Sam Nazarian has to jet — literally.
The nightlife and hospitality mogul has just completed the daily detailed check of his soon-to-be-opened SLS Las Vegas and is rushing toward his private plane. Like Alice’s White Rabbit, he is late for a very important date (a meeting in Los Angeles). You’d never know from his demeanor that outside, the Sin City temperature has reached a steamy 108 degrees Fahrenheit. The founder, CEO, and chairman of SBE — which stands for Nazarian’s childhood nickname, “Samyboy” — looks as cool as a cucumber, nary breaking a sweat as he strides purposefully through his own personal Wonderland: the hotel’s 800 machine deep, 60,000-square-foot casino floor with its innovative, five million-dollar Daktronics LED technology marquee.
Seemingly satisfied, he makes his way to the exit; his long legs eat the air as he rushes to make his meeting. Five minutes later he’s back after having noticed a slight imperfection, and his six-foot, four-inch frame fills the room once again with his authoritative presence. It’s been a big year for Nazarian’s sbe, which has seen the construction of not only the $415 million, 1,600-room Vegas hotel slated to be his brand’s flagship property. It has also seen the introduction of four new towers in South Florida in addition to the Collins Avenue SLS property in South Beach, which opened a mere two years ago. The projects include Hyde Hotel & Residences in both Midtown and Hollywood Beach, SLS Brickell in downtown, and the SLS Lux in Mary Brickell, just around the corner from the Brickell property. Both Brickell locations are joint collaborations with Jorge Perez’s Related Group. “Even before we embarked on our partnership, Jorge has long been a trusted mentor and dear friend,” explains the hotelier. “Our brands and our company cultures align brilliantly.” Indeed both parties see themselves as neighborhood builders building inspired projects.
The SLS Brickell is a hotel and residence building and is practically sold out save a few penthouses. SLS Brickell boasts design by Philippe Stark and promises to be not just a hip place to stay downtown, but to become a bonafide hotspot with restaurants by Michael Schwartz and Jose Andres. The smaller, more exclusive SLS Lux will be primarily condos with a few available suites. Although there will be a Katsuya, it will have a different look and feel than the other properties. Interiors will be by Yabu Pushelberg and promise to have the best of absolutely everything. Residences range in price from $450,000 to $4,000,000 and will be well appointed and feature the latest in technology.
Nazarian is clearly hot on Miami. “It’s a truly global destination that draws visitors from North America, Latin America, Europe and Asia,” he says. “Very few cities have that level of convening power.” But Miami and Las Vegas aren’t the only cities with shiny new SLS projects. There is another project with Related poised to transform downtown L.A.’s Grand Avenue into a luxury complex—as designed by Frank Gehry—with entertainment, shopping, apartments, condominiums, and a luxury hotel. There have been announcements of additional hotels in New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Bahamas, and China. Sam Nazarian is expanding his empire faster than you can say “SBE.” But don’t worry, they’ve got a plan. “We’re not just opening in markets arbitrarily; we’re opening in the markets where the SBE community lives and travels to for work and leisure,” says Nazarian. It’s a thoughtful approach that only targets strategic markets that make the most sense for the brand and the SBE platform.
But this month is all about the SLS Las Vegas and its much anticipated August 23rd launch. The two-million-square-foot hotel is the great white hope of the Strip’s north end, a struggling stretch of land that hasn’t seen true action since the Rat Pack days of the SLS’ predecessor, the Sahara.
It’s no wonder that Nazarian painstakingly monitors and manages the construction of this hotel—it is his largest undertaking to date. Like clockwork he can be found every morning on the SLS’ rooftop, surveying the massive complex below. Through the looking glass he can see the jewel of his empire take shape, and, despite the construction, envisions the end result clearly. From this perch, he looks like a king presiding over his empire. The SBE chief isn’t at all worried that guests will shy away from the SLS because of its location. On the contrary, he thinks they’ll come, play, and stay because the best of his admittedly amazing nightlife and culinary brands are all in one easily accessible spot. Why leave when everything is already at your fingertips?
“The good thing about Vegas is that it’s as much of a gaming city as it is an entertainment city. Nightlife is as relevant as shows, food, and beverage and casinos. We’re expecting the chance to really overwhelm our guests with quality of service and the evolution of some of our already proven brands like Bazaar Meat or Katsuya, and integrating a sense of consistency to the whole building,” he says. “A lot of hotels have added restaurants or nightclubs and reacted to what the market wants. We have a real opportunity right now—we have a building [that contains] all the things we’ve learned over the last five years. There will be consistency from the time you walk in to the time you leave…but I think our two pools and 14 outlets give our guests a reason not to leave.”
It will be the VIPs most of all who will loathe to depart the catered and curated experience. “VIPs can expect to be treated the way SLS and SBE always treat our VIPS,” he says. “There’s a separate entrance, a separate lounge and elevator banks, a 24-hour concierge—not just in Vegas, but anywhere they go—a loyalty system, the ability to use video chat and Skype before they get to the property, and customized rooms like [those that came from our] partnership with Lenny Kravitz [at the SLS South Beach]. Guests are going to have the cream of the crop as far as our property goes. They’ll be driven around in new Escalades, and our super VIPs will get a Bentley Mulsanne to drop them off.”
This includes the SLS’ highly anticipated, top secret opening weekend celebration, on which Nazarian remains mum, only saying, “If you know SBE, you know we’re going to have a great party!”. The SLS is implementing another thing it hasn’t tried before with The Code: its very own players club. The Code isn’t affiliated with any other clubs, though it does digitally enable guests to receive comps and benefits within the SLS and SBE-owned properties in Los Angeles, New York and Miami. This is just one small part of the full SBE experience that Nazarian refers to as “the consolidation of our best brands in one space.” Those brands are a part of what makes SLS consistent. SLS in Beverly Hills, South Beach and Las Vegas are all very distinct, but they share an undeniable essence that has given the brand powerful relevance.
What also sets Nazarian apart and makes both him and his company so successful is not only the fact that he is so hands-on with his properties, but also that he clearly cares for and respects those who work for and with him. If only he could find time to truly relax with friends, life would be perfect. However, he wouldn’t be the success story he is today if he took time to smell the roses. “Witnessing the success of SLS has of course been something we’re all very proud of, but partnering with Related to combine our development, marketing, and operational expertise has positioned us to be a part of the Miami community for generations to come,” he says.
“The first decade of SBE was [really] about proving the concept. We’re now in the teenage years of the company, so I’d like to find more time to be with my friends, many who also happen to work with me,” he says, before pausing to consider what his perfect world might look like. “I think that the biggest thing for me is having time to do the things that I love to do, having the opportunity to not work as hard as I used to, and being able to enjoy at the moment.””