Want to make it big? Do you know the secret to running a successful business? What does it take to make your product stand out from everyone else's? That’s what more than 400 students at FIU eagerly got to class early to learn about, not from just books, but from one of the most successful entrepreneurs in Miami, who happens to be their professor, David Grutman.
“That’s how you build something, it’s relationships,” said Grutman, an FIU Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management professor and founder and owner of Groot Hospitality. Grutman is globally known in the hospitality world for creating immersive experiential venues with distinct atmospheres and high energy.
His hospitality group owns and operates one of Miami’s most successful nightclubs, LIV at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach, and more than a dozen bars, a hotel and restaurants, including Gekko, Swan, Papi Steak and Komodo, the latter of which is the top-selling independent restaurant in the United States, which claims more than $40 million in sales annually.
More than 400 students are in the class this semester.
The David Grutman Experience: The Class is back for the fourth time at the Chaplin School and open to all FIU students and alumni. Since its Fall 2019 launch, Grutman’s hospitality group has expanded into restaurants and nightlife venues in Dallas and Las Vegas. He’s also entered the lodging and hotel space with the Goodtime Hotel on Miami Beach and a new project slated for Outer Space. All of that background figures into the class as the master of hospitality shares his real-world know-how.
FIU Provost, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Béjar introduced Grutman at the first course meeting last week. “This experience, the class you’re in, actually speaks to our national and global success in education,” Bejar told students. “We’re breaking down the barriers between theory and practice. So, we want you to live it and experience it.”
Provost, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Elizabeth Béjar introduces David Grutman.
Grutman kicked things off with his origin story, which began more than 30 years ago when he was a bartender at the Aventura Mall. He admits that the journey has included both successes and many failures. He believes in five key common threads: relationships, taking it personally, a win win mentality, authenticity, and the long haul.
“Everybody wants to arrive and not take the ride,” he told the crowd just before his special guest speaker walked into the room to lots of cheering and oohs and ahhs.
Miami-raised local rapper, music producer, record executive, and entrepreneur Rick Ross, born William Leonard Roberts II, walked into the ballroom at the Kovens Conference Center on FIU’s Biscayne Bay Campus with his 2006 hit song “Hustlin” playing in the background. On stage, he began with a “Yeah! Much love. If you’re a hustler, can I get a uhh?” Students responded with smiles and a loud “uhh” as they recorded and posted videos all over social media.
Ross started his career in the music industry as a rapper and music producer but has expanded his business empire not only as a music mogul, with his own Maybach Music Group, but through investments in real estate and the Food and Beverage industry, including the fast food chain, Wingstop, which specializes in chicken wings. He’s even expanded into the beverage space with his latest venture, Luc Belaire Bleu Champagne Rick Ross.
Grutman called in a “coupon,” or favor, to have Ross speak in class, which the rapper admitted was “too easy” when he accepted the invitation.
An FIU graduate student scores an on-stage shoutout to her husband and son from Ross.
Students asked both Grutman and Ross about their rise to the top and pitfalls and also about the choices they made along the way, like if they invest in products they like. Ross answered, “I make whatever investment I make my hobby.”
Grutman agreed but emphasized the importance of being the first one in on a venture and then commiting to being absoslutely better than everyone else. His own example: being one of the first investors into the Design District and Brickell areas of Miami with his restaurants Swan, Komodo and Gekko.
“If you follow the train, you missed it,” he said. “We try to set our own trend and not follow them. We make the trends.”
Added Ross: “And for me, lemon pepper wings, when I fell in love with them three years ago, I bought my first restaurant.” Not only does he serve them at Wingstop, but the seasoned wings are mentioned in the song "Lemon Pepper Freestyle" by rapper and singer Drake and on which Ross provides vocals.
For students like junior David Canales, who is studying business marketing, the class was a hit. “I thought it was amazing and eye opening to hear their experiences. Bringing Rick Ross was also very amazing. They both come from different paths, but just talking about entrepreneurship and having overcome obstacles in their own businesses was very eye opening.”