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.

Suit Up: Windsor Custom Opens Beneath the Ainsworth

For the modern man, the perfect suit is the holy grail. It reflects style without being garish, and embraces craftsmanship while still being affordable (hopefully). That’s basically the mission statement behind Windsor Custom, the new clubhouse-turned-tailor beneath The Ainsworth sports bar in Mahattan. Helmed by Florence-trained Brian Mazza (who has also worked with fellow menswear pros Generra), Ralph Lauren alum Ryan Grayson, and nightclub guru Matt Shendell, the custom suit spot opened its doors last night.

Housed in a studio that resembles a New England hunting lodge and designed by Grayson, guys are invited to visit, get fitted, have some whiskey, and play pool, all while creating their own made-to-measure suit, shirting, tie, pocket square, and jacket (clients already include chef Todd English, Ranger’s player Brandon Prust and Steelers’ lineman Willie Colon). The kicker is the bespoke details: embroidered initials, in-sewn personalized labels, and hundreds of fabrics to select from to ensure each jacket is tailored uniquely for its owner. We caught up with Mazza and Grayson to talk about how the suit-curious can score their own custom pieces, the art of the lapel, and the one mistake every guy makes when it comes to his suit.

So who can come down here? How do you get an appointment?
Grayson: We are by appointment only, and you get an hour to come down, relax and have a drink. It only takes me five minutes to measure you up, so you can come down and do some work or bring some friends down here to hang out or get fitted, too. We take all your measurements and then discuss the fit you want. You have a different collar and cuff option.

Let’s say we just wanted to come for a really great work shirt. Is that cool?
Grayson: Absolutely. We don’t have a minimum. We don’t mind if a guy wants to just come down here and try it out. We talk about how your current style is, and how we can help to add to it. 
Mazza: We take into consideration what your profession is, whether you like to wear your shirt in or out, what colors you like. There are a lot of clients that already understand fashion, and a lot of clients that don’t. And we want to cater to both.
Grayson: And we really like to upgrade your wardrobe. Push some boundaries and encourage guys to get away from the blue shirt. 

So the idea is that you can get stuff here that you can’t get anywhere else?
Mazza: All of these fabrics are unique. Our prices start at $120 for shirts. Everything is specifically made for the client: monograms, cuffs, inseams. You can even design the music here, if you want to bring your iPod. 
Grayson: The suits we are each wearing are in the same price range. But I chose a wide lapel and Brian chose a narrow lapel. 
Mazza: I’m a little Simon Spurr, he’s a little Tom Ford.

Would you say there is an element of education here?
Mazza: For sure. I wanted to create an experience for the man who felt insecure shopping the racks at Barney’s, and for the guy who knows what he wants. In every guy there is style, and we just need to find it. And we hope to bring it out by ordering food, putting on the game, and serving drinks. Before you know it, they come out of their shell.

OK, it’s the season, so we’ve got to ask: What are some good holiday dressing tips?
Mazza: A dark plum shirt with a white collar and a grey tie and you’re golden. I go against tips, because I will wear any color in any season because I feel comfortable.
Grayson: Though, some guys, I have noticed, overly clean their suits. You shouldn’t dry-clean suits too much. It really wears down the fabric.
Mazza: Hunter rain boots under suits. Never wear your shoes outside in the winter, just carry them in your shoe bag. Also, for our banker types, we like to mix blue with a gingham to make shirting more interesting, and then they can dumb it down a little with a straightforward tie.