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Morgan Margolis is building a Knitting Factory empire

He meant to be an actor and fell into managing music clubs. Now Morgan Margolis is CEO of Knitting Factory Entertainment, which he's diversifying and expanding.

November 11, 2012|By Jessica Gelt, Los Angeles Times
  • “I’m creative, but I’m looking at numbers,” Knitting Factory Entertainment chief Morgan Margolis says. “And if a business isn’t working, I will steer it in another direction.”
“I’m creative, but I’m looking at numbers,”… (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)

The gig: Morgan Margolis is the chief executive of Knitting Factory Entertainment, which has concert venues, restaurants, record labels, artist management companies and a national touring division. The swiftly diversifying Los Angeles-based company employs 300 people and has annual gross revenue of $35 million on average.

Raised in a show-biz family: Margolis, 46, remembers roaming the mean streets of New York's East Village in the 1970s. His parents were actors, and money didn't come easily to the family. (Today his father, Mark Margolis, is best known for his role as surly crime boss Hector "Tio" Salamanca on AMC's "Breaking Bad.")

"I grew up in a struggling household," Margolis recalled. "I think my business acumen came from my grandfather, who owned a produce and meat-packing business."

Although he was intent on becoming an actor, Margolis turned down an opportunity to attend Carnegie Mellon's prestigious drama program in favor of studying at New York's Stony Brook University, where he majored in history.

Acting leads behind the bar: After graduation Margolis continued to pursue acting, landing a guest spot on "The Equalizer," among other shows.

"It seemed so easy, and then it just went flat," said Margolis, who turned to bartending to pay the bills. "I was 21 when I first started slinging drinks."

It wasn't until after he moved to L.A. in 1992 that he began to dabble in the world of music, managing the nightclub Aftershock and working at Luna Park, a restaurant that hosted bands in its back room.

Working his way to the top: In 2000 Margolis was hired to run operations at the Knitting Factory music club in Hollywood.

"It was a multiple-use venue with three rooms, running 365 days a year," Margolis said. "I started to work with talent buyers on how to buy shows not just based on the capacity of a room but on the demographic coming through the door."

His skills were appreciated. In 2004 he took over as general manager. At that point the company consisted of two venues: one in Brooklyn and one in Los Angeles. Founder Michael Dorf had recently been bought out. "The club was over budget and losing money. My job was to save it," Margolis said.

The budding businessman — he became CEO in 2008 — realized that expanding the brand to include additional entertainment holdings was crucial to its survival. He closed the Hollywood Knitting Factory in 2009 while at the same time expanding the KFE brand influence by aggressively building its national touring business.

Success in hospitality: Margolis says he considers KFE a "360-degree media company." It includes venues in Boise, Idaho; Spokane, Wash.; Reno and Brooklyn; the Federal Bar and Bow & Truss restaurants in L.A.; the record labels KFR, Partisan and Young One; the artist management companies Figure 8 Media and KFM; the theatrical partnership Van Johnson Co.; and Knitting Factory Presents, the touring division.

Margolis says the Federal Bar gastropub and live music space began turning a profit a month after it opened in early 2011 and hasn't stopped since. He is looking to expand the concept to other locations nationally and internationally.

The well-regarded Bow & Truss hasn't done as well. Margolis says it may take longer for the more upscale concept to take off, but he isn't afraid to change course if it becomes necessary.

"I'm creative, but I'm looking at numbers," Margolis said. "And if a business isn't working, I will steer it in another direction."

Looking to the future: KFE just opened a London office and bought into the new Arrive Hotel in Palm Springs, due to open next year. The idea is to increase the company's foothold in hospitality with an eye toward the hotel's proximity to the nearby Coachella Valley music festivals.

"We needed to get our brand into the hotel space," Margolis said. "I want us on the map, whether you show up at a hotel or a restaurant, go to a concert, watch a movie or listen to a record."

jessica.gelt@latimes.com

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