The Tao Group's Latest Restaurant Is Also Its Talent Incubator

Lavo restaurant

The Tao Group owns some of the premier names in the restaurant and night club business. Tao Restaurant and Nightclub in Las Vegas took the number one spot in 2010 for highest grossing sales in the country, grossing approximately $59 million in sales. It has maintained that position for four consecutive years. LAVO Las Vegas and Tao New York are in the 7 and 8 position with about $22 million and $21 million respectively.

The Tao Group launched their newest nightlife and dining concept in New York City this September with LAVO New York. Inspired by the original LAVO Las Vegas, the New York locations features a Southern Italian bistro on the first level and a state-of-the-art nightclub a level below. Richard Wolf and Noah Tepperberg, two of the four partners of The Tao Group, recently sat down to discuss a few of the innovations they’re bringing to the location and the nightclub business model in general.

1. Vibe Dining

The Tao Group has coined the term Vibe Dining to describe how they engineer the ambiance at LAVO New York. Despite there being a dance club on a separate level, a DJ booth is set up in the restaurant where the model-only DJ’s make the patrons feel like they’re having a club like experience while dining. Over the span of the evening, the music gets turned up and lights dimmed. Unusual for fine dining, is that the restaurant stays open until 3am so patrons can dance the night away and go for dinner afterward if they choose. Says Wolf "We attempt to provide the full experience whether its restaurant then club, or just the restaurant or just the club."

2. Staffing

The partners use their current establishments as incubators to develop the next layer of management and then promote from within, placing them into the next venture that they launch. This speaks to the success of their locations. The shelf life of a nightclub can be up to three years, which makes it difficult to set up this kind of training ground and opportunity for advancement. The Tao Group has managed to keep their places operating successfully for close to ten years and more in some cases, which certainly helps. "The people who have been working at Lavo now have been working with us for almost a decade" says Tepperberg. Wolf added "We believe in always developing the next layer of management so that our top guys can leave the venue and move on to the next one. We don’t want brand new people…we need guys who are seasoned veterans, not just veterans of the industry but veterans of the way we do things." They’re not just talking moving up the corporate ladder. The Tao Group elevates these managers to partner status. "We basically have a partner in just about every store, every restaurant and every nightclub we own so when we’re not there, there’s somebody left behind who thinks like we do and who has a stake in it like we do."

3. Technology

While every great nightlife establishment touts their sound and light systems, LAVO’s is a first of its kind in many ways. The club has two 21" subwoofers mounted in a hybrid horn configuration to produce earth shaking sound pressure levels of 152 decibels at extremely low frequency (A jet produces 150dB of sound from 100 feet). The main bass sub woofers are affixed to the ceiling of the dance floor area. Using proprietary technology, the low frequency sound does not leave the perimeter of the dance floor to the surrounding tables. The room itself was sound treated to eliminate reflections and the entire system is run through custom vacuum tube processors. This system is the only type of its kind and was specifically designed by Martin Audio for LAVO. Tepperberg noted "We put in a very state-of-the art sound system, a system that was designed specifically just for our space." He added "They are using LAVO as the showcase for this new audio product."

While staying ahead of the game technologically, some things are tried and true classics. "Every great club has a disco ball," says Tepperberg. LAVO’s own glittering disco ball illuminates the sunken dance floor and is designed by ICrave. But even the classics can be advanced: LAVO’s 3D LED disco ball chandelier has 500 LED chips inside to further refract the light.

Installing the technologies are really the final touches in what is described as a very comprehensive planning phase that can last up to six months before work even begins. Wolf commented that the design focus of any of their restaurant and night clubs is on the fundamentals. "We really put a lot of thought into layout, traffic flow, maximizing the room for maximum public space and sales. We spend a lot of energy on that."

As to how much fun the business of partying can be, they both laughed and Wolf said "Every night for us can be a party. There’s not a night that we don’t have a place to go and get crazy until 4am, but were thinking about what needs to be done the next day and the 142 emails that need to be answered." He added "It’s a lot of work but it’s sprinkled with enough fun, this business."

[Photo by Sarah Ackerman]

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