Entrepreneur

From Bang Bang To Lulu's Lounge: How This Couple Is Lighting Up S'pore's Nightlife Scene

Singaporean nightlife lovers would likely to have patronised entertainment and food and beverage venues by the SJS Group.

Think Bang Bang nightclub, Lulu’s Lounge, Employees Only, Papi’s Tacos and Pasta Bar — these are all establishments that are well-loved in the entertainment landscape.

The brains behind SJS Group is husband-and-wife team Joshua Schwartz and Sarissa Rodriguez-Schwartz, who have been together for 11 years and married for six.

Started Off Waiting Tables And Bartending

Both Joshua and Sarissa had humble beginnings.

Joshua started off in the food and beverage industry at the young age of 10, where he helped his father who was a chef in the kitchen.

He then embarked on climbing the industry ladder — where he took on roles from being a dishwasher to general manager.

On the other hand, Sarissa pursued a degree in international business at George Washington University, and was offered jobs at Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan.

She graduated in 2008 — right when Wall Street crashed — so she ended up taking on bartending jobs to pay off her student loans.

It was during one of these stints that she met Joshua and they embarked on their business journeys together.

The Start Of SJS’ Timeless And Destination-Worthy Concepts

pangaea singapore
Pangaea / Image Credit: Harper’s Bazaar

It all began when the New York natives were offered the opportunity to work on a project at the then-unopened Marina Bay Sands.

The said project was the ultra-luxe lounge Pangaea. In its heyday, it was touted by Forbes as the highest-earning club in the world.

Pangaea opened in 2011 to much fanfare and used to be the place to party. For three nights, it hosted the famous and crazy rich, with star-studded clients the like of David Beckham.

After bringing Pangaea to the world stage by making it the “most profitable nightclub per square foot in the world” according to Forbes, the duo stepped out on their own and established SJS Group in 2014.

The pair opened Bang Bang, a club housed in Pan Pacific Hotel. It is evident that the couple pays high levels of attentiveness to the experience that patrons will have.

There is always something going on in Bang Bang, from dancers in cages to bear mascots.

bang bang nightclub sjs group
Imsage Credit: Bang Bang

In 2018, the club did away with the compulsory cover charge of S$35 that most other clubs in Singapore impose on patrons.

“For us, it makes sense to make the whole club-going process as easy and comfortable as possible,” Sarissa told The Straits Times in an interview.

Lulu’s Lounge is another bar and live music venue started by the duo that found its home in Pan Pacific Hotel.

The nightspot is inspired by fictional character Lulu, and like Bang Bang, it aims to give guests an “engaging alternative” to typical after-work spots.

Both Bang Bang and Lulu’s Lounge were founded in partnership with The Prive Group.

employees only bar sjs group
Employees Only / Image Credit: Time Out

With other partners, SJS operates the speakeasy-restaurant Employees Only in Amoy Street, which opened in 2016 and has an outlet in Hong Kong’s Lan Kwai Fong district that opened in 2017.

Since its founding in 2014, SJS group currently owns five establishments, with another two coming soon.

Expanding During The COVID-19 Pandemic

bar milano sjs group
bar Milano / Image Credit: Lifestyle Asia

Despite the grim economic outlook due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the couple opened their latest location, bar Milano, this July.

Bar Milano is an Italian bistro and cocktail bar, which pays homage to the classic taverns of Europe.

According to the couple in an interview with CNA Luxury, a lot of their ideas are sparked by their travels around the world.

“We open these places because we feel a passion about them. The overriding theme is to create a feeling of being somewhere else. We always start with a feeling,” Joshua said.

Many clubs in Singapore have pivoted into becoming dining establishments, with nightlife giant Zouk even opening a cinema club.

However, Sarissa and Joshua have decided to keep Bang Bang and Lulu’s closed, while focusing on bar Milano and food delivery for Pasta Bar and Papi’s Tacos.

Even though the establishments remain closed, the group gave weekly grocery baskets for three months to their performers who could not work.

They also hosted an online fundraiser at Bang Bang and initiated a digital burlesque platform, where clients can book an online performance for their special occasions.

Despite the uncertain economic situation, the couple is of the belief that there will still be a strong demand for their nightlife establishments when they are allowed to open again.

“There will, unfortunately, be places that will close. But for the people who are professionals at this, hopefully they will find a way to succeed, and have a better chance to continue and grow,” said Joshua.

Featured Image Credit: SJS Group / Bang Bang

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