If you ever wondered what it takes to run one of the most successful lifestyle and hospitality companies in the world, look no further than Richie Akiva. His incredibly popular, celebrity-packed 1 OAK has expanded exponentially with locations in Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Mexico City and Southampton, New York, and has even had pop-up locations at Coachella, the Super Bowl, Cannes and Ibiza.
At the helm of the brand's remarkable success is Akiva and his self-made vision, The Butter Group. Akiva has been leading the pack and setting industry trends from coast to coast in the U.S. and now globally. Founded in 2002, The Butter Group holds a multi-million dollar portfolio of premier dining destinations, including Butter Restaurant and New York’s A-list hotspots, 1 OAK and Up & Down.
Akiva has always lived by the motto, “Never forget where you came from, because you will never know where you are going,” and it has certainly served him well on his entrepreneurial path. I recently caught up with him to ask him about his incredible business success, the struggle to stay not just relevant, but revolutionary, in such a trendy industry, and his best advice for other up-and-coming entrepreneurs.
How did you get your start with the very first opening, Butter, in 2002?
I actually started with a club called “SPA.” I owned a piece of it with my partner, Scott Sartiano, and we began throwing parties and were in charge of all the programming. In 2002, we decided to open Butter with our own money.
Partnerships can be a rewarding and challenging, what advice would you give other entrepreneurs on working with partners?
A partnership is like a marriage. You will have to accept each other’s strengths and weaknesses and be patient and tolerant of your partner. Additionally, I believe a partner should not think like you. There should always be a ying to your yang, creating the perfect balance.
East coast and west coast in the U.S. are quite culturally different. How did you bridge the gap and still stay relevant and successful on both coasts?
You have to study both markets to see what is missing and what people are yearning for on each coast. I spend time on each coast and have always been 100 percent authentic. I have always been a leader and have my formula that I know works, regardless of coast or location.
What do you think are the three defining reasons that 1 OAK and Butter have been so successful in such a volatile and at times, fickle, industry?
We have created strategic and meaningful partnerships. We have invested in a great team that has been with us from the beginning. Always forecast your plans and think long term as that is how you stay relevant and at the forefront of the industry.
How do you stay up to date on an industry that is constantly changing?
You have to keep your ear to the ground and not be scared to take a risk. It all about taking chances in this industry!
What inspires you and do you do anything on a consistent basis to stay inspired?
I have always surrounded myself with creative beings. Traveling, music and art maintain a constant presence in my life. I want to create venues and concepts that are aesthetically appealing, exposing my guests to a one-of-a-kind experience.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
We have been very fortunate to have very few failures. We have to take into account that innovative ideas do not work in every market and that is acceptable. You have to stay true to your vision and understand that at the end of the day failures are not failures, you learn and grow from them.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I am in the office by 10 a.m. and literally on the phone all day long. I start my day by meeting with my teams to review what is happening in my venues, new projects and new markets we are trying to reach. When I am in New York City, I like to set up lunch meetings to keep a pulse on what is new in the city.
I leave the office at around 7 p.m. and head home to unwind from the day and take a nap. Around 10:00 to 10:30 p.m., I head to dinner then to Up & Down and close the night out at 1 OAK. I am usually home by 5 a.m., but I love what I do.
How did you attract investors for your venture?
I have been fortunate to have a core group of investors that have been extremely happy with their investments and continue to invest in my new projects.
How do you find people to bring into your companies that truly care about the organization the way you do?
Finding people who care about your company as much as you do is one of the hardest things in business. In my experience, hiring people for short-term projects has proven to last long term.
How do you keep your entrepreneurial focus? Do you have any suggestions for entrepreneurs who are experiencing challenging times?
I work in long stretches and take short breaks. I think you need to stay on course and not try to overload with too many projects at once. It is key to stay focused and learn from trial and error to build a successful and reputable brand.
Who has been your greatest inspiration?
I have been fortunate enough that throughout my life I have been inspired by so many different people. I think my greatest inspiration comes from my 20-year friendship with Jay Z and my relationship with my family.
How does your business “give back” to the community or to society?
The way my business gives back is that we donate to several charities and host high profile fundraisers. For various organizations, we will donate our venue free of charge for their events. Additionally, at Christmas we host a toy drive for the underprivileged children from Fulton Projects and during the summer, we take the children on day trips to upstate New York and New Jersey so they can experience nature.
These experiences truly humble me as I love to see their faces full of excitement over such simple pleasures that we sometimes take for granted. We also donate money for block parties in the Chelsea community and provide food and beverage to the 10th precinct on “National Night Out of Crime.”