EMM Group Entrepreneurs Create Allure to Keep Clubbers Coming Back

Recession didn't deter Michael Hirtenstein, Eugene Remm and Mark Birnbaum from building a $30 million luxury nightlife empire.

Eugene Remm, 31, and Mark Birnbaum, 32, don't believe in quitting while they're ahead. As economic disaster swelled in 2007, Tenjune--their swanky, 5,000-square-foot nightclub in Manhattan's Meatpacking District--kept on rocking. On one raucous evening a real estate developer bought $75,000 worth of Perrier-Jouët champagne for the house, then told partygoers to shake up the bottles and coat the room in suds. Tenjune opened in August 2006 and generated $12 million of revenue in 2007, making Remm and Birnbaum's combined 50% stake worth millions of dollars. Says Remm, "Everyone was saying we were one-hit wonders"--meaning they should take their money and run.

Instead, the pair doubled down. Their nightlife empire, EMM Group, now includes restaurants, lounges, a luxury concierge service and a house in Sag Harbor, L.I. used for hosting private parties for VH1 and the cast of Gossip Girl. Headquartered in a sunny loft near Tenjune, EMM, now with 30 head-office employees, had $30 million in sales in the last 12 months. Credit that performance to Birnbaum's aesthetic eye and Remm's attention to detail. A third partner--Michael Hirtenstein, 47, who sold his Westcom Communications, which supplied secure voice and data networks to Wall Street firms, for $270 million in 2005--joined in 2008 and negotiates contracts. "They have their eyes on everything but never look stressed," says MTV Programming President Tony DiSanto, a regular EMM customer. "I see them more as producers than club owners."
Remm, the son of Russian immigrants, had a taste for risk at Long Island's Hofstra University, where he ran a bar and speculated in real estate. During his senior year he bought five houses, putting down a combined $10,000 he had pocketed in tips. ("I was the definition of subprime," he quips.) After graduation Remm joined B.R. Guest Restaurants and ran its lounge, Level V. Birnbaum promoted Manhattan clubs as a high school senior on Long Island; at Ithaca College he ran a 22,000-square-foot nightclub. After hawking insurance and hating it, he started a consultancy aimed at new club owners.
Remm and Birnbaum hooked up after throwing competing birthday parties--both were born on June 10 (hence Tenjune)--and became fast friends. They raised $800,000 from college friends and club clients to open Tenjune just in time for Fashion Week and the MTV Video Music Awards. They threw a book launch party for celebrity stylist June Ambrose, hosted by rapper Sean Combs (a.k.a. P. Diddy). Penelope Cruz, Jay-Z and Beyoncé showed up. Emboldened, Remm and Birnbaum opened a concierge service in 2007 with annual dues of $7,500. That summer they took out a $3.9 million mortgage on an eight-bedroom Sag Harbor mansion, which hosts five blowout events a summer. In the spring of 2009 EMM signed on to run the Chandelier Room in the W Hotel in Hoboken, N.J.
Their biggest bet came on Sept. 15, 2008--the day Lehman Brothers filed Chapter 11--when Remm and Birnbaum plunked down $2 million, their entire savings, to secure a three-floor restaurant and club space a block from Tenjune. It needed renovation, which involved expanding the mezzanine and relocating the furnace room. Expected total cost, including renovations, furniture and permits: $7 million. They raised the other $5 million, mostly from happy Tenjune customers, in eight months. Abe & Arthur's, which serves $88 porterhouse steaks, and its basement club, SL, opened last September. The combo has since done $10 million in sales.


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