The Surf Lodge owner created a hospitality empire with GoldBar, Lavo and her latest project, Mailroom
Being called a b—h didn’t stop this lady entrepreneur from being a boss.
Jayma Cardoso, the Brazilian-born business woman who established nightlife scenes at New York City clubs like Cain, GoldBar, Lavo and her Montauk celebrity management motel Surf Lodge, worked just about every unglamorous restaurant job she could before owning a fleet of her own. And she had to work twice as hard as some of her male counterparts to get there.
“I had to deal with promoters and DJs who were all male. I would walk in the room and they’d be like, ‘she’s a joke,’” Cardoso tells Moneyish of her early hospitality career.
The 39-year-old serial night owl moved to Manhattan at age 19 and enrolled in Fordham University where she intended to become a doctor. To pay for college, like many New Yorkers, she took restaurant jobs, working at the Italian eatery Boom in SoHo where she learned how to bartend, worked coat check and became a hostess. Soon she realized she wanted to do it all full time.
Cardoso cut her teeth on nightlife as a waitress at the now closed club Lotus in the Meatpacking District, where taking her job perhaps a bit too seriously paid off.
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“I’ve always been that type of person. Even though Lotus was not my business — I was just a cocktail waitress — I felt like it was,” she explains.
New York City nightlife queen Jayma Cardoso tells Moneyish how she dominated a male driven industry https://t.co/y9emGgsHpG
— Moneyish (@Moneyish) September 29, 2017
That’s where she met her future business partner, Jamie Mulholland, a bartender at the time, and together they teamed up for their own venture. They secured $1.2 million from investors they met though the nightlife scene and opened Cain in Chelsea, transforming a taxi garage into a luxe, safari-themed club that charged upwards of $3,000 for a bottle of champagne. It has since closed.
Earning respect from her employees didn’t come easy for Cardoso, who encountered workers who challenged her position as a tough female boss.
“They would always gravitate to my partner, who was a guy, and complain, ‘she’s so b—-y,’” she recalls.
“I wasn’t really bothered. At the end of the day, I’m signing your paycheck,’” she’d say. “You earn respect by showing up. It got to the point where they were like, ‘Oh she’s a b—h, but she works hard.’ I would go to work and say, ‘we don’t have to be best friends. I have enough friends, but we just have to respect each other.’”
A few years later, in 2007, she opened her gilded and glitzy GoldBar in SoHo, a posh chamber of chicness where walls are embedded with gold skulls.
Owning clubs was just the start of the party-preneur’s growing empire. She had bigger plans to break into the New York City hotel industry, but when a real estate broker told her she didn’t have the funds to do it, she dreamt up another option: The Hamptons.
“He said, ‘Do you have the $100 million?’ I said, ‘No, but I might be able to raise it.’ He laughed at me and said, ‘I don’t think you’re going to be able to raise money for a hotel in the city.’”
She took her business out East a decade ago, settling on Montauk, where she turned the sleepy, humble beach town into a destination spot for live music, dinner and drinks. Now party goers charter helicopters for a weekend to get to the effortlessly cool oasis. Some of her most notable musical guests have included Willie Nelson, Jimmy Buffett and the Flaming Lips, attracting guests ranging in age from 22 to 60.
Summer’s over, but Cardoso is keeping the party going in lower Manhattan at her latest spot Mailroom, a cocktail lounge with live music in partnership with We Work at 110 Wall Street, serving up affordably priced cocktails that run $9 to $14. The event space has already welcomed performances by Gucci Mane and LCD Soundsystem frontman James Murphy.
Despite being in hospitality for decades, Cardoso thrives because she has her finger on the pulse. She knows what her clientele wants, and unlike in the old days, it’s not extravagant bottle service.
“The bottle service days are over. People are more conscious of how they’re going to spend their money,” Cardoso acknowledges of her millennial-driven customers, recognizing many would rather spend money on experiences like dinner and music rather than fleeting luxuries.
Cardoso admits she may be getting a little too old to party like she used to, but she still has a few more courses left before she calls it a night.
“You can dream big. Eventually I will have my hotel in New York City.”
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