As part of my series about the “5 Things You Need To Know To Create a Successful Service Business,” I had the pleasure of interviewing Ed Kane of Big Night Nightlife. *
*A charismatic Boston native and Harvard graduate, Ed Kane is the visionary leader behind New England’s preeminent hospitality company, Big Night Entertainment Group. For over 30 years Kane has been pushing the envelope in Boston’s restaurant and nightlife scene, introducing award-winning venues and one-of-a-kind concepts. Kane’s eye for design has garnered countless industry awards and has made Big Night Entertainment Group synonymous with style. An influential Boston businessman in his own right, his leadership and expertise has earned him a spot in the Massachusetts Hospitality Hall of Fame. *
*Kane began his illustrious restaurant career in 1989 when he and his brother, Joe, bought and renovated a ’50s-style diner. Their transformation built what is now the popular Hingham Harbor restaurant, Stars. In 1992, the Kanes — along with partners Greg Acerra and Arthur DeCarli — purchased an old granary in Hingham and transformed it into an architectural wonder, Tosca. The new restaurant quickly became an iconic local eatery, receiving countless national design and Best of Boston awards. Following the success of Tosca, the team opened nearby Caffé Tosca, with lighter Italian fare, and then launched the fast- growing FireKing Baking Company. Tosca and Caffé Tosca gave Kane and his partners a good taste of the Boston restaurant and hospitality scene, leading them to start Big Night Entertainment Group in 2006. *
*In 2008, the group debuted Shrine Nightclub and Red Lantern in Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort Casino. The sultry, dramatic restaurant and casino club debuted to rave reviews and national recognition. Shrine is like nothing New England has seen before, outfitted in the latest technology and introducing renowned acts to New England for the first time. Shrine earned a coveted spot in the top 35 on Nightclub and Bar’s prestigious “Top 100 Nightclubs in the Country”. Following the success for Shrine, Kane and the Big Night Entertainment Group team introduced Scorpion Bar and High Rollers Luxury Lanes & Lounge to Foxwoods in 2009 and 2010, respectively. In 2016 the group continued their Foxwoods expansion and partnered with celebrity chef and television personality Guy Fieri to open Guy Fieri Foxwoods Kitchen + Bar. Kane and Big Night Entertainment Group moved their culinary success to Boston in 2011, opening three new restaurants within a year — Red Lantern, located in Back Bay, is a luxurious Pan-Asian hotspot, widely known for its sophisticated taste with both early and late-night dinners, the perfect completion to a night out on the town and Empire, the first Asian-fusion restaurant to hit Boston’s Seaport District, mixing Asia’s eclectic culinary tastes with Boston’s lively nightlife on a prime oceanfront location. *
*In 2016 Kane and Big Night Entertainment Group headed to Foxborough’s Patriot Place where they opened their second Scorpion Bar location right outside of Gillette Stadium. 2017 saw Big Night Entertainment Group introduce the all-day French-Californian concept, Explorateur, just steps away from the iconic Boston Common. This one-of-a-kind dining experience transforms from a European café in the mornings to a luxurious dining room in the evenings, where sophisticated dishes embrace modern French cuisine with West Coast flair. Kane spearheaded Explorateur from concept to creation, utilizing his experience to design this multifaceted dining venue located within the historic Grand Masonic Lodge. In 2017, Kane and his team also unveiled the duo of The Scorpion Bar Boston and The Grand at Boston’s burgeoning Seaport District. Expanding from the immense success at Foxwoods Resort and Casino and Patriot Place, Scorpion Bar Boston exudes excitement with its signature inventive Mexican fare and libations. Located just upstairs from Scorpion Bar is Boston’s premier nightlife destination, The Grand, a $14 million Las Vegas-style nightclub featuring top of the line audio and vision technology in a space that is equally luxurious and exciting. Welcoming top talent from around the globe, including celebrity DJ’s like Steve Aoki, Marshmello and Tiësto, The Grand offers an unprecedented nightlife experience to Boston and is the first ever Boston venue to be named Dance Club of the Year by Nightclub & Bar. Big Night Entertainment Group debuted CBS Sporting Club in collaboration with The Kraft Group and CBS in 2018. This modern gastro sports pub is located in the heart of Foxborough’s Patriot Place. In fall 2018, Big Night Entertainment Group also introduced the arcade bar VERSUS to Downtown Crossing in Boston. The space is packed with retro modern arcade games, iconic pop art murals by local New England artist Dirty Dek, televisions, 1980’s pop culture-inspired design elements and a state of the art sound system. *
The group continues to grow rapidly, partnering with household names like Encore Boston Harbor to debut unique spaces like Mystique Asian Restaurant & Lounge and Mémoire. Nightclub. Mystique features a wide selection of sushi, an extensive robata program, dishes that put a modern spin on traditional pan-Asian delicacies, as well as an inventive cocktail program. Mémoire is Encore Boston Harbor’s flagship nightlife destination that transcends convention at every turn with state-of-the-art video technology, intelligent lighting, a Funktion One sound system, and entertainment consisting of world- class DJs. Most recently, the group introduced Big Night Live and Guy’s Tequila Cocina at The Hub on Causeway to the people of Boston. Big Night Live is a 40,000 square foot concert / music hall that boasts 24 VIP tables, a long oversized central island bar and unparalleled access to top musical artists. Within the venue lives Guy’s Tequila Cocina, a concept in partnership with celebrity chef Guy Fieri that features innovative takes on Mexican and Latin street food and an innovative beverage program with a selection of over 100 tequilas.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
When I was in High School my parents purchased a local bar in a very blue collar area and I started working as a cleaner. I graduated to a short order cook and eventually a bartender when I was on break in college. To be honest I didn’t love it as is often the case in family businesses. It’s a lot of hard, dirty work.
After I graduated from Harvard I started a small computer consulting company and sold it around the same time my mom was ill with cancer. I got more involved with the family business and then my brother found a restaurant that was for sale in an A+ location in the beautiful town of Hingham. With the help of a friend and business partner we purchased the business and eventually the real estate. Stars is still open and operating today — 31 years later — and though I could never have imagined it at the time, this was the beginning of 30 different openings — nightclubs, restaurants, a bakery, a cafe and an arcade bar.
What was the “Aha Moment” that led you to think of the idea for your current company? Can you share that story with us?
In 2006, I had opened around a dozen places and was thinking about a new career and moving to the West Coast, but I still had in mind an idea for a company that looked at nightlife completely differently. I joined forces with my brother Joe and marketing radio/DJ guru Randy Greenstein to form Big Night Entertainment Group with the mission to rethink nightlife in Boston and New England. The three of us formed an incredibly potent, dynamic, and unbeknownst to us then, timely company. I remember sitting in my loft with Randy and Joe and thinking “wow, we really have something here”. We were just dreaming up a plan and marking up a white board but it felt 100% right.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
Oh, I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Luckily none of them terminal.
The earliest mistake I made was on opening my first place and thinking I was a designer. I painted the walls blue and mauve and made some crazy design decisions,. It was really quite something. When I look back on it now I cringe but it worked and people loved it. It made me realize a few things right away. Number one, take risks and trust your instincts as they are often right. I believe this has helped me more than anything over the years. Number two, give the people either what they want or what they WILL want and just don‘t know it yet. In other words, think about what is coming next and try to hit the market with something new and creative that also has lasting power.
Thank you for that. Let’s now pivot to the main focus of our interview. Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
Our mission was simple — create better nightlife in Boston and New England. Sophisticated, curated, safer, more creative nightlife simply did not exist and we felt as if the city was maturing and moving in a more international direction. We wanted to be a part of that growth in the hospitality world. We embraced the vision set by the Mayor and the City of Boston and wanted to be a part of the growth. We took some huge risks and spent a lot of money in construction and design and it has paid big dividends for us.
What do you do to articulate or demonstrate your company’s values to your employees and to your customers?
Walk the walk. Be equipped to do any job needed to make it work. Put employees first. Create a culture that is progressive and inclusive. Be available and communicate well.
Do the right thing all the time. No matter how difficult that is in the moment.
Make the customer feel valued, included and beyond replacement.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
I think it’s the sense that we are all on the same team and that the whole is more important than any individual. That collectively we are stronger and can resolve any issue. We also believe we hire the best and brightest in the business and instill in them the sense that what they do, what they say, and what their ideas are, really matter. I think that’s the key. Having people you work with be emotionally, and maybe even spiritually, involved in the success of your company. The company has to feel like it is theirs because quite frankly, at the end of the day, it really is.
Can you tell us a story about the hard times that you faced when you first started your journey? Did you ever consider giving up? Where did you get the drive to continue even though things were so hard?
Personally, before Big Night, I was a bit burned out and was operating a company called Eat Well. It was the parent company for my first dozen places. In 2006 I really thought about moving to the West Coast and figuring out a new career. At that exact time I had conversations with Randy (Greenstein) and my brother Joe about maybe creating something never seen in the market. The meetings and the conversations were so inspiring and uplifting that it really reinvigorated me. They also gave me the opportunity to handle a lot of the creative side of the business without worrying about the day to day operations. Randy and Joe handled that. It was a huge weight off my shoulders. To this day, Randy really handles 99 percent of the day to day operations. He’s incredible and it makes my life a lot more enjoyable.
So, how are things going today? How did your values lead to your eventual success?
Things are great. We just opened our largest project, a music hall — Big Night Live at the TD Garden — to rave reviews. A few months before that we opened two incredible places at the new Wynn operated Encore Casino on Boston Harbor. Mystique is a stylized Asian restaurant with a dramatic open kitchen and robata grill. It also has an energetic lounge and bar. Memoire is a Las Vegas style boutique nightclub that features some of the best DJ’s in the world and a killer Funktion One sound system.
I say “great” though with the understanding that this is an everyday business and we really are only as good as our last meal, or last show, or last customer interaction.
For sure our life values of honesty, hard work and persistence have led to much of our success. In addition, we have created a really nice culture in which to work. We want the best and the brightest. We want to empower them. We love senior level employees who are entrepreneurs and can make smart decisions without worrying about making mistakes. Also we want our employees to have fun and enjoy what they are doing. We are after all in the entertainment business.
Based on your experience and success, what are the five most important things a founder or CEO should know in order to create a very successful service based business? Please share a story or an example for each.
Empower your employees — It is essential that every single employee feels a part of something greater. Something important. Something where they directly contribute to the success of the business.
Take Risks — Be smart about your decisions but allow yourself to be creative and to think outside of the box. Push your boundaries and your comfort zone.
Believe in yourself — Trust your instincts and your years of experience.
Surround yourself with people who are more talented or smarter than you are — says to all.
Have fun and enjoy what you do. I love what I do. It’s reflected in our design and your experience.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There are so many. I have been blessed to have had wonderful partners throughout the years and incredible mentors and friends. Each has contributed to my success.
You are people of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. :-)
I’d love to figure out a way to show more inner city kids exactly what it’s like to work and succeed in the hospitality business. Growing up in Dorchester in a working class family and then arriving where I am today is a gift I’d love to somehow share. I have this idea one day to create a Big Night School where inner city high school kids come once a week for an entire day and work in the different departments on site and in the office. Not just cooking and serving but also Marketing and PR as well as accounting and VIP hosting. It’s not a one dimensional, uphill climb anymore and kids should be shown that.
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Roller99 on Instagram and Twitter.