Summer is anything but a slow season for the folks at the Alley, who toasted the openings of three shows in recent months. First up was Steve Martin’s Picasso at the Lapin Agile, celebrated by 250 guests at a French-inspired dinner catered by City Kitchen. Not long after, The Cake, written by This Is Us producer Bekah Brunsetter, debuted. Alley board members and guests enjoyed a meal that was finished with pink lemonade cake, Brunsetter’s favorite. And the Alley closed out its season with Holmes and Watson. Naturally, a British-tinged feast — roast beef roulade, berry pudding — was served. After each show, patrons gathered in the lobby for a Champagne toast with the casts.
AN INTERVIEW WITH Jamey Rootes, former President of the Houston Texans
When did you know that something big was going to impact Houston? It was 7:30am on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, and I was participating in one of the first-ever meetings of the Greater Houston Partnership Executive Committee to be conducted via Zoom. The normal public policy and economic development focused agenda was hijacked by a discussion regarding the potentially devastating impact of a new and highly contagious virus. It was hypothesized that this virus, the novel coronavirus, could absolutely overrun the capacity of our local health system. I was skeptical. I thought, "We have the largest medical center in the world. It would take something of biblical proportions to exhaust our medical capacity." As I learned, Covid-19 was pounding Europe, especially Italy, but we had yet to have a documented case of community spread in Houston. That was all about to change.
How did you adjust and overcome obstacles? My primary concern was the safety of our staff, which we also call "teammates." We needed to find a way for all of our teammates to work from home, and we had about 72 hours to get that done. The only problem was remote working was not something we had ever tried before. I visited with Jeff Schmitz, our CIO, to see what it would take to quickly get our staff working from home. He gave me a look that said, "Are you out of your mind!" I asked him to get to work and let me know if there is anything at all that he would need to make it happen. I asked him to push beyond can/can't thinking and only consider "what's it going to take?" As I expected, our IT team had everyone working from home right on time. Monday, March 16, at 8am.
What is the secret to staying hopeful and forward looking? Fortunately, our organization has faced a number of crisis situations in the past — 9/11, hurricanes, floods, lockouts — so we have a pretty good toolbox to get and keep everyone's mind right. I have termed them the "plays" for handling adversity. One of those plays is to simply commit to pushing back. Decide that this is not going to defeat us, and we are going to do something about it. Another is to stay "Positively Focused," which is shorthand for control what you can control, ignore what you can't control and be sure to remind yourself of the positives to counterbalance the overwhelming negativity you are hearing and seeing. Third is to believe that we can overcome this.
The next thing we had to do was to pivot from our established priorities for the year to something that would address our current reality. We had anticipated another record year and had a great plan to deliver that, but current circumstances would require all of us to embrace a new plan. It was my job to create and clearly articulate that new plan: Take care of our teammates, build our team, support our community, embrace our customers, engage our fans, prepare for our season.
What's new for 2021 that you are excited about? I'm excited to get together with Texans fans again, experience tailgating and the rituals and traditions of game day that have become a Houston institution the past two decades. And my new book, "The Winning Game Plan."
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CALL IT NAKED ambition. This holiday, Houston's top jewelers tout baubles beautiful enough to pair with the season's most festive fashions — or with nothing but a luxurious fragrance from centuries-old Parisian perfumer House of Creed, which just opened a Galleria boutique.
Styling by Todd Ramos
Hair & Makeup by Edward Sanchez
Art Direction by Patrick Magee
Shot on Location at The Silos at Sawyer Yards
As a Pair of Posh New Multimillion-Dollar Vegas-Style Nightspots Open, Will Houston Become the Next Club Capital?
HOUSTON IS WIDELY known for many things. Space exploration, medical research, energy production, even dining and shopping. But, much to the chagrin of some party-hearty Houstonians, the city hasn't been in the national spotlight for its nightlife.
Of course, Midtown is fun, with hotspots coming and going all the time, serving the cocktailing needs of yopros, as the Washington Corridor perennially pops. We have smart wine bars and popular sports bars, to be sure, and dives done right. But compared to clubbing capitals like New York, Los Angeles, Miami and Las Vegas, H-Town doesn't quite compete.
That may be about to change, though, as a group of entrepreneurs, many new to Houston, gets serious about having fun, investing big bucks in Vegas-y new venues, looking to change the city's after-dark destiny amid a tech-driven population boom of moneyed Millennials. "Houston's population growth has expanded with both East Coasters and West Coasters," says Mario Azodinia, the lead impresario and CEO of Sekai Hospitality Group, who feels his operation is striking while the iron is hot with two large, sexy new clubs debuting now. "As diversified as the Houston economy is, and with the increasing population, the city is ready for clubs that rival the style, density, design and operation of other major cities.
"My vision," adds Azodinia, a high-energy and unabashedly old-school lady's man, exactly the type you'd expect to see holding court in the VIP section at his establishments, "has been to create multiple hospitality venues — nightclubs and restaurants — that cater to an emerging population that is coming from different parts of the country." Azodinia, who takes a personal interest in making sure the service staff is beautiful, likening the hiring process to auditions for a movie, is also an investor in the new Gatsby's steakhouse in Montrose.
Sekai Hospitality Group's Mario Azodinia
An interior rendering of Wyld Chld on Washington
Azodinia is an immigrant from Tehran who grew up in Ohio and Pennsylvania and moved to Houston in 2008 after trying his hand at development efforts in Miami, Chicago and New York. He found Houston to be more stable, less affected by the slings and arrows of the Great Recession, and decided to make H-Town home base. He resides in a posh three-story Versace-vibe penthouse at Bayou Bend Towers with a grand staircase and a private pool on the terrace.
His group's first project, Sekai Night and Day, has just opened on Saint Emanuel Street in EaDo, with a mission to attract world-class DJs, dancing, lounging and private events. Aesthetically, think tropical art deco inspirations, with a long black-marble bar, as well as advanced lighting, video and audio elements. The 10,000-square-foot main room's ceiling soars two stories high, and showers the room with an array of tech including 200 LED strips and moving light heads. Black mirrored walls create a shimmering backdrop, while 60 feet of curved LED screens cascade above a huge, next-level DJ booth. The 27 VIP tables, prime for people watching, offer unobstructed views of the central, circular dancefloor. Hidden away is a full catering kitchen, and a slick green room for top talent.
Need some fresh air? The megaclub's deck showcases a lavishly landscaped pool surrounded on three sides by an additional 6,000 square feet of covered and indoor space. A 30-foot patio bar, 16 cabanas and five daybeds are available for guests' leisure.
"Houston is following a same trajectory as Las Vegas," says Sal Wise, one of Azodinia's partners. "Vegas went from family-friendly to gambling to the dining scene to the entertainment scene to a full-service entertainment scene. Houston is insanely popular in the culinary aspect, so we're trying to fill that void between 11pm and 2am [after the restaurants close]. With Sekai, you'll have that full-service entertainment component that brings Houston alive."
Sekai Partner Robert Gamch says the goal is to "keep putting smiles on people's faces by creating amazing experiences," while he emphasized that service, safety and cleanliness will be hallmarks of a Sekai Night and Day experience. "From booking a reservation to entering the front door to leaving the venue, people will have a great time." The club currently operates a weekend evening schedule and, as the name suggests, will expand into a daytime operation when the Houston weather allows.
Wise and Gamch know what of which they speak. They both worked at some of the biggest nightclubs in Vegas and are bringing what they learned to Houston. For example, guests opting for table service will enjoy expedited entry and may have a dedicated server tending to their needs. Gamch has already moved to Houston, and Wise is also in the process of relocating.
For the night owl who wants to grab a nightcap but prefers something more intimate and exclusive, Sekai Hospitality also recently opened Wyld Chld in the former The Classic space on Washington Ave. Wyld Chld fills 7,500 square feet of interior space, split between the main floor and stage, in addition to a 1,300-square-foot patio and 1,000-square-foot rooftop terrace. "It's a 'who's who' crowd that attends," Azodinia notes.
Sekai Hospitality Group declines to say just how much it's invested in the clubs, except to confirm it's multimillions at this point, with more to come. Several other club concepts are in the works for the group, they say, and Azodinia hints he'll be announcing new restaurant ventures independently soon, as well.
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