Growing up in Connecticut, Jojo Lahoud remembers shaking up strong martinis for his grandfather and playing host at his parent’s swanky house parties when he was just a kid.
His mother, a descendent of the Kennedy family and an ultimate hostess who looked for any excuse to throw a party, even sent him to etiquette school when Lahoud was 12 years old to further sharpen his social graces. While his father, who played major league baseball and was one of the nation’s first Lebanese baseball players, and his mother, a flight attendant, instilled in him the art of hospitality, they also taught him the importance of making everyone feel special. “They always told me to be humble and to be a good person,” Lahoud says of the advice that he still follows today.
Lahoud applied that same charisma and client-focused mindset when he later transitioned into the nightlife industry in Miami. Over the last decade, he’s worn many hats and titles, including Director of Nightlife with Groot Hospitality, and built a strong niche and following for his out-of-the-box thinking and unmatched service. “You always want to anticipate the needs before a client knows it,” says Lahoud, who also credits his success to mentors such as David Grutman and Jeff Zalaznick.
During that time, he met another New England transplant, Ryan Almonte. Almonte has worked in the hospitality industry since he was 14 years old, performing almost every job in the restaurant and nightlife industry – with the exception of being an executive chef. With a degree in accounting and background in finance, Almonte eventually began consulting with large hospitality groups.
“What really made me unique is that I was a finance person who also understood the operations from working in the front of house roles of hospitality.” He also recognized an important void in the hospitality industry. “Often times in this industry, you miss leading with hospitality. That means how you treat each other within the organization, how you treat every stakeholder, guests, and client. And when you lead with hospitality, everyone can feel that.”
In 2019, Lahoud decided to break out on his own and start the hospitality group, Plus Plus Group, with the goal of redefining the nightlife industry. It’s already become a talked-about group with a collection of exclusive nightlife and dining experiences from Miami to Aspen, frequented by a long list of celebrities and A-listers.
“Jojo is why I’m here,” says Almonte, who serves as CFO. “He has something that you can’t teach. From Aspen to New York to Vegas and Miami, it’s all the same. Everyone knows they can trust him and that he’s going to take care of them.” Lahoud also recognizes that he couldn’t do it without the seasoned business expertise of Almonte. “He’s the one that keeps us open. It’s a business at the end of the day, and Ryan is a big piece of the puzzle,” Lahoud says.
Taking away all the lessons learned in the nightlife business, Lahoud now leads with hospitality, passion, and a mindset to be different. “We want to be unique and create those goosebump moments, but we don’t want it to feel forced,” Lahoud says. “Our experiences can also be understated. Some guests don’t want the show of sparklers with bottle service or to have their picture taken.”
We want to create those goosebump moments
Each of the group’s four concepts have different vibes — from musical playlists to eye-catching murals — that cater to the clientele of that venue’s particular city and crowd. Yet, all share the same cohesive feeling down to the taste of the food and the consummate Plus Plus Group service. Gala Miami is a celebrity-loved, high-end nightclub with a tight door and dress code, 19 tables, and a playlist that alternates between Top 40 hits and hip-hop, while the seasonal Gala Aspen boasts only ten tables, plays house music, and caters to a sceney-crowd who may casually drop in after a day on the slopes.
Contemporary Japanese steakhouse Madame Ushi in Aspen, where ‘Madame’ refers to the lady/woman and ‘Ushi’ means ox or cattle in Japanese, showcases a menu featuring fan-favorite dishes such as the finest wagyu beef, caviar-crowned pasta with halibut, and creatively reimagined sashimi, sushi rolls, and eggs benedict. This culinary haven effortlessly aligns with a feminine spirited atmosphere, adding an extra layer of elegance to the dining experience.
For the Plus Plus Group, it all comes down to those hospitality touches that you won’t find anywhere else, especially at a nightclub or restaurant. At Gala Miami and Gala Aspen, guests are treated to jasmine-spritzed towels upon arrival. “I came up with the idea after experiencing it on an Emirates flight to Dubai,” Lahoud says. “I was like, “Why don’t we do this at the club?’ It’s special.” While at Madame Ushi in Aspen, women who catch a chill are offered complimentary pashminas, and diners are treated to an over-the-top collaboration with exclusive brand Chrome Hearts for a decadent sushi roll that’s sprinkled with 24-karat gold flakes and comes with Chrome Hearts chopsticks that the guests can keep. It’s a testament to the group’s dedication to building relationships with coveted luxury brands that cater to a celebrity clientele. “We’ve worked to create the best of the best when forming our teams, from the VIP team with unmatched celebrity connections to culinary masterminds who’ve worked for NOBU. We thought about how all the pieces fit together,” Lahoud says.
Up next: Lahoud plans to bring Aspen’s Madame Ushi to South Florida, open more outposts of Gala and launch a new culinary concept called Signora in Miami before expanding around the globe. The plans also include bring a major celebrity hotspot from Paris to Miami. Along with that growth, Lahoud continues to strive for consistency while building longstanding relationships and guests’ trust. “Our business is about relationships,” Lahoud says. “That’s why people come back over and over again. They know they’ll be taken care of. It’s about thinking outside the box, from creating a cake for a guest’s birthday to sending over a round of shots. Those touches go so far.” ###
Interview with Jojo Lahoud
Q: How did Jojo Lahoud get involved in the nightlife?
JoJo Lahoud started his hospitality career working valet at the Boca Raton Resort in Boca Raton, Florida while playing baseball in college. He realized that hospitality was something he had a knack for. He started as a valet, and quickly worked his way up the ranks to become the bellman, a front desk agent, eventually all the way up to the hotel manager just within in 3.5 years. After working in the hotel industry, he knew he wanted to transition into something more personal and hands-on and gradually moved into a nightlife position in Miami Beach.
Q: What were the key components of the brand and concept creation?
We wanted to create something fresh and different; Miami is a city where you have to constantly evolve and that’s what we did. Our venues offer unique, high-end experiences like hot towels upon arrival and real glassware instead of plastic cups. We want to create an exclusive vibe through thoughtful details – from the materials used to the way we engage with guests. It’s about crafting an environment that exceeds expectations —and these little details go very far in our business.
Q: What were the company’s goals in 2023? Future plans for 2024?
In 2023, our goal was to create two new venue concepts – Gala Miami and Madame Ushi Aspen – that would influence a fresh aspect of nightlife and restaurants. Aspen and Miami are two places that are frequented by high net worth individuals who expect a certain level of service and hospitality. We have really shaken up the market in both places and are excited to show the world what makes us different.
In 2024, we will be growing our footprint by opening Signora Ristorante, our coastal Italian concept which will neighbor Gala Miami. We’re scoping amazing locations like NYC, Vegas and Scottsdale for potential 2024 expansions. But we want to focus on perfecting our current spaces Gala Miami, Gala Aspen, Madame Ushi Aspen, and Signora Miami first.
Q: Who helped you start your company?
No one helped me, hospitality is my passion, but building something from scratch hasn’t been without challenges. Hiring the right talent who align with our values has been key as well as forging local partnerships.
Q: Where did the inspiration for the name come from?
I was watching the Met Gala with my wife and was inspired by the glitz, glam and sophistication of the event, combined with learning Salvador Dali’s muse was named Gala – I knew it was the perfect fit. Gala encapsulated the elegant yet edgy vibe we wanted to create. Gala also empowers women to feel confident and luxurious.
Q: Where do you see Gala 3 Years from now?
In three years, we envision Gala as a preeminent brand known for its unparalleled service and one-of-a-kind nightlife experiences. While we may expand to new markets, staying true to our core values of creativity, community and excellence remains paramount over chasing growth for growth’s sake.
Q: Do you plan on doing collaborations or activating during big events throughout the year such as F1?
We plan to activate during big events that make sense for us. We brought exceptional energy during Art Basel by hosting the official launch party. For Drake’s album release, we provided a private, stylish space for celebration. We’ve also hosted a private holiday dinner for the Miami Heat and private events for celebrities. While we’re selective about partnerships, we love collabs that authentically align with our brand DNA.
Q: Where have you seen the biggest growth in terms of businesses in Miami?
Miami’s growth has been fueled by an influx of hedge funds, hospitality groups and tech firms. But local knowledge is key – too many companies fail because they forget to embrace the diverse, vibrant, and rich culture. Our advantage is our team’s deep expertise in this market.
Q: What sets your hospitality group apart from the others?
Our talent makes us truly best-in-class. From our skilled chefs, perceptive hosts and DJs to our resident Director of Production – we’ve created a close-knit family and have curated a dream team that respect each other’s strengths and prioritizes memorable guest experiences. We have the creativity to keep things fresh while maintaining our service-first reputation.
Q: Why did you decide to open up Madame Ushi in Aspen?
Aspen has always held a special place in my heart as a long-time skier. Watching Aspen grow from a small ski-town into such a vibrant and exclusive town, while maintaining its charm and core mountain values, made it the perfect destination fit for our brand. My partner Cedric Gervais – Grammy award winning DJ – brought us a location that we couldn’t pass up and we knew we could bring something truly unique to the Aspen nightlife.
Q: Any future projects you would like the audience to know about?
Right now, we are focusing on opening our newest venture, Signora Ristorante, in Miami Beach that will neighbor Gala. While I can’t reveal too much yet, we have amazing concepts in development! We are constantly looking for new projects and taking meetings daily, but we are very focused on perfecting our current concepts. You will have to stay tuned to see what we have in store, but the future is looking bright!