Mio Danilovic was working his way through college at the El Dorado bar in Brentwood, Calif., when he heard about a new nightclub on the Sunset Strip.
"I had heard there was this young, ambitious guy who was starting a business that was going to revolutionize the way people go out in Los Angeles," Danilovic said.
He walked into Shelter and found owner Sam Nazarian sitting in an office drinking iced coffee. Within five minutes, Danilovic had talked his way into a job working club security.
That was in 2002. Since then, Danilovic, 34, has worked his way up to vice president of operations for nightlife at Nazarian's company, SBE. It runs the Hyde Bellagio and is rebranding the former Sahara as the SLS hotel.
Danilovic is now the force behind bringing a new Shelter nightclub to Las Vegas, as well as Katsuya by Starck, a high-end sushi restaurant that SBE first opened in Los Angeles.
So how do you go from working security to vice president of operations for a national hospitality brand?
When you work security, you have a lot of free time, so you can constantly be around the people who are running the operation and learn about it. In basketball, they say to hang around the rim because somebody will eventually pass you the ball and you'll score. I was always hanging around the rim, so to speak.
SBE bought the Sahara four years before it opened Hyde. How did running the club help the company's efforts to build a full-service resort?
Not only is it a great partnership with MGM, and it allowed us to open this great space and to create this nightclub concept, but it also afforded us the opportunity to really learn the Las Vegas market and compare ourselves with the multiple businesses and resorts here. It really allowed us to get educated before we started planning for SLS.
What lessons have you learned over the past year?
One thing that's different in Las Vegas from Los Angeles and Miami is the local competition and friendships that exist here are a lot more intensified. There's not a lot of different operators. The community is very small and everybody sort of knows each other.
You also have to embrace the thousands and thousands of new people who show up every day. In L.A., we rely heavily on return business. On a Saturday night, the majority of people at our L.A. clubs know each other. That doesn't happen in Las Vegas. People who come to Hyde Bellagio, no one knows each other on any Saturday night. You have to constantly educate people on how to party in the club and how it works. That's how you stay relevant in the marketplace.
Every little move we make is designed to make it simple for people to know how to go through the club when they show up and feel at home so they can be comfortable and have fun.
You are developing a Shelter nightclub at SLS. What’s going to make it stand out?
I don't want to give away too many of our secrets, but for the last year, we've been working on how to provide a different way of partying. We're adding elements yet to be seen here in Las Vegas.
We will manage all the outlets inside SLS. That will allow us to speak the same language throughout the property. If you're a VIP in a restaurant, you'll also be a VIP in our nightclubs. Wherever somebody goes, they'll feel the same passion and energy.
How do you bring a new way to party to a place like Las Vegas?
It all has to do with the interaction with the customer. How do you get the customer more involved throughout the night?
People are getting more and more educated about nightlife on a level they haven't been before. I think some of the best nightclub products being sold are the ones now in Las Vegas.
On any given weekend, you can see the biggest names in music performing somewhere. Jump in a cab, and you're five minutes away from the next big name. The consumer knows this. So having a great, famous DJ is not enough anymore. We have to do something different.
We need to add layers to the DJ, both in entertainment and interaction. We're going to do that. The customers are going to feel like they are a part of the show.
Is the company still on schedule to begin construction by the start of next year?
Yes. The first quarter of 2014. That's when we plan to open.