The JV Looks at One of Today’s Leading Jewish Entrepreneurs
When it comes to the real estate and entertainment industries, there are many notable Jewish business owners on the scene today, but few stand out as much as Sam Nazarian, a 36-year-old Iranian Jewish hotshot who has his hand in dozens of luxury hotel, dining, nightclub, and real estate ventures.
Nazarian was born in Tehran in 1975. His family fled Iran in 1979 when the revolution that deposed the Shah of Iran made living there undesirable for Persian Jews. Nazarian’s father Younes did very well as a contractor in Tehran, but lost everything when he came to the United States. The family settled in Southern California where Nazarian, his parents, and three siblings shared three hotel rooms with Nazarian’s aunts and uncles (when times got good, they bought the hotel).
In 1980, Nazarian’s father and uncle were able to secure an $11 million loan by tapping funds owed by European companies to his confiscated Iranian businesses. They used the money to purchase Standard Tool & Die, a precision machining company that the elder Nazarian thought had the potential to benefit from the blossoming space shuttle program.
Nazarian graduated from Beverly Hills High School where Angelina Jolie was among his many celebrity offspring classmates—one who was ultimately to become a star in her own right. He went on to attend New York University and the University of Southern California.
In 1998, Nazarian founded Platinum Wirelesss, his first business venture, which specialized in the distribution of Nextel software. Within a year, the company became the number one Nextel distributor in Southern California. He then ventured into real estate by diversifying his family’s assets, beginning with the establishment of 3Wall Development in 1999. Under Nazarian’s leadership, 3Wall quickly became one of Southern California’s largest owners of multi-family housing.
In 2002, Nazarian founded SBE (short for Sammy Boy Entertainment), a hospitality, real estate, and entertainment company. The purchase of his largest competitor, privately held Syndicate Hospitality in 2011, nearly doubled SBE’s nightlife holdings, making Nazarian the most powerful operator of clubs on the West Coast.
Nazarian turned to the motion picture business in 2005, executive producing such films as Waiting…, Down in the Valley, and the Kevin Costner thriller Mr. Brooks. He also appeared as himself on a 2007 episode of the HBO series Entourage.
Nazarian attributes the success of his business to giving the customer the most luxurious experience possible. “Access is currency,” Nazarian told the Los Angeles Times last year. “Whether you’re a group like Pfizer, or you’re a couple in town for the weekend, you now have the capability to book your whole weekend — including where you stay, what you eat and where you go afterward — with one phone call. We can really manicure your experience.” To that end, Nazarian has partnered with such acclaimed talents as interior designer Philippe Starck, photographer and music video director Matthew Rolston, and chefs José Andrés, Michael Mina, and Katsuya Uechi.
Southern California has seen a growth in their Iranian Jewish community over the last thirty years, and many young Iranian Jews look up to Nazarian, both for this success in business and his willingness to give back to the community. He has opened up his nightclubs for several party fundraisers on behalf of Israeli victims of Hezbollah rocket attacks in 2006 and the Friends of the IDF. He has also lent the use of his clubs to various political and social causes.
Among Nazarian’s next ventures are building an upscale 190-room boutique hotel in Manhattan under his SLS banner (SLS standing for style, luxury, and service). He has partnered with Moin Development Corp. and together they expect to spend $85 million to buy and convert an office building at 444 Park Avenue South, which will boast three bars and restaurants, and nightly room rates in the $500 range, on par with other high-end hotels in New York City. The hotel is slated to open in the second quarter of 2013.
“For us, this really finalizes the triangle between New York, Los Angeles and Miami,” Nazarian told the Wall Street Journal. “New York is really going to be big for us across our platform.”
Nazarian hopes to add additional hotel properties in uptown Manhattan and Soho, as well as locations for Redbury, his new extended-stay luxury brand.
With a net worth of $150 million, Nazarian was named one of the “Top 100 Most Powerful People in Southern California” by the Los Angeles Times. He lives in a 6,000-square-foot house in the Hollywood Hills and has dated actresses such as Kristin Cavallari of MTV’s The Hills. For all of the glitz and glamour that goes along with Nazarian’s work, though, he remains first and foremost a savvy investor and businessman who, still several years shy of 40, will likely continue to have a large influence on the hospitality and entertainment industries for many years to come.