky reportedly had liquor sponsors in place and had even put up a billboard on Hudson St. in NYC inviting people out to Lily Pond for summer 2011. Then his landlord turned around and gave the venue over EMM Group’s Eugene Remm, Mark Birnbaum and Michael Hirtenstein, who will bring their SL concept to the perennial club spot on the outskirts of East Hampton.

Out: Second House Tavern In: Ruschmeyer’s Another one one bites the dust in Montauk. By which we mean, another flea-ridden family motel (OK, some might say “old-guard piece of nostalgia”) bites the dust, as part of the team from Surf Lodge takes over another hotel/restaurant and makes it over in their own hipster-beachbum-no fleas image. Expect local cops to get writer’s cramp ticketing lines of cars on both sides of Fort Pond.

Check out the Hamptons Listings on the BlackBook Guides – and download the iPhone app – for the latest and greatest hangs, and don’t forget the sunscreen.