Seven Questions for Hakkasan Group’s Neil Moffitt

The CEO on gossip, the hotel business and those ever-inflating DJ paychecks

Photo courtesy of Hakkasan Group

Photo courtesy of Hakkasan Group

There has been a lot of recent gossip about you and Hakkasan Group’s ownership structure and acquisitions. How do you deal with it?

The rumors about the company are obviously ill founded. It’s so ridiculous, I don’t even understand how or why anybody would have enough time to start circulating such ridiculous rumors. Unfortunately, we’re in a business that’s fueled by alcohol, and people want to be cool. The people who matter to me are the people in our company. They understand that rumors are just rubbish from jealous people who have nothing better to do. I look at those rumors like The Enquirer.

What is the ownership structure?

Our headquarters, believe it or not, are in London. We report our financials in London. [Hakkasan Group] America is a subsidiary of the London company. The London company is owned by a company in the United Arab Emirates called Tasameem. Tasameem is a privately held company with shareholders that is not connected to any governmental institution.

Does Hakkasan Group plan to get into the hotel business?

For me, as a tourist or even a business traveler, there’s nothing better than staying in a hotel where at the end of the day I can eat in a nice restaurant, have a drink at a nice bar, maybe have a later drink in the lounge and not have to leave [the property]. That’s been the mantra of our company for the past four years. We’ve sought to create a wide portfolio of assets, whether they be nightlife, daylife or restaurants. [It’s easy to imagine that we would] create our own hotel company, which is the long-term. We’re going to build in Dubai. That project is still in the design and development stage.

Any truth about one of the MGM Grand towers becoming a Hakkasan Tower?

It was discussed at a high level. But we mutually decided that it wasn’t something that we could explore. More because of real estate issues—we were constrained as to what we could develop.

With the acquisition of Light Group, you retained the restaurants but let Light and Daylight go. What happened?

The asset portfolio is exactly what it was prior to the acquisition with the exception of Light and Daylight. We try to maintain good relationships with our partners and investors. If we don’t feel that either side is 100 percent happy, the relationship is doomed to fail. There are quite a lot of employees over there, and both the investor group and we as managers did what was right for the employees and the venues. It was just a mutual separation that we felt was right for everybody, including ourselves.

Are DJs fees getting too excessive?

DJ fees are very subjective. We are fiscally responsible with our analytics. Every booking that we ever make is analyzed. We know how many people we need to [bring in], what table revenues we need to drive, how many tickets we need to sell and what the average spend needs to be for it to work for us. If [our] analysts tell us it doesn’t work, that we’re not going to make money, then we wouldn’t do it. If the analysts say, “Take Calvin [Harris] every day that you can, because the margin is so great and you’ll generate so much money,” then I’ll take that deal.

How has Omnia’s opening affected the rest of your business?

Fundamentally, we have a little bit of an advantage, because we know what we’re doing at Hakkasan and we know what we’re doing at Omnia. In 2016, I can assure you that nobody other than myself and two or three other people know what DJs are playing where, so we don’t program against ourselves. Clearly, if you have a superstar DJ in one venue and you have a superstar DJ in another, and our competitors have a superstar DJ, then that will split the crowd. People will be pretty shocked with our programming [at Jewel].

What is Hakkasan planning for the near future?

What I can tell you is that the growth of the company hasn’t stopped. While everybody else has been talking, we’ve been working. We have 25 new openings in 2016 and 2017, globally. We will have a beach club built in Bali, which will probably be the most amazing beach club you’ve ever seen. Omnia’s been open here for eight months, we have an Omnia in San Diego and we are going to have an Omnia in Indonesia as part of a skyscraper. We will have five restaurants and a nightclub in that building. The only non-Vegas U.S. opening that’s part of that 25 is in Houston. We’re taking one of our restaurants to Houston, Yauatcha. It’s Michelin-starred Chinese dim sum, which is hard to get your head around. We have a [Yauatcha] that we just opened in Broadgate Circle in London.

Has Hakkasan Group grown too quickly?

In a perfect world, it would have been nicer to be a little bit slower with our growth. When unique opportunities come along, you either have to take them or the opportunity passes you by. Sometimes these kinds of acquisitions are forced on you. The investment in [Los Angeles-based] h.Wood Group has been a fantastic relationship for us. We’re very happy with that. Obviously, there was the Light Group acquisition, which created a lot of noise in Vegas. Morgan’s Hotels did not want to be in that business any longer, and had we not bought it, somebody else would have bought it. You’re always going to face challenges with that kind of acquisition. Here we are now, several months on from that and I believe we’ve done a good job of integration.

There are some great projects coming along. We are opening up Herringbone in City Center, which is an extension of the restaurant in La Jolla. We just recently opened a Herringbone in Santa Monica, which is doing fantastically well for us. Then, obviously, on top of that, Jewel comes [to Aria] in the spring. Our relationship with MGM [Resorts International] is in a really good place, and the rejuvenation of CityCenter makes the timing perfect for these investments. …

That’s the beauty of Hakkasan Group: While we are very passionate about Las Vegas, it makes me very proud to be part of this global hospitality company. To be the head of that global hospitality company is challenging, but it’s a challenge I’m willing to accept.

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