Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva, business partners for a decade, are two of the firmest fixtures in the New York City nightlife world. Since launching the Butter Group in conjunction with the exceptionally successful Butter restaurant, the power duo has opened several other venues to great fanfare.
They subscribe to the philosophy that anyone can recognize good service, chic décor and high quality. Thus, they are always striving to be cutting edge in those categories, no matter the location of their venues.
Apart from Butter, the two are behind 1950’s rat pack-style hot spot The Darby, as well as New York’s celebrity haunt 1 OAK—along with their business partner Ronnie Madra. Installments of their brands are in demand worldwide—with Butter NC in Sartiano’s hometown of Charlotte, N.C., opening in 2010 and the New Years Eve 2012 premier of 1 OAK Las Vegas. Celebrity chef Alex Guarnaschelli sits at the helm of both Butter and The Darby’s respective kitchens. These nightlife kings have proven they can conquer any market—with superior style.
And so their most recent project, 1 OAK Las Vegas, premiered on New Years Eve in a spectacular way. The party, hosted by music world superstar Fergie, was celebrity studded, with attendees like Fergie’s actor husband Josh Duhamel, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, David Katzenberg, Kid Cudi, Topher Grace, Big Sean and Jason Ritter. Kanye West even surprised the crowd with a three-hour DJ set.
The Vegas installation of 1 OAK shares many of the same design elements as 1 OAK New York. Patrons of both may recognize the black and white floor, the plush booths, the murals and the quote wall. The venue, housed within The Mirage hotel and opened in partnership with The Light Group, is sophisticated and decorated like nothing else in Vegas, yet maintains a universal appeal.
The duo explained that they want to attract both the brand-loyal jet setters as well as the tourists just looking to have a great time in Vegas. They subscribe to the philosophy that anyone can recognize good service, chic décor and high quality. Thus, they are always striving to be cutting edge in those categories, no matter the location of their venues.
“We’re not trying to change Vegas,” Sartiano said. “We’re trying to bring what makes us unique and match it with what works in Vegas. It has a real mixture of hipness and New York; cutting edge mixed with Vegas.”
Akiva and Sartiano are an unlikely pair. Akiva is a Manhattan native, jet setter and party scene fixture. Sartiano, a North Carolina transplant, is an Ivy League graduate, a charismatic conversationalist, yet low key. One commonality? Both men swear that their differences breathe life into their business. And with the Butter Group producing rock solid venues in a notoriously fickle industry, their track record certainly lends validity to that theory.
“Richie and I are very different,” Sartiano said. “But the world’s a big place; New York’s a melting pot where a lot of people want different things. We try to appeal to a broad spectrum of people—whether it is daytime business operations or at night. Different people are drawn to us differently socially and businesswise. That has helped us, as a team, to have a much wider network.”
Akiva and Sartiano met a little over a decade ago while working for nightlife developer Steve Lewis. The trio worked developing now-defunct New York hot spots LIFE and SPA. They eventually split ways until Akiva stumbled upon the site of what would become legendary hotspot Butter and recruited Lewis and Saritano to join him.
Butter, which they refer to as their “baby,” first opened its doors in March 2002. If Butter is their baby, then these two are sure to be excellent fathers, as they have kept the restaurant and lounge consistently relevant in a vicious industry.
The concept—to have a one-stop venue where customers could have a great meal on the ground floor and then submerge below ground level into a hip lounge—has been widely plagiarized but the Butter Group is both the originator and champion of this concept.
“We built a really fine dining room upstairs and a fun dining room downstairs, with a DJ booth [that turns] into a lounge, “ Akiva said. “Nobody was doing that at the time. We wanted to do something more grown up. People don’t always want to go to crowded clubs and get drinks spilled on them. [Butter and The Darby are both] a one-stop-shop for a beautiful night out.”
“We’ve taken it very seriously to try and do different things,” Sartiano said. “Other people in the business find something that works and they just repeat it over and over. Maybe that’s the right way to do it—I don’t know, but we definitely haven’t. Butter, The Darby, 1 OAK—they’re all very different. We do things differently; we do things based on what we would like and what we want to do. We want different things that are out there, or maybe not out there and should be—that’s how we decide what to do with our next project.”
Fittingly, 1 OAK is an acronym for just that. It means “one of a kind.”
“We keep it respectable, classy and a little more exclusive than everything out there,” Akiva said.
“That’s what our brand is about; it’s about being more exclusive. It’s about being one of a kind, and it’s about not doing the same exact thing that everybody else does.”