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He Owns and Operates a Dozen Popular Nightlife Venues in New York — Here's How He Kept All of His Businesses Afloat in a Crisis Thatcher Shultz tells us how to innovate — and stay in business — when your industry is hit hard.

By Emily Rella

entrepreneur daily

It's a Sunday afternoon in December, and a slew of NFL games are about to hit television screens. But instead of being cozy at home, I'm standing in line with hundreds of others in 13-degree weather to try and get into Rocco's Sports and Rec in Manhattan's Noho neighborhood. The line is around the block, despite the below-freezing temperatures and plenty of bars nearby with available stools.

But this is what it's like sometimes trying to get into a Thatcher Shultz establishment.

Shultz, a New York-based entrepreneur, owns and operates 12 New York nightlife venues, including Make Believe, a rooftop hotspot known for its signature pink decor and lively outdoor scene, and Virgo, a tasteful new subterranean lounge. He is also opening two new spots before the end of the year, including Music for a While at the Selina Hotel Chelsea, which opens on March 8. Thatcher is a partner at The Garret Group which owns The Garret West, Bandits, and Rocco's Sports & Rec.

"I'm really trying to push the boundaries here," Shultz tells Entrepreneur. "There's so many fresh new concepts out there that have opened in the last year. You've got to keep evolving, I have to stay relevant and stay on top of my game."

Shultz has a penchant for seeking out underutilized or misused spaces and transforming them into an "experience" for customers – but somehow his establishments never seem to feel overcrowded or overstimulated.

Shockingly, all of his establishments survived the pandemic, and these packed football days at Rocco's are a far cry from 2020, which destroyed the restaurant and nightlife scene in New York.

And the aftereffects still linger — although you wouldn't know on this football Sunday. (At least I managed to make it inside to watch my team lose.)

Here's how Shultz kept this head — and businesses — above water and set a path toward growth during a rough few years.

Nightlife has changed — and not just in New York

According to a report by the NYC Hospitality Alliance in December 2023, over 50% of restaurants and bars reported a decrease in revenue in 2023, and 72% cited "labor costs" as their main concern for 2024 and the months ahead.

"The margins are just brutal right now because of labor issues and people cutting back on spending, people cutting back on drinking. It's more difficult now than it ever has been," Shultz said.

In January 2024, Eater reported more than 40 restaurant and bar closings in New York City, noting that sales and related operating costs haven't returned to pre-pandemic levels, and rent costs have inflated.

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"New York City's restaurants and bars are experiencing an uneven pandemic recovery nearly four years after COVID-19 struck our city," Andrew Rigie, Executive Director of the New York City Hospitality Alliance said in a release for the organization. "While some have recovered, others still struggle."

By the Spring of 2021, it was estimated that nearly 90,000 restaurants (including diners, cafes, taverns, and bars) had shut down nationwide.

Shultz says the pandemic changed also consumer behavior when it comes to how they approach nightlife.

"People's mindsets have changed in a way where they're almost scared to explore nightlife," he said. "They want to be listed for everything, they want to buy a ticket, they want to RSVP, otherwise, they just don't want to go. It's not the consumer's fault. It's just a byproduct of COVID."

It's still all about location

One good thing that came out of the pandemic, Shultz says, is that a lot of deals were made for venues that probably wouldn't have been able to happen without rent prices plummeting.

"I signed a few really favorable leases during COVID," Shultz says, pointing to his diner and dive bar Bandits as an example of one of these venues, an eclectic cocktail destination located in the West Village.

"A lot of cool spaces have opened as a result of COVID," he adds. "With that being said, there's just a lot of competition right now, [but] I welcome competition."

When looking for a new location, Shultz says sometimes he'll seek out the venue but other times, the deal will find him, and he'll start creating something after seeing the space.

"I've taken a lot of chances, and most of them have paid off, but some of them haven't," he says, noting that he looks for spaces that are unique and smaller in nature.

Find a similar thread

Although none of his spaces are alike, there are similar aspects to each venue, which makes each location feel like it has Shultz's signature.

"I think the smaller the better, the more intimate the better," he says of the trademark similarity in all of his spaces.

In each of his establishments, Shultz prioritizes high-end lighting, design, and sound regardless of the venue's size.

Take Virgo, for example, a posh downstairs nightclub in Manhattan's Lower East Side, which has a capacity of 300 people. But the space itself is U-shaped with many areas for guests to dance and mingle, meaning that even if the venue is empty, it will never feel cavernous.

Money is not the (entire) motive

If you're entering the nightlife industry just to make money, look elsewhere, he says.

"I never got into this industry for money. It takes years to make money at any venue, it's brutal," he said. "You just have to accept that a lot of venues break even, some of them lose money. But you can't be doing it for the money."

Shultz says he has several side hustles, including owning rental income properties and a vintage car import business, allowing him to take off the pressure of focusing on pure profit from his venues.

"I haven't relied on hospitality as a main source of income," he says, noting how historically tough the restaurant industry has been to break even.

Focus on how you want people to feel when they walk in

At Shultz's new spot, Music for a While, there will be costumes (for customers to wear) and a listening bar experience without the pressure of needing to be a music buff.

"People can really just be super weird and just be whoever they want to be," he said about his newest venture, which opens Friday.

"I want people to come and have this feeling of escapism, where they can just forget about their difficulties and just have fun, meet someone new, hang out with their friends, have a nice cocktail or an amazing meal," he adds. "And hopefully, it turns their day around and turns their night around."

Emily Rella

Entrepreneur Staff

Senior News Writer

Emily Rella is a Senior News Writer at Entrepreneur.com. Previously, she was an editor at Verizon Media. Her coverage spans features, business, lifestyle, tech, entertainment, and lifestyle. She is a 2015 graduate of Boston College and a Ridgefield, CT native. Find her on Twitter at @EmilyKRella.

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