Here's how you bankrupt a club by 25, then claw your way back to the top of NYC nightlife

John meadow LD hospitalityLDVJohn Meadow, President of LDV Hospitality (right)

You are at a party and it’s swelteringly hot. In fact it’s one of those super-sticky hot weekends at the end of the summer when the sun is relentless and breathing makes you thirsty.

Your party is in Montauk, in the Hamptons, and it’s really your party — as in, you are throwing it. That means the 4,000 or so people who’ve assembled outside need bottle service. The music is loud and they need drinks. The sun is hot and they need them now. Of course, you’ve run out of buckets to put all these bottles in, and it’s the first summer you’ve ever thrown parties at what is now your club/restaurant in Montauk.

So what do you do? You go to the kids playroom inside the resort that your restaurant is in. You steal all of their sand pails — every last one of them. You fill them with water and ice so you can fill them with vodka and champagne, and then you keep your party going.

Because it’s your job. That’s what it takes to make it to the top of New York nightlife. You’ve got to be creative.

That’s how Ashley Noor did it one summer day last year, after she and the rest of her crew at LDV Hospitality followed founder and President John Meadow on a damn-fool venture to open 10 properties — multiple American Cut Steakhouses, Scarpettas, Rec Rooms, Dolces and more — across the country in two years. This, of course, included the property at Gurney’s in Montauk — a project they built out in a matter of about four months.

Noor calls herself the “director of chaos.” Her official title is Director of Marketing & Events.

‘The tough times’

LDV wasn’t always like this. Meadow, who started out with a successful NYC bar called Local West, himself will tell you that he was an insufferable 25 year-old industry kid. After his first hit he got cocky, and opened a super glitzy Meatpacking spot called Gin Lane in 2005. His lenders — who gave him $2.5 million — insisted on 18% interest and it flopped.

“I was so reckless. Ambition and entitlement from premature success,” he said. “I had the time of my life, but I was fake.”

Now, at 36, Meadow is not fake. He wears what he wants (usually something tailored and maybe suspenders). He still talks like he’s in the Rat Pack even though he was raised by hippies, and he still swears by his mentor, a Korean immigrant who went from driving taxis to owning Manwich, a 19-unit New York sandwich shop.

“I learned more from that guy than my Cornell professors,” said Meadow, a graduate of Cornell’s hospitality school. “I went to fancy boarding school. Academia is wonderful, but I learned more from that immigrant turned taxi driver, hustler, big shot. That’s my teacher and he’s supportive.”

But of course, they Meadow and his teacher travel in very different circles. He got out of the “tough times” or “the gutter” of debt (as he calls it) by opening a 2,700 square foot monster hit when everything was going to hell in 2008: Scarpetta, an Italian restaurant in the Meatpacking District.

“Even when I was imploding I thought I was special. I thought I was f—d, but I thought I was special,” Meadow said.

Gurney's in Montauk, The Beach ClubLDVAt Gurney’s in Montauk

The wheel

If you were in New York City during the financial crisis, you’ll recall that everyone was crowded into Scarpetta eating pasta until it and they burst. Its success was the springboard for LDV’s explosive growth: 30 properties in 9 years, according to Director of Hospitality Dean Tsakanikas, who has been with the company since 2008.

In that time he’s criss-crossed the continent opening properties from the Las Vegas to Miami, Toronto to Atlantic City. He started out as a general manager, but soon came to realise that Meadow was collecting properties that could benefit from interconnected branding.

“It dawned on me that more and more guests didn’t realise that Scarpetta was part of the same company” as, say, NYC club No. 8, the reboot of Amy Sacco’s classic Bungalow 8, or Iron Chef champion Mac Forgione’s American Cut.

Marc forgioneLDVMarc Forgione at American Cut Midtown in NYC

So they decided to put it all together.

Tsakanikas, for his part, knew what he wanted to do. He wanted to be the guy that knows the clients inside and out — knows where to send them, what to serve them, how much they spend and who they spend it with.

That means Tsakanikas is the guy who knows which woman is Wall Street guy #5’s wife, and which one is his girlfriend. He tracks his VIPs from sipping cocktails on Miami Beach to skiing in Aspen. Customers likely have soft hands and wear designer threads. They like discretion and velvet ropes. But they, like LDV, are not loud. They are not megaclub or clubstaurant people. What they do expect is top notch service and familiarity despite the fact that they have left home. Things should taste the same, cost about the same (expensive). Staff should know them. This experience is not about adventure, it’s about lifestyle maintenance.

LDV has a tracking system for repeat customers, and Tsakanikas is militant about it. The use the Seven Rooms app to track what clients eat, drink, their average spend, allergies, what to send out gratis and when to send it. It spits out monthly reports.

This is what we do

Meadow has a board up in his office where he pins pictures that inspire his classic-meets-slightly gritty New York in the late-1970s sensibility. Debbie Harry of Blondie was the inspiration for the look of his latest New York City opening, American Cut in Midtown.

In many ways, he says, it was the easiest opening he ever did. He knows American Cut, he knows his customer, and most importantly, he knows his customer is willing to spend 25% more on a night out in that neighbourhood than in American Cut’s Tribeca location.

American cut midtownLDVThe dining room in American Cut Midtown

It also happens to be a perfect example of what LDV does — or what Meadow has managed to crystallize as what LDV does over the last decade. It has a lot to do with the fact that he has a relationship with eight different hotel properties.

“What are we as a company and how are we going forward? Hotels always need proper dining… it’s the bonafide programming of big real estate. Now we are a marketing vehicle for big real estate and it’s in those deals that we get the best economic terms,” said Meadow.

Those terms, in part, stand to net LDV $100 million in revenue in 2016, compared to $85 million in 2015, according to the company.

What those terms won’t get you is a lot of love from the food world. Die hards will tell you it’s inauthentic. They will tell you that hotel food is soulless, and that expensive entrees are an insult to the proletariat. They will tell you expansion is extinction and that LDV is “the man”.

Meadow calls this the “trend of 2016, the eater.com ride-or-die hipster funky chefs and their 15-seat restaurants.” He knows about that. But LDV doesn’t do that. Meadow finally knows what they do.

“I’ve always had a vision for my chaos. Now I’m finding finally for the first time a business strategy and I’m ready to define a 5-year plan, 10 years into this game.”

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