Though Nazarian bankrolled that particular film himself, he is making his name with innovative deals that take maximum advantage of tax breaks and other incentives while minimizing his personal risk. In an unprecedented arrangement with the state of Louisiana, for example, any SBE film shot there is now eligible for millions in funding, through an obscure government program that effectively makes the state an SBE investor. And Nazarian takes a similar approach to all of his purchases, large and small. This past spring he was determined to buy his own private jet, but he didn't want to be the typical rich guy getting fleeced on a Gulfstream. So he bought an entire airline (the Alaskan carrier Era, which he plans to expand), and leased a Learjet back to himself, making him eligible for industry discounts on fuel and maintenance costs. Starck is currently re-designing the jet's interior. “It will be ready in 60 days,” Nazarian reports.
Starck, who points out that he is “very, very picky” about whom he works with, says he partnered with Nazarian because both men are big dreamers, and both are uninterested in copying the now-stale “boutique hotel” concept or any others that Starck originally pioneered. “Sam is exceptional,” says Starck. “He is young, incredibly fast, incredibly smart. And he is honest in business.” Despite their obvious stylistic differences, Starck, who tends to favor bicycles over Ferraris, also appreciates the fact that Nazarian never questions his design choices: “Sam trusts me. And he'd better, because he's paying me a lot.”
Given the extent of Nazarian's ambitions, you'd think that the members of L.A.'s nightlife establishment would be lining up to trash him. But they're not—perhaps because they're eager for a rich, big-thinking owner-operator (a rarity in early-to-bed L.A.), or perhaps because they're just now discovering who Nazarian is. Though he's generally the tallest person in the room at six feet four, he was never a memorable fixture on the club scene; more often, he was the big spender on a given night who would return the next day and find himself facing yet another indifferent doorman. That's one problem he's trying to eliminate at his own restaurants and clubs, which will not rely on outside promoters to bring in business. “We handle everything, from the time you step past those ropes to the time you leave,” Nazarian says. “We want to take care of you, because we know you may want to come back the next night.” He's now developing a computerized tracking system to ensure that a customer who drops, say, $5,000 at his new supper club the Slab (opening next year in the current Shelter space) will be treated like a VIP when he later stays at SBE's flagship hotel in Miami, the soon-to-be-renamed Ritz Plaza, which Nazarian is overhauling with the help of Starck and $70 million.