Whether you’ve had the chance to meet Matthew Johnson in person or you’ve heard the stories about his celebrity ties and dynamic presence in the industry, one thing becomes clear: his success is an eloquent combination of charisma and command of the city. From knowing the right people and the right properties, to a foresight for lifestyle trends, Johnson has his finger on the pulse of “progressive.”
After graduating from Providence College in 1982 with a bachelor of arts in liberal arts, Johnson returned to his hometown of Brooklyn to join the New York Police Department. He quickly rose through the ranks, advancing to detective in just four years. At the time, he was the youngest detective in the city’s history. Johnson was ultimately promoted to sergeant and given responsibility for the Organized Crime Control Bureau. He remained with the force until 1993, when he was wounded in the line of duty.
Johnson became intimately familiar with New York City’s layout and demographics while working for the NYPD. Leveraging this knowledge, he took a job in real estate and eventually became the top broker of condominiums in Brooklyn. But real estate was only a means to an end. It wasn’t long before Matt came across Henry Miller’s Theatre in Times Square, a discovery that would launch his career as a nightclub owner and restaurateur.
Johnson recognized that the empty theater, once home to the infamous Xenon Club, was ready for a comeback. Stirring his creative juices, Johnson envisioned a concept that would reintroduce the meaning of “supper club” to New York City. He called upon his network throughout the city and built Club Expo, a 3,000-person venue featuring three floors of dancing, live entertainment, light shows and V.I.P. rooms. For five years, an A-list crowd and celebrity set — including Madonna, Jay-Z, Diddy, David Bowie, Run-DMC, Beyoncé, Burt Lancaster, Elton John, Marc Anthony and Usher — lined up behind the velvet rope, lured by the club’s glamour and exclusivity.
In 1998, Johnson partnered with Shimon Bokovza and Danielle Billera to transform Club Expo into the Kit Kat Klub. This avant-garde “club within a club” hosted the four-time Tony Award-winning production revival of Cabaret with Sam Mendes as director. Food, beverages and merchandising were offered during the show, and after the performance, the Kit Kat Klub opened to the public as a nightclub with burlesque entertainment and dancing. Johnson has been touted as first and only person to turn a New York City nightclub into an accredited Broadway playhouse, prompting Page Six’s Richard Johnson to call him “the nightlife impresario of the ’90s.”
Just one year later, branching out from the roaring success of the Kit Kat Klub, Johnson along with partners Shimon Bokovza and Danielle Billera introduced SUSHISAMBA: a fusion of cuisine, art, design and music derived from the cultures of Japan, Brazil and Peru. To propel the concept to the forefront of the restaurant industry, Johnson raised capital, spearheaded investor relations and helped earmark the brand through his connections to the entertainment world. Perpetuated by brand exposure and its high-end cuisine, the concept has grown to a total of four locations: Miami Beach, Las Vegas, London and Amsterdam – with plans for additional locations underway.
After a decade of SUSHISAMBA’s success, Samba Brands Management introduced SUGARCANE raw bar grill. The 4,200-square-foot restaurant opened in January 2010 in Miami’s emerging Midtown District and quickly became the hottest place to “kick back, eat well and stay awhile.” SUGARCANE raw bar grill has enjoyed a great amount of critical acclaim, including being named a semifinalist for Best New Restaurant at the prestigious 2011 James Beard Awards.
Johnson oversaw the European debut of SUSHISAMBA London, which officially opened in July of 2012 and is located on the 38th and 39th floors of the City’s 40-story skyscraper at 110 Bishopsgate. In addition to SUSHISAMBA London, Johnson and partners introduced a new concept, Duck & Waffle. Located directly above SUSHISAMBA on the 40th floor, Duck & Waffle features a British and European inspired menu of sharing plates and artisanal cocktails.