The Future of Hospitality – with Zach Jukel

I met Zach Jukel, or Jukes, my freshman year at ASU. I was initially struck by his confidence, and then by his continued achievements; I remember one night at Buca Di Beppo, he ate nearly his entire plate of pasta, which, if you haven’t been, is a big accomplishment, seeing as a single portion could feed a family.

In college, Jukes always seemed to have connections and know where the happenings were, which fits in well with where he’s at in his career. At 30 years old, he is the Director of Marketing for Events & Nightlife at MGM Resorts International – look at him with his big accomplishments.

He’s being a grown ass adult over in Vegas, which you certainly don’t achieve without determination and persistence. Zach grew up in South Florida and watched his dad work in the Wealth Management & Investments field. His mom was in Nursing when she was younger, before staying at home to raise him, his older brother, and his older sister. He describes childhood as amazing; he was fortunate to have parents that introduced him to different sports, hobbies, and other activities. I asked what he was drawn to in his high school years, outside of “typical” teenage angst and desires; his answer was that of a soon to be successful business man in conjunction with a true millennial.
“I was very excited to go to an out of state college. Both of my older siblings did, and I felt the need to follow in their footsteps. I just wanted to experience something different and take things to the next level,” he offered.

I asked more about college, half because I think it’s important for the readers, and half because that’s where I met him, so I’m naturally prone to reminisce back to those times.

“I decided on ASU because it really had that college feel, whereas UCLA had more of a city feel and Colorado was just too cold. I knew I wanted to be on the West coast… I knew I wanted to enjoy the outdoors in the heat instead of snow, and I knew I wanted to network. Honestly, college was the best four years of my life; I met so many people that I still talk to today and that’s where I really found my love for curating events, which grew into larger scale hospitality.”

He talked about interning with big political faces and his ability to grow from within before moving to Miami in 2012.

He started with the Opium Group, which was the largest nightclub operator in Miami Beach; he oversaw all marketing with the team for six months while SBE Entertainment was growing at a rapid rate; he took a job with them in late 2012 as their Marketing manager, handling the day to day for HYDE Beach, HYDE American Airlines Arena, Katsuya, Jose Bazaar, and Cleo South Beach. He stayed there for over three years, then moved to Miami Marketing Group which turned into Groot Hospitality, which opened LIV, STORY, LIV Hardrock Stadium, Komodo, Swan, OTL, Planta, and Papi Steak.

“I took a couple months off to refuel and recharge, and most of all, understand what I really wanted out of life, which I already knew would include leaving Miami. I was open to moving to NYC, Chicago, LA, Austin, Beaverton in Oregon, or Vegas. So, I started interviewing at brands like Nike, Snapchat, Adidas, Livestyle (formerly SFX Entertainment), music agencies, app startups, and other hospitality groups.”

Yes, you “guessed” right… he ended up in Vegas, baby!

His portfolio was passed along to Sean Christie; Sean previously worked as the COO and right hand man to Steve Wynn… you may recognize the last name, seeing as it’s plastered on the side of a stunning modern hotel on the strip, next to his other hotel, Encore. “He approached me with a unique corporate marketing opportunity at MGM Resorts for the newly established Events & Nightlife department; which consists of over 30 venues – nightlife, daylife, restaurants, and experiential concepts,” he said.

Naturally, consumers (also me) want to hear about celebs; we’d both just watched Masvidal fizzle against Usman at Fight Island (would it have been too much work to put up some damn tiki torches?), which prompted me to ask if he’d met Connor McGregor; he had not – he had a residency at another spot on the strip, so their paths never crossed. We talked about UFC’s continued rise briefly before I asked who he’d been most fascinated by thus far.

“I mean, Ian Schrager, Steve Wynn, and Nick Jones, to name a few, but I also really liked Drake; Bruno Mars is cool… and of course, Lady Gaga. She was the most laid back, giving, nurturing individual,” he answered before a memory clicked in. “Okay, so last Halloween, Gaga was performing at MGM and she rented out Mama Rabbit for the night… a new tequila and mezcal bar that we’d opened only a month prior. It was originally just supposed to be for her and her staff celebrating the last show of her residency run, but she decided to open it to the public for a certain number of people.”

I envisioned myself there at her table and we got along like gangbusters. *Quick history lesson* – Gang Busters was a radio program that aired from 1936 – 1957 which opened with screeching tires and siren sounds, which was dramatic and exciting, thus leading to the famous expression…

mmm, that’s quite a stretch, guys. I might have to personally veto the use. Especially now in woke culture.

Back to Jukes and Gaga.

“Boys Noize, who co-wrote ‘Rain On Me,’ played a set until probably 2:30, when she walked… no, strutted in, wearing a unicorn outfit, crazy make up with glitter and rhinestones… you know, typical Gaga. You can look up videos of her prancing through the casino. Everyone partied til like 4am; a real low-key Halloween,” he recalled.

After stifling my jealousy, I asked about the biggest difference between working in the industry in Miami versus Vegas.

“Miami’s more laidback because you have the culture and beaches – you’re on island time. It’s also just obviously more kid friendly, and sometimes you’ll have weekends where there’s nothing going on or the city is very slow. Vegas is more resort driven and there’s almost always something going on, every day of the week, whether it’s a convention, a surprise performance from someone you know, or a resident DJ playing at one of the hotels. I also love being outdoors here, hiking, golfing, stuff like that,” he explained through his bites of In-N-Out.

Poll: In-N-Out or Shake Shake?

“I’m glad you’re able to have balance in your life and enjoy the outdoors,” I offered, before asking the stereotypical interview question. “So, what’s your long-term vision?”

He didn’t seem to mind, quickly responding, “I’m just going to keep moving up and setting new goals for myself; I would like to be the CMO or President of Marketing for a major brand or company, whether it be a resort, a tech company, an apparel brand, or something I haven’t even thought of.”

I, of course, lifted my voice a few octaves to express how proud I was of his success, keeping the tone high to get a shout to his dog/son, Enzo, because he’s “such a good boy,” for shedding in dad’s bed. Damn it – we should’ve FaceTimed.

“Okay, Jukes,” I could tell he wanted to finish In-N-Out (he better have gotten those fries animal style) and I needed to make my Sunday trip to the grocery store, “tell me one more story – a purely Vegas story, then I’ll let you go.” “Of course,” he said, “okay, just let me think… mmm, okay, it’s gonna be Gaga again.”

U mad?… I didn’t think so.

“So, we have this restaurant called the NoMad which looks like an upstate NY library. The world-renowned Andrew Zobler, who founded the Sydell Group, bought all these books from the Rockefeller auction and color coordinated them. It’s really fucking cool, you should look it up.”

I obliged – it’s really special.

“So anyway, during Gaga’s residency, she’d do a number of shows at Park Theater, then take a break, at which time, she’d often pop over to the NoMad. The notably talented, Brian Newman, would start playing around 11 and she would surprise the audience with an engaging performance thereafter. She’d only show up during jazz shows and would hide behind this red curtain. It was so special and intimate. On one occasion, Robby Krieger from the Doors came to jam with Brian and Gaga, then on New Years, she brought Ashanti to perform with her, which pretty much broke the internet.”

We talked about the allure of that – the definition of being star struck – feeling their talent so close to you, in such a (relatively) small space.

Before jumping off, we talked about what the entertainment world will look like once the world is “back to normal.” I think it’s safe to assume the demand will sky rocket… I find myself fantasizing about dancing to Calvin Harris’s latest banger in the 85-degree Vegas summer heat, walking along a crowded sidewalk… I’d even welcome the sweat from a stranger if that meant I was watching live music.

Whatever the case, you can rest easy knowing Vegas, and Zach Jukel, will be ready.

So, let me sound like an ad here for a moment and say, when planning your next Vegas trip, please be sure to visit nightlife.mgmresorts.com – and tell Zach I sent you, for 0% off your table, but a very friendly, ‘hello.’

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