How Sameer Qureshi and Nathan Leong of El Grupo SN Are Helping To Make the Entertainment Industry More Diverse and Representative
An Interview With Edward Sylvan
Nathan/Sameer: Be curious and never stop learning. Talk to people from different backgrounds, travel and expose yourself to different cultures. Surround yourself with people better than you. If you think they can do your job better than you or they have a different skill set than you, then hire them. More often than not successful people will always lend a helping hand, they know how hard it was to become successful themselves. Always be humble and kind to others. Take care of your team, treat them how you would like to be treated and in turn, they will share the same goal.
As a part of my series about leaders helping to make the entertainment industry more diverse and representative, I had the distinct pleasure of interviewing Sameer Qureshi and Nathan Leong.
Sameer Qureshi and Nathan Leong are founding partners of New York City Rooftop Bar and Lounge, Somewhere Nowhere which is owned and operated under their company — El Grupo SN. The 5,516 square foot luxury day and nightlife destination is designed to artfully merge progressive sound and lighting technology with garden-inspired decor and magical design to indulge guests in an immersive nightlife experience. The decadence of Somewhere Nowhere’s outdoor lounge and open-air rooftop pool boasts 360-views of Manhattan’s majestic skyline as far as the eye can see.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Sameer: I spent most of my childhood in Bahrain until my family and I moved to the U.S. during my high school years. I graduated from Rutgers with a degree in Economics in the early 2000s and immediately started my career in finance. During my high school and college years, it became more and more apparent to me that there were not a lot of nightclubs accessible to minorities. This led me to dabble in the hospitality sector while still working full-time in the corporate world. I partnered with a few other Asians who shared a common goal, to create a nightlife scene accessible to the Asian crowd. We started approaching several clubs and larger restaurants in order to create a rotation of events for Asian nights. In 2010, I launched Royale Group Marketing, a boutique marketing and management agency dedicated to the hospitality industry and started opening my own venues. Somewhere Nowhere is my latest venture and the one I am most proud of to date.
Nathan: I was born and raised in Puerto Rico, and for those who have been to Puerto Rico or to a party hosted by a Puerto Rican will know how great we are at throwing fun events. I moved to New York during my last couple of years of high school and hosted several parties that gained a lot of attention from my peers. I even had a guest list for my house parties. In college, I realized creating, hosting, and promoting events and creating the right playlist was something I was passionate about, so I immersed myself into the NYC nightlife and music culture. This is how Sameer and I met and started working together. Over the past decade I’ve found success in creating and managing events, promoting, and opening nightclubs and bars, talent buying, and producing concerts. I even DJ’ed numerous times at large clubs in NYC. All of this led me to my latest business, Somewhere Nowhere and the upcoming opening of my next venue, Gamehaus in Long Island City.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began your career?
Nathan: In 2013, a group of my friends and I bought general admission tickets to Electric Zoo Festival and it was one of the most memorable experiences I had. Feeling the euphoria long after the festival, I knew this is what I was destined to do. I asked my parents for a small investment to start my own series of mini-festivals where I would buy out clubs for the night and book DJs. This is how I got started with talent buying. In 2016, I received the amazing life-changing call to take over Electric Zoo Festival’s Main Stage VIP Table Deck which we have been blessed to continue managing to date. Not only do I get to attend NYC’s largest electronic music festival every year, I get to create that same lasting euphoric feeling for my guests.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Nathan: I was promoting a specific venue that also hired me to DJ one night. It was my first paying DJ gig and of course, I had to invite my biggest supporter, my mom. I set her up at the table closest to the DJ booth. As soon as I went on, my mom was so excited she stood up on the couch and started cheering and dancing. My mistake was inviting my mom because she stole the show! Everyone wanted to party with my mom. The lesson I learned was to never put her center stage. Just kidding. The lesson learned is to surround yourself with people that believe in you and support you.
Ok thank you for all that. Let’s now jump to the main focus of our discussion. Can you describe how you are helping to make popular culture more representative of the US population?
We are both minorities and both come from multicultural backgrounds, so we understand first-hand the importance of continuing to promote diversity. We take great pride and joy when programming Somewhere Nowhere’s musical direction and booking talent that represents the diverse communities that make up the DNA of New York City. By bringing artists from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds, we can further open the minds of our patrons by introducing them to a diverse array of musical genres.
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by the work you are doing?
Nathan: When I started out in this career, I was lucky to be surrounded by supportive colleagues and great mentors. I always find ways to offer the same to others who want to be involved in the same space. This would apply to my first roommate in NYC, Tal Ohana, who taught me how to DJ. We played a few times together at several NYC venues. At the time, I was promoting and producing my own events and I brought on Tal to work with me under my events company, showing him the ropes on organizing and producing events. Long story short, Tal is now one of the biggest event producers and talent buyers based out of LA.
Sameer: I have a friend named Paul Jobson who throws events for the African American community. I remember our first meeting, he asked me to help him secure venues to grow his company. I was able to do that over the years by opening doors for him and got a chance to see him really grow his company. It’s been a great feeling to watch him succeed through their hard work and a little guidance from me.
Can you recommend three things the community/society/the industry can do to help address the root of the diversity issues in the entertainment business?
Nathan — 1) Access — the entertainment business can be scary if you don’t know how to break in. It’s already a world that most people glamorize and is predicated on limited access. That thinking can make it tough for those that are minorities to break into the inner circles to make a name for themselves.
Sameer — 2) Mentorship — I am a strong believer in mentorship and without help from those who have already walked the path to success in the industry it’s harder for others. I know the benefit that mentorship has provided me in my career, and I am hoping others will seek out the same to help advance their careers. 3) Stigma — Coming from an Asian background it’s expected that you become a doctor or a scientist and going down the path of working in the entertainment industry comes with a lot of negative stigma that needs to change. If you are a creative soul, you are not going to be happy in a career that doesn’t promote creativity, your sole will always yearn for an outlet for your creativity and the entertainment business provides just that
How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
Nathan: Leadership is creating a vision and purpose for the company to achieve, providing the right tools and guidance for your team to be successful, and developing a great supportive environment for your employees to work in. Leadership is getting down and dirty with your team, to motivate them and show them that we are in this together. You have to be the one your team can look to for solutions and direction. Leadership is the ability to breed trust within your team.
Sameer: For me, leadership is finding smart people and empowering them to grow by leveraging their strengths and supporting their weaknesses. You also need to lead by example, and I am right there in the trenches with my team if they need me. The one thing I never do is to lower our standards to meet the needs of a team member. I always tell our folks that they need to be a little uncomfortable to grow. I also allow my team to make mistakes as that is the only way to grow but I make sure we stop and learn from our mistakes, so we don’t repeat them again
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
Nathan/Sameer: (1) Be curious and never stop learning. Talk to people from different backgrounds, travel and expose yourself to different cultures (2) Surround yourself with people better than you. If you think they can do your job better than you or they have a different skill set than you, then hire them (3) More often than not successful people will always lend a helping hand, they know how hard it was becoming successful themselves (4) Always be humble and kind to others (5) Take care of your team, treat them how you would like to be treated and in turn they will share the same goal.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
Nathan: That’s an easy one, the #MakeSomeoneSmile movement. I believe that making someone smile for the smallest thing is one of the most valuable things one can offer another, and that is why I fell in love with this business in the first place. Being in hospitality for so many years, you start picking up on certain cues when someone is not having their best day even though they are trying their best to hide it. I find happiness when I am able to turn a frown upside down. In return, I hope that the next person will pass it forward. Help the next person attain your level of happiness.
Sameer: I could not agree with Nathan more on this one and it’s where both of us are very aligned. At the end of the day, we operate to provide you with the best hospitality and that means a feeling of joy that we are able to bring to your time spent with us. Nothing makes us happier than seeing folks dancing with joy at our events at Somewhere Nowhere. It’s the reason we are in this business in the first place.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
Nathan: “A man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure.” This quote is from one of my favorite books growing up called, Into The Wild. It made me never want to live a normal life, but a life where I can discover the adventures that drive my spirit.
Sameer: My favorite life lesson quote is “Always be humble.” I remember someone once said to me that life is a very precious thing and that nobody gets out of it alive. In the end, people will only remember how you made them feel, and that is the reason why I carry this lesson with me always.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
Readers can follow us on Instagram: @nathanleognyc and @sameerqure and Somewhere Nowhere NYC: @somewherenowherenyc and our hospitality business: @elgruposn as well as check out our upcoming events on somewherenowherenyc.com.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much! We wish you continued success!