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Natick firm specializes in event planning at nightspots (eliza dushku mention)

Bob Tremblay

Sunday 28 January 2007, by Webmaster

When Rolling Stones frontman Mick Jagger needed a place to wind down after a Gillette Stadium concert in Foxboro last year, the call went out to Winter.

Winter - who doesn’t use his first name, Michael - is the founder and president of East Coast Clubs, a Natick-based company that plans and markets events, many of them set at Boston nightclubs and ultra-lounges. It also provides VIP services for, well, VIPs and Jagger certainly qualifies.

``The Rolling Stones contacted me because they know I’ll make sure they’ll be secure, they’ll have a good time and they’ll be treated like VIPs,’’ says Winter, a Framingham native. ``Even if it’s only for a short time, I make sure every base is covered.’’

For this particular night out, Winter, on his night off, took Jagger to Rumor, a Boston nightclub. ``He came in at 1 a.m. and they treated him like he was the president,’’ says Winter. ``They roped off the stage that normally holds 75 people. I arranged for 30 beautiful women to be there as dancers and he was dancing his butt off until 2 a.m.’’

A security guard and Winter made sure other clubgoers kept their distance. Winter spent four hours arranging that one hour of dancing. Not that the promoter is complaining.

``Imagine me taking out Sir Mick Jagger,’’ says Winter, who admits to being star-struck in the presence of ``this living legend.’’ He calls Jagger a gentleman.

Winter has also hosted a birthday party for Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz at Saint, a Boston ultra-lounge. ``He’s amazing,’’ says Winter, who played poker with the slugger.

Winter also provided what-to-do-in-Boston advice to The Rock while he was in town filming ``Game Plan’’ and found a party place for Sudbury actor Chris Evans, who starred in ``The Fantastic Four.’’

A visit to the gallery of celebrities on East Coast Clubs’ Web site reveals photos of Winter with John Travolta, Mark Wahlberg, Cuba Gooding Jr., Mike Tyson, Richard Dreyfuss, Watertown actress Eliza Dushku, Framingham actor Matt Bushell, Motley Crue, Black Eye Peas and many, many others. Members of the Boston Celtics, Red Sox, Bruins and Revolution, the New England Patriot Cheerleaders and World Wrestling Entertainment wrestlers also make an appearance.

Winter started his company in 2002 after beginning his career in the nightclub industry as a bouncer in 1992. A love of dancing and a fondness for the social scene initially attracted him to the nightclub industry.

A 1991 graduate of Framingham South High School and 1999 graduate of Framingham State College, he has been known by his last name for as long as he can remember. The reason why his first name was dropped remains a mystery. ``In high school, 95 percent of the people never even knew my first name,’’ he recalls. ``They just called me Winter.’’

His first job as a bouncer was at the Venus de Milo nightclub on Lansdowne Street in Boston. A power lifter trained in mixed martial arts, Winter dealt with his fare share of jerks.

``The best protection is using psychology,’’ says Winter, who majored in psychology at Framingham State. ``You learn how to talk to people. Of course, there were times I had to protect myself. If someone came after me, I’d have to put them in a hold until the police arrived. A lot of the times, it wasn’t people coming after me. It was breaking up fights that other people were having.’’

After working as a bouncer at various Boston nightclubs, Winter advanced up the ladder to doorman in 1997, learning the ins and out of the industry along the way and creating his own database of club guests. ``People look up to the doormen,’’ he says. ``They’re the ones with all the power. It’s like being the captain of the football team.’’

As a doorman, Winter was responsible for making sure the right people gained entranced to the nightclub and turning away those who weren’t on a guest list or were deemed undesirables. Some didn’t take rejection very well.

``That’s why I was very grateful to have Boston’s finest nearby to help me deal with these people,’’ says Winter. ``A lot of people don’t want to take `no’ for an answer because everybody thinks they’re somebody.’’

While working at the Embassy nightclub in Boston, Winter learned more about marketing from Laz, its manager-promoter, and eventually decided to go out on his own.

He notes that over the years doormen at Boston nightclubs have established a track record of success after launching their own businesses, whether it’s in Beantown or Las Vegas. ``People think of doormen as six-five thugs. Not here,’’ says Winter. ``We have both the street and the book smarts to advance.’’

His first account was at Trio, a nightclub in Boston’s Leather District. ``I put everything I had into this one night for this little club, using all my e-mail databases and my text-messaging ability’’ to attract clubgoers, says Winter. ``It was such a success. I ran it for like seven months, and then the club closed.’’

Winter has since established four nightly contracts with nightclubs and ultra-lounges in Boston. While both entities feature bars and dancing, ultra-lounges are typically smaller than nightclubs. They also serve food.

East Coast Clubs promotes events at Rumor on Tuesdays, District on Wednesdays, Saint on Fridays and Whiskey Park on Saturdays.

In addition to providing the clubs with customers, East Coast Clubs also supplies the DJ. Winter’s man behind the dance music is Wayland native Jeff Gold, known as G-squared.

East Coast Clubs’ Saturday event at Whiskey Park has been particularly successful, according to Winter. ``We’ve sold out there every night except on Christmas Eve during a blizzard,’’ he says. Before East Coast Clubs came on board in 2003, the nightly liquor revenue at Whiskey Park totaled around $7,000, he says. Now, it’s around $20,000.

Winter attributes his success as a promoter to several factors. ``My father taught me, if you want to do well, you have to put everything you have into it, and I’ve done that,’’ he says. ``When some promoters are inside a club partying with all their customers, I’m outside making sure all my VIP guests get in. That’s my main focus. I treat them as a VIP when they arrive at the door, when they sit down at a table and when they leave. You greet when they arrive and greet them when they leave, and if they want anything, you’re there to cater to all their needs.’’

Winter also eschews drink, drugs and women connected to the club scene. ``Many people get into this industry because they want the women, they want to do drugs, they want to get drunk every night. I don’t do that,’’ he says. ``You don’t want to date a girl from the club. If you do and it turns sours, she’s going to tell 10 of her friends and the others aren’t going to come to the club.

``That’s why so many promoters only last a year or two. They get washed up. It’s a power position. You have beautiful women around you all the time, you have celebrities around you all the time, but you have to take everything very seriously. If you burn one bridge, the next thing you know, you’ve burned 20.’’

Winter credits his father Stan, who died in 2003, for being the driving force behind his work ethic. He credits his brother Brian for creating the company’s Web site and his mother Myrna for providing him with the personality to deal with so many people in so many different circumstances.

``People think this is an easy job,’’ says Winter, ``but I work 90 to 100 hours a week. I’m constantly working. I have 5,000-plus minutes a month on my cell phone. I send 8,000 to 9,000 text messages a month. My e-mail database contains a list of more than 100,000 people. I’m constantly sending out e-mails and answering e-mails and setting up events, even if they’re not at my venues. ... It’s nonstop guerrilla marketing.’’

The effort has been worth it, Winter says. ``It’s tough, but if you put in your time, gather information, network with people and create loyalty, you can become successful,’’ he says. He notes most of his clients come his way through referrals and word-of-mouth recommendations. ``I don’t spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on advertising,’’ he says. ``They can come to my events and see what I do.’’

Winter cites a proven track record, including 15 years in the industry, as a distinguishing trait from ``fly-by-night promoters.’’

He notes that East Coast Clubs can plan events outside the nightclub scene, too. ``If a client wants to throw a party at a hotel, we can handle the negotiations at the hotel,’’ he says. ``Because of our experience, expertise and connections, we can save them thousands of dollars if they tried to plan it on their own. We provide the decorating, the food, the liquor - any aspect of running an event and we can host it. And we’ve done huge events.’’

Case in point, East Coast Clubs hosted a New Year’s Eve party for 800 people at the top of the Prudential Center. ``We turned the entire sky loft into a dance club,’’ he says. ``It cost well over $100,000.’’

The company is also planning a fund-raiser in March for Craig Viera, the Framingham bouncer who was murdered last month. The date will be announced shortly. In addition, East Coast Clubs is planning an industry-based event in April for 2,000 people. ``It’s an adult prom with a king and queen and a class clown,’’ says Winter. ``We’re working on a location.’’ Costs for the company’s services vary depending on how elaborate the event is and the number of people involved. Revenue can come as a flat fee as well as a percentage of the door admission and/or a percentage of the bar profits. ``It can be very lucrative,’’ says Winter.

This summer, East Coast Clubs plans to launch a national Web site where people from out of state can receive VIP treatment - tickets, table service, etc. - at clubs in their area.

Winter’s next step is owning his own nightclub.

``It’s a dream for a lot of people, but for me it’s so real,’’ he says. ``Within the next months, I will have my hands in something as a part owner. I have the backing. It’s about getting in at the right time. Also, is Boston the right place? I don’t know. Boston is tough, entertainment-wise. How can we call it an entertaining city when the clubs close at 2 a.m. while in other cities they stay open all night? My next step may be moving to LA or Las Vegas.’’

What won’t change is Winter’s approach to work and his enthusiasm. ``I take pride in my work,’’ he says, ``and I absolutely love making people happy.’’