From Bartender to Restuarant Manager to Owning the most successful Night Club in Miami and Possibly the World

Secret to Success – Dave Grutman

Secret Entourage Success Story
Sometimes taking a risk, meeting the right people, and taking a different path than you originally planned can change the course of your life. This was the case for Miami nightlife king Dave Grutman. He grew up in a very small town in Florida and after graduating from college, he decided that he wanted try his hand at bartending in South Beach before settling down back home. This bartending job led to a restaurant manager position, which then led to a club manager position. Pretty soon, he was collaborating with various entrepreneurs to start his own marketing firm. These days, Dave is the operating partner of two of the biggest and hottest nightclubs in Miami (and possibly the world), LIV and STORY.

Tell us a little bit about yourself.

I’m 40 years old. I’m just an average Jewish guy from a very small town. I have been in Miami for 20 years, and I think it’s the greatest city in the world. Now, I’m in the fun business.


After I graduated college, I wanted to go bartending in South Beach and no one would hire me because I was a chubby Jewish looking guy, so the only job I could get was bartending at a restaurant in Aventura Mall. Aventura Mall is owned by the Soffers, who are my partners in all my nightclubs. But, I literally started off as a bartender in a shopping mall.

How did your bartending job evolve into being an entrepreneur?

Back when I started in 2000, the executive chef got me really passionate about hospitality and the business. For me, it was just like a spark. It was like something that I felt like I was meant to do.


From there I grew and became a restaurant manager, a nightclub manager, a marketing consultant, and finally I opened up my own marketing firm. I did marketing for companies such as Victoria’s Secret, ESPN, and DIRECTV; all of which were trying to do lifestyle marketing which was not common in Miami Beach. When my partners and I opened up Miami Marketing Group (MMG), we gave them the service they experienced in New York and Los Angeles, which then led to clients all across the country.

What was your appeal towards nightclubs?

Even though the restaurant and the nightclubs coincide very well, I love nightclubs because you know if you did a good job or a bad job that same night. It’s not, “Oh, let me see if it catches on.” It’s right away. That’s how cutthroat the nightclub business is. If you’re not on it every day, it will go pass you so quickly.

What do you think attributes to the success that LIV and STORY have had in Miami because it’s such a busy city?

My feeling is if you give great service, you have a better mousetrap; and if you have great content, then you’re going to succeed. A lot of people just come to the nightclub business and they say, “Oh, I’m going to do Fun Wednesdays or Taco Tuesdays,” and that’s it. You’ve got to give guests an experience and you have to deliver on it constantly.

I’m also lucky enough to have such a great team. We always try to stay ahead of the curve and don’t just follow what everybody else is doing. We like to test the boundaries big time. It has been a huge success to LIV and STORY.


Another huge success reason is that we treat every night like it’s an event. Since I come from an events background, every night is like a new production for me. It’s different every night, and you have to keep it exciting for people or they will get bored really quickly.

You said something about a mousetrap. Tell me a little bit about what that means?

I think of LIV and STORY as a mousetrap. I’m attracting people to my home and in doing so, we’ve really got to push the limits on stuff that live hosting can or cannot do. We would have huge DJs perform five nights in a row, or we would do a Dirty Harry party on Wednesdays, which was our hipster party.


Back then, we were lucky enough that Joaquin Phoenix performed his rap song the second night we opened up, but Chromeo, Diplo, and A-Trak, etc, were DJing at these small dirty venues on the other side of the bridge. We brought them in and put them in big glamorous productions. Electronic dance music is popular right now, but back then, it was like “Are these guys hipsters or don’t have any money?” However, it ended up being one of our most successful nights.

“It’s all about relationships and keeping those relationships. It’s just not worth it to beat somebody up for a couple of bucks here or to try to get ahead or try to put somebody back. It’s just that relationships means so much. That’s the first thing.”

– Dave Grutman

How do you create brand consistency despite having a different show every night?

It’s all about positioning and by being aspirational, not just in business but in life. If you think you are the best and you set yourself up to be the best, then you’re going to attract the best to you. That’s just the way I’ve lived my life; you have to have your eyes open. It’s always great to see what’s coming up from the underground, from the colleges, from some weird exhibit going on because that’s what’s eventually going to become pop culture sooner than later.


You just always want to be looking out to see what creative people are doing around me, not just because I think I’m on top of the mountain; but because I like to look in the weird places, because that’s where the freaks are. I love it.

Is the goal to continue to just build LIV and STORY, or expand to other venues?

I’m also building a indoor-outdoor restaurant on Brickell, a 550-seat restaurant which I feel will be a game changer for that area. I don’t know if you guys have really toured around Miami, but the Design District is on fire. I try to go to Wynwood once a day just to get inspired, because that’s really where the most creative people I think in the country are at right now.

How do you leverage your own brand and personality to expand yourself into other ventures? Do you stay in the space that you’re known for?

At the end of the day, I try to stay with my core; what I know I’m going to be good at. Nightclubs are so big for me, but I think having a restaurant with a good vibe and energy is a nice change. I’d like to do a hotel, and I think nightlife in Miami is constantly evolving. It’s all about big clubs now, but it might be small clubs in the future. I see some really cool bars popping up here and there, and some people just love to go to the Fontainebleau to hang out at the pool bars. You constantly see that you can adapt and bring those into your world.

What is your best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs who are interested in starting their own nightclub?

I found that nightclubs are my passion. When you’re passionate about something, you want to learn every little thing about it. No one can pull the wool over your eyes or fool you, because you know how to do that job; you know what that job entails. By starting out as a bartender, I learned it all – from the ice, to the liquor, to the count, to the glassware, what sells, what doesn’t sell, inventory, everything. It was all about marketing, because you have to build your brand, whether it’s a nightclub, whether it’s yourself, whether it’s anything in life; you need to build a brand, and that’s what success is for me.

You recommend people to start learning by working within the system and gain the experience on their own?

Yeah, you have to try to work every job possible you can and don’t think you’re too good to work that job. For example, I want to be a bar back because I want to learn everything there is to know about being one. Also, anybody could steal from you and do things that are wrong or hurt your business. You want to be aware and know what the right way is for everything.

Looking back now, what were some things you learned being in the business that you didn’t know looking at the business from the outside?

Your ethics and beliefs really guide you in business and in success. For me, the number one thing that’s helped me more than anything was relationships. I’m still working with some people that I worked with 20 years ago when I was a bartender. The people that I went to college with are Tiesto’s agent and other DJ’s managers that I went to college with. It’s all about relationships and keeping those relationships. It’s just not worth it to beat somebody up for a couple of bucks here or to try to get ahead or try to put somebody back. It’s just that relationships means so much. That’s the first thing.

The second thing is you have to be there. You have to get up. You have to get to the office. You have to be there before everybody else. In the club business nobody wakes up before 1PM, so by being at the office by 9 or 10AM, I had a whole day before anyone started.


The last thing is I really learned from my mistakes. It’s not like everything I’ve ever done is perfect, and I never failed. I failed before, and I picked myself back up. I learned my lesson, and I went at it again. That for me is a big thing. A lot of people will think they have a setback like, “Oh, it’s over.” No, okay, you got it. Let’s go. Let’s do something else. It’s up to you to make it happen.






A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

A photo posted by David Grutman (@davegrutman) on

With being in business so long now, is there one particular thing that you couldn’t have learned without being in the business?

Yeah, it’s content. When you see a DJ spinning a certain song or creating a certain vibe, there’s no way to know that. There’s no way to teach that. You have to feel that. It’s all about feeling for me and by being in the nightclubs and watching people when certain things happen, when lights go on, music tempo, and stuff like that, it’s a feeling.


When you walk into a restaurant, you can feel when something is not going right; like the servers probably behind or the kitchen being slow.


In a nightclub, it’s on such a bigger scale that you feel that energy right away whether it’s going to be a good or bad night. That’s not something you can teach. It’s really being able to process so many different looks, feels, and images all at once.

What would you say your take is on education today when it comes to the nightclub industry?

I think it’s so important. It’s very corporate now. From the way business terms happen, to financial structures, to P and L’s, to marketing, to the way you deal with your staff, to handbooks, it’s a very corporate situation now. It’s as corporate now as any kind of business out there. I definitely recommend learning finance, marketing, PR, and general business. Having great business sense is really big.

“People are always like, “What should I do when I come out of school?” You’ve got to find what that passion is because when I became a manager, I was making $33,000 a year, but I was the happiest guy ever. This was my passion and I think it’s still that way.”

– Dave Grutman

I think it really became this way in New York and in Las Vegas. Vegas really made everybody become corporate because you have gambling involved. As soon as there’s a casino involved, it becomes corporate super quick, but it’s better for everybody.


You want to have consistent sequence of services and operations. That only comes through handbooks, disciplinary actions in the right way, and people being able to work in a great atmosphere that is not like a free-for-all.

When you were a bartender, you didn’t imagine yourself rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest celebrities that you can now actually call friends. How does that feel?

It was just a work ethic. I don’t think I was built for anything else. I think this is what I was made for. For me, it’s all about passion. People are always like, “What should I do when I come out of school?” You’ve got to find what that passion is because when I became a manager, I was making $33,000 a year, but I was the happiest guy ever. This was my passion and I think it’s still that way. It definitely changes when other things get me excited, like art.

What was your motivator all this time?

When I was a kid growing up, I never thought Kanye West would put my name in a song, or be in the position I am now. You got to feel like this is where you’re supposed to be. I’m so lucky and so happy that I’ve been able to see my hard work pay off.

Is there anything else that’s left for personal goals?

I’m 40. I don’t want to be the old guy at the soccer game. I would love to have a kid someday. It’s kind of worthless if you don’t have family.


I also really want to get into the hotel business next. To take what we know now in the nightclubs and restaurant industry and apply it to a hotel would be great.

Do you find that it’s hard to settle down while being in this industry?

I’m lucky enough to have an amazing girlfriend that really gets it. She’s on my team and not against me. The problem with our business is that it’s 24/7. Someone is always texting me or calling me because the daytime is what makes the nighttime.


It’s never a break, and that person has to know that’s what they are falling into; just like anything in life. If you know what the boundaries are, and set up what your life is going to be so there’s no preconceived notions, you have a better chance of finding the person who is going to be right for you.

We want to thank Dave for sharing his story with us. You can connect with him below:

“The last thing is I really learned from my mistakes. It’s not like everything I’ve ever done is perfect, and I never failed. I failed before, and I picked myself back up. I learned my lesson, and I went at it again. That for me is a big thing. A lot of people will think they have a setback like, “Oh it’s over.” No, okay, you got it. Let’s go. Let’s do something else. It’s up to you to make it happen.

– Dave Grutman