Meet Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong, Founders of El Grupo SN.
El Grupo SN is a New York-based hospitality company that develops, curates, owns, and operates rooftops, bars, and restaurants. Founding and managing partners Nathan Leong and Sameer Qureshi bring decades of hospitality experience to the company. In 2019, El Grupo SN partnered with New York real estate developer, Lam Generation, to operate the food and beverage concepts inside the brand new Renaissance Hotel Chelsea New York.
El Grupo SN’s venue collection includes Somewhere Nowhere NYC, Hidden Lane NYC, Cardinal Ballroom inside the Renaissance Chelsea Hotel, and Gamehaus LIC/NY (opening Fall 2021).
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Before we begin, our readers are interested to know about how you got started in the first place. Did you always want to be where you are today or was it something you were led to? Share with us your journey.
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Sameer: I grew up in Bahrain and moved to the U.S. during my high school years. I graduated with a degree in Economics from Rutgers and started my career in Finance where I gradually moved into more of a focus in the energy sector. During this time, nightlife was not really accessible to minorities so I sought out to make a change and this is how I started my journey into hospitality. I banded together with a few other Asians to approach restaurants and clubs and created a rotation of events for Asians nights. In 2010, I launched Royale Group Marketing, a boutique agency that offers event planning, marketing, branding, and other consulting services for the hospitality sector. I also started to open my own venues and Somewhere Nowhere is the most recent venue I opened. So while I spent most of my career in the energy industry, my passion for entertainment and nightlife led me to where I am today but I knew it would be a tough journey to get here.
Nathan: I always knew this was the line of field I wanted to work in. My parents owned a restaurant located in Puerto Rico where I was born and raised. As a kid, it was a dream of mine to convert the family business into a restaurant and bar by day and a club by night. I would pick up evening and weekend shifts to learn more about the business so I could take over one day. I even started mapping out floor plans and drawing out designs. When I moved to NYC in the mid-2000s, I immersed myself in nightlife, started out as a promoter for different bars, restaurants, and clubs leading to opening my own clubs and bars with other partners. From there, I expanded into creating and managing events, producing concerts, and buying talent. Somewhere Nowhere is my dream realized. As the creative visionary for the space, I am incredibly proud of how magical this two-level enchanted garden-inspired club, lounge, and open-air rooftop pool space turned out. I am blessed to continue to pursue my dream with the upcoming opening of my next venue, Gamehaus in Long Island City. Gamehaus will be an indoor-outdoor Omni-functional event space that will be operating a sporting club, live entertainment venue, beer hall, brunch spot, restaurant, and will feature a dedicated area for retro arcade and table games.
Tell us a bit about your current focus. What is the most important thing that you’re working on and how do you plan on doing it?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Sameer: When we started the design of Somewhere Nowhere, we had a goal to create the best nightclub, open air rooftop lounge, and pool space with a garden-inspired decor and magical design. Now that we have created that, we are laser-focused on delivering the best hospitality experience to everyone that honors us with a visit and we are even more focused on getting that right. We want to provide our guests with a safe yet fun and immersive experience and we truly believe we have hired the best team in the industry to achieve this goal.
Nathan: To add to what Sameer said, we are also constantly making upgrades to the venue so that we are able to curate more memorable events and elevate the experience for our guests. My focus has always been on delivering a nightlife experience unlike any other venue in NYC, from bringing in new design/decor elements to our space, creating immersive events, to bringing world-renowned DJs and artists to perform at Somewhere Nowhere.
How important is having good timing in your line of work and in the industry that your organization operates in?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Timing is everything. When working in the nightlife industry, we often ask ourselves is now the right time to be introducing this particular talent to our guest? Not only do we bring in talent that is popular at the moment, but it is also important for us to stay abreast of upcoming talent and be the first to bring them to NYC. We plan all our events with enough lead time to book the talent and properly curate, execute and market them to the right audience. The right idea at the wrong time is never going to be very successful.
Founder of Virgin Group, Richard Branson, states “Timing is everything in life, and it’s particularly crucial in entrepreneurship. People often equate success with luck, but it usually comes down to impeccable (and carefully mapped out) timing”. Do you agree with this statement? Please answer in as much detail as necessary.
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Sameer: Absolutely. We feel that the timing of anything is crucial especially in this new normal we are in. We were originally supposed to open Spring 2020 but like with many other businesses, we postponed our opening. Besides timing, it’s also about taking risks and we were one of the first nightclubs to open earlier this year. The timing of our opening has positioned us for huge success.
Nathan: I’m the more impulsive one so this is something where Sameer has always emphasized and guided me on. I agree completely with Richard Branson’s statement. Whether you are bidding in the stock market or planning to expand your company, timing is everything in life. As an entrepreneur, I can tell you that success doesn’t come from luck. It took me 10+ years of working endless hours in hospitality and growing my network before opening up Somewhere Nowhere NYC.
As a leader/entrepreneur/CEO, how do you decide when to put the pedal to the metal and when to take a break? How do you time the key moments in your career?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Sameer: We are both very hard-working individuals and extremely passionate about our business so we both put in a lot of hours. Nightlife is a 24-hour business but I make sure I take the time to recharge my batteries whether that is taking short vacations or spending time with my family. Sundays are daddy-daughter days and my utmost priority so nothing is important enough to interrupt that time…
Nathan: This business is 24/7 but when you enjoy what you do, it doesn’t seem like “work” and the time passes by very fast. The result of seeing everyone enjoy what you have put in so much time and effort to plan and create makes it worthwhile. Similar to Sameer, when I am with my family, that’s when I put my phone down to enjoy the moment with them. And no one can interrupt cuddle time with my fur babies, Snow and Storm.
“Timing can be everything when starting up. It can be the difference between building a thriving business and not” How has good timing helped you achieve success in your career or business? Are there any particular examples from your career that you would like to share?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Good timing has helped us achieve success by helping us map out our early days and giving us the ability to truly prove to our community of night-lifers that we are able to book great talent and deliver an impeccable experience. We feel we have both been very lucky in life as it pertains to timing. We both previously had ventures we were part of that didn’t work out long term but the experience we gained was very valuable for us both. Sometimes you want something and you don’t necessarily get it at that moment but looking back, everything happens for a reason and prepares you for future success.
We are both incredibly proud of what we have created at Somewhere Nowhere. We operate with the motto that things happen for you and not to you, and the right timing played a big part in our success with Somewhere Nowhere.
“When you’re thinking of starting up, ask yourself: ‘Is the community I want to serve ready for this idea?’ It could make all the difference!” Would you like to add anything to this piece of advice for all the aspiring entrepreneurs?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Sameer: We go with our gut when it comes to creating a new idea or concept. We don’t necessarily believe in doing what’s popular out there because it’s already being done in one shape or form. At Somewhere Nowhere, we focus on creating curated immersive events that our guests will not experience anywhere else. We challenge ourselves by giving our guests an experience like no other. That is what makes us unique and in turn, successful.
Nathan: My advice to all aspiring leais that don’t be scared to try something different but be passionate about it and you will find a community that will support you. If it doesn’t work out like how you thought it would, then just pivot, but at least you’ll never have the regret of not trying.
COVID forced many businesses to adapt fast, some did so successfully, others failed, it was a lot due to good or poor timing. What are some of the big lessons you’ve learned during the pandemic?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Sameer: The biggest lesson I learned was that life is fragile and you have to enjoy the time you have with friends, family, and colleagues. Dance while you still can because tomorrow is not guaranteed. We think enjoying everyday life is more important than ever when you think about how quickly things can change and what we take for granted can disappear.
Nathan: We opened up our venue in the middle of the pandemic and waited for the right time to bring our concept to life. We learned how to approach nightlife in a way that works in a post-pandemic world while staying true to what we wanted to bring to the industry. We wanted to do things right and allow Somewhere Nowhere– from the views, ambiance, to music and entertainment – to be experienced fully and were patient to wait for a time that we could safely do so.
Your insight has been incredibly valuable and our readers thank you for your generosity. We do have a couple of other bold questions to ask. What fictional world would you want to start a business in and what would you sell?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: That’s an easy one: Neverland from Peter Pan, where you don’t grow up and we would sell ice cream. What kid doesn’t like ice cream?
Before we finish things off, we would love to know, when you have some time away from business, what is one hobby that you wish you could spend more time on?
Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong: Sameer: Reading, I rediscovered the joys of reading again recently and I was doing great with it. Since the opening of Somewhere Nowhere, I had to put a pause in reading but I definitely need to take the time to read more.
Nathan: DJing, I love discovering new sounds and mixing different musical genres to create a unique sound and seeing people dance to it.
Jed Morley, VIP Contributor to ValiantCEO and the host of this interview would like to thank Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong for taking the time to do this interview and share their knowledge and experience with our readers.
If you would like to get in touch with Sameer Qureshi & Nathan Leong or their company, you can do it through their – Linkedin Page
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