Episode 141

David Ho ·  Arena Nightlife Group

“I took over and in two weeks, came up with the idea for the ratchets campaign did the website, the marketing and changed it to Arena KTown. The rest was history. ”

David Ho is from Hawthorne, CA, and is an owner of Arena Ktown, Arena SF, SIP Boba Lounge, and Academy of DJs. An ex-medical engineer with an unrelenting will to create and inspire David seeks to create an impact in the entertainment and music industries and give the opportunity to young hustlers out there!


Social media handles:


Instagram: @dhocreates @arenaktown @arenasf @sipbobalounge @commissarylounge @opalsocialclub @academyofdjs

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Podcast Transcript

David Ho

[00:00:00] Maggie Chui: Hi, everyone. Welcome to the Asian Hustle Network podcast. Today, we have a very special guest with us. His name is David Ho. David is from Hawthorne, California, and is an owner of Arena Ktown, Arena SF, SIP Boba Lounge, and Academy of DJs. An ex-medical engineer with an unrelenting will to create and inspire. David seeks to create an impact in the entertainment and music industries and give opportunities to young hustlers out there. 

[00:00:30] David, welcome to the show. 

[00:00:31] David Ho: Thank you so much. That was an awesome introduction. And that introduction was written two months ago. And since then we have had two more nightclubs. We’ve since then opened Commissary OC and Opal in the South Bay San Jose area. So super excited to announce those two. 

[00:00:47] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Dude, you are killing it. I think we said it right before the podcast, and we’re also really flattered. We know that you typically don’t take interviews, but you are here on our podcast. Thank you so much for that.

[00:00:57] David Ho: Thank you. You guys put it on for the Asian community and that’s what we do too. So I couldn’t say no. 

[00:01:03] Bryan Pham: Of course, man. So I’ll talk to you about the first question to get to know you better. 

[00:01:06] David Ho: Yeah. 

[00:01:06] Bryan Pham: What was your upbringing like? Where did you grow up and what was your parents’ 

[00:01:10] expectations? 

[00:01:12] David Ho: That’s a good question. I grew up in LA Hawthorne, Inglewood to be exact. I didn’t grow up with a community of Asians at all. I had some Asian friends but my general community was a little bit more like on the urban side. And it was a tough upbringing. I was bullied a lot. I was not accepted a lot. I was shorter than everyone, smaller than everyone. So I grew up with a big chip on my side. And I think that’s a real testament to who I became today. I’ve always felt the need to prove it to the world a little bit. Hey, when the going gets hard, no that you weren’t accepted before and you got to prove to everyone else that you’re worth it.

[00:01:45] So that’s a little bit of my upbringing to boil it down to a nutshell. I grew up lower-middle-class and just not always feeling accepted totally. And just using that as a catalyst to push me in skills and accolades and things like that. 

[00:02:01] Bryan Pham: Yeah. And I could definitely appreciate that. And I’ve always felt like the people who have a chip on their shoulder with lots of things to prove. I don’t know what society is to always knock those people down and say, oh, you have a chip on your shoulder. I feel like those are go-getters. You go and do things because you have nothing to lose and everything to prove.

[00:02:17] David Ho: Thank you. 

[00:02:18] Maggie Chui: Just want to shout out to you as well. And I appreciate you bringing that up and like bullying and all of that stuff. Like it’s important to talk about it, cause not a lot of people would like to talk about it. It’s something that a lot of people have experienced in the past, which actually causes that chip on the shoulder. And I have that too because I was bullied in the past for being small as well. I’m actually four eight. So Brian knows this, like everyone who knows me, a person that was just like, I’m very petite. So it was like one of those things that have always been something that had bothered me at a young age, but it’s like nowadays, I used that to an advantage. I use that to pretty much show people that I’m stronger than who I used to be. 

[00:02:57] David Ho: You can take it one or two ways. You can take it as self-deprivation. Oh man, I’m never going to make it. Or you can take it to the opposite where it’s I’ll prove to them. I’ll do it.

[00:03:06] Bryan Pham: I love it. Yeah. Shout out for that. I’m curious too because you started your career off as an engineer. You’re like a pretty bad-ass entrepreneur. Obviously, you walked down the path where you wanted to make your parents proud and happy that there, that requirement is done. It’s like, okay, I worked a few years. What else can I do? I want to hear about that transition. 

[00:03:23] David Ho: Okay. So yeah, this is an interesting transition. So I became an engineer because I’ve always been a tinkerer. I’ll always mess around with things. My dad was a mechanic, so I grew up fixing cars and playing with car parts in my backyard.

[00:03:37] So I’ve always known I was a very big tinkerer. But at the same time, I was very creative. Like I would do photography, graphic design, web design, et cetera, in my free time. So in college, I did both, I did design and I did engineering and I switched back and forth between majors.

[00:03:51] And I just ended up thinking to myself, like what’s more stable. Like at the end of the day, what’s going to make me not disappoint my parents and be stable in life. So I chose engineering. I didn’t hate it. I actually enjoyed it a lot. And I went down the engineering pathway first in petroleum engineering and then into biomedical engineering. And I liked it. I learned a lot. I learned about teamwork and the structure of a corporate ladder and where you should be and how you should talk to people. But for me, it was always a little bit too slow. The money was too slow and the projects were too slow. Especially in the medical engineering field, you work on the same project for three years and it’s you changing a screw on a part. And it’s oh man yeah. I worked pretty hard. I did a lot of tests but did I really affect humankind that much? Probably not. 

[00:04:37] So I always knew I wanted to do something further than engineering, just because it just didn’t fulfill the fact of making a splash on the world for me. I started the Academy of DJs, which is a DJ school. I’ve always deejayed my whole life. And I felt Hey, might as well give back. And that was that like unleashed my creative oh man like I can not only do the logistical side of a business. I can do the marketing and the hype side, and then it can really change people’s lives. And that kind of started me on the itch of like how I gotta do more. And Arena actually serendipitously fell on my lap. So you know how people say what’s the phrase? Luck is preparation meets opportunity. That was the Arena for me. So I’ve deejayed my whole life and I got picked up by a promotion company when I was 18. So, I was deejaying for this Asian promotion company called Underworld and they did all the Hollywood parties in LA. 

[00:05:28] You guys are laughing cause maybe you guys know it. Right? 

[00:05:29] Maggie Chui: Yes. Underworld. Oh my gosh. 

[00:05:32] David Ho: You guys are familiar with it? 

[00:05:33] Maggie Chui: Yes. I haven’t heard that name for so long. Oh my gosh.

[00:05:37] David Ho: Oh, wow.

[00:05:38] Maggie Chui: I remember the logo too, with the flames and everything. 

[00:05:40] David Ho: Yeah, we know it was actually a hand, but yeah. So yeah, it’s a red logo. Anyways, I got picked up by Underworld when I was 18 years old and that’s their model like college students, college parties, and I really wanted to be a DJ, like a nightclub DJ. So I got picked up and I signed with them, and I was just very loyal. I was a hard worker. I never missed one DJ gig. I was never late. I never did bad. I always prepared for my gigs, I got very close with the team and I became the manager. And I’ve been loyal to them for about 10 years at that point. 

[00:06:09] And then the owner of Underworld, Jackson, went to do a party at Arena KTown and they said, Hey, we’re going to close before you do your party. We can’t make rent. We can’t we’re so behind on everything, do you just want to buy it? And then he was like, oh shoot, maybe. And then, they talk numbers, But he had a fundraiser. Get investors, to get the money. And he asked me and I was like, oh man, this that’s a lot of, that’s a big risk, in retrospect, it’s oh yeah, duh? Investing in a nightclub, you’re gonna make a lot of money. It’s a huge risk. And me coming from an engineering background I’m very risk-averse. And I was like, oh, I don’t know, man. I’ll do it, but I gotta be a silent partner. I’m so busy with engineering and the Academy of DJs. I don’t know if I can dedicate any more time to running a nightclub, so I invested some money and I was a silent partner. All I was supposed to do was book DJs cause I had the school. And then, I saw their marketing and their website and everything they did. And I was like, man, my name is on this. Like, I can’t. So I just took over like pro bono. I was like, guys, I’m sorry. I got to take over. 

[00:07:16] So I took over and in two weeks I came up with the idea for the ratchets campaign. I did the website, I did the marketing, I changed it to arena KTown it was called Arena Ultra Lounge at one point. And I was just like, dude, we gotta do it this way. This is the cool way. Yeah. I’ll credit myself to the idea for the ratchets and the whole campaign and all that kind of the whole like house party, hip hop vibe was like my thing at the time, I was like, oh, we gotta do like this. So yeah, that’s how Arena came to be. 

[00:07:42] And then, push came to shove and this and that and the money came in and it was like, oh my God, I can’t believe we can make that much money. Selling alcohol and bottle service. And everyone loves us. We did not expect that at all. The original plan for Arena was to buy it, throw a few parties and flip the business. Hey, in a year, we’ll just sell it to somebody else and just make our money back. And then we just made so much money in the first few months. We were like, there’s no way we’re selling this thing. So yeah. That’s like the inception story. 

[00:08:08] Maggie Chui: Oh, my gosh. That is crazy. I did not know any of this. 

[00:08:12] David Ho: Most of us don’t. 

[00:08:13] Maggie Chui: Yeah. So it seems like they were marketing it. Like you weren’t happy with the way through, and especially because your name was attached to it already. So at that point, you were like, okay, if my name’s going to be on this, I want it to be this. And the crazy thing is it blew up so big and you come from an engineering background. So it’s not like you had a lot of marketing background either. I’m sure you picked up on some marketing from the Academy of DJs, but you just blew it out of the water and you could read the room on what these people wanted and like what the scene was. And the whole ‘ I do for the ratchets’. Like everyone was in love with that. And I feel like people are still in love with that. So props to you. I did not know that story at all.

[00:08:52] David Ho: Yeah. Right now, actually, my title is the Vice-President of Arena at night nightlife group, but I’m also the Chief Marketing Officer. So I run the whole marketing team. All five nightclubs, every single social media post, every single design, all the websites, everything like that. And I have zero background on it whatsoever. 

[00:09:09] Maggie Chui: That’s so amazing. Another thing is, it’s ironic that you want it to be a silent partner, David, I feel like you’re the face of Arena. So I just think it was so funny.

[00:09:19] David Ho: Yeah. It’s totally the opposite of what I wanted at first, at least. At first, I was like, engineering job is my priority. This is what makes the money like, this is like what I’ve done in the last five years. And then yeah, I became the face of the company over the last four or five years just because Jackson, my partner, and my other partners they’re more on like the low-key side. And I’m on the creative, DJ side. I wasn’t like, Hey, I’m going to be the face. It just so happened. 

[00:09:45] Bryan Pham: That’s crazy. I haven’t heard the name Jackson and Underworld so long, although I have heard of it before. 

[00:09:50] David Ho: Yeah. And what’s funny is you haven’t heard of him, but he runs things. He runs all the operations, he runs the acquisitions, he runs all the business deals. He’s behind the scenes doing work. 

[00:10:00] Bryan Pham: Shout out to Jackson. I think I met him once, like back in the day, like 10, 12 years ago. I don’t wanna date myself, but a long time ago.

[00:10:07] David Ho: Yeah. I wouldn’t give too much credit to myself either. Cause you know, It’s not easy running this game. It’s a lot of business negotiations. It’s a lot of finding the right place, these clubs for sale weren’t for sale on the market. It’s not like you can go to a website,nightclubsforsale.com. You got to really know the inner circle of operators and owners and such, and just offer them like, Hey, let me buy you out. It’s a lot of network work. 

[00:10:32] Bryan Pham: It’s never easy. And a lot of us don’t even know the inside, like what goes on. And, I really appreciate you sharing that, but the one thing I really want to commend you on is your timing. I feel like you guys caught Arena at a really good time because there are no KTown clubs, everything’s dying. And you got in at the right moment, it’s like, it totally erupted. And I think I said the same thing recently too, the Commissary Lounge, the OC. Me and Maggie were there a couple of months ago were like, man, like OC is the club right now. It’s going to move the heck up. 

[00:11:01] Maggie Chui: Yeah, I remember Brian and I were just driving around it to see and we were like, it’s kind of dead in here. 

[00:11:08] David Ho: Yeah, I’ve been eyeing OC Club for the last two years. And I swear to you any OC Club that you’ve heard of, I’ve talked to them about buying their club and I’ve almost done it. And there’s always one thing. There was always one thing holding us back. Like the owner either changes their mind or there is a provision on their licenses. They couldn’t do this and that. And we’re like, ah, we can’t risk our business. So yeah, this OC club has been a long time coming and I’m so happy to have it. 

[00:11:38] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Shout out, man. That’s huge props and one more credit to you. The SF Arena club, like you, got in also at a very good time. 

[00:11:46] David Ho: Perfect time. Yeah. We’ve got a steal with that one too. In the Mission district. Yeah. 

[00:11:51] Bryan Pham: Let’s talk about that real quick. What goes through your mind with you and your partners when you’re about to make an acquisition, is it completely timed out, or is it like all luck where it’s oh shoot, we got it. Let’s open it now. 

[00:12:02] David Ho: Yeah. Maybe not luck, but it’s a window of opportunity. Yes, we got Arena KTown at the perfect time of 2018. KTown needed a nightclub. Like right now, KTown’s flurred with nightclubs. But the low key, like I think it’s because of us, we started the KTown nightclub, like resurgence, and then, there are so many people that couldn’t get into KTown, Arena KTown, that like nightclubs would pop out down the street and like all these other clubs to pop up with taking our like leftover people.

[00:12:30] But anyway. Yeah. So yes, we do have good timing, but it’s not that we planned it. I wouldn’t love to give myself credit like, oh yeah, March 2018. Let’s open a club and that’s going to be the perfect time ever. Yeah, I mean, yes, it was, but also it’s the opportunities. If you want us to open a restaurant, yes, I would time it like, Hey let’s time it in the summer. So people go out more, have more money. But nightclubs, it’s so few and far in between that are available. It’s just if it’s available to buy it. That’s it. In these last few months, we bought three places and it was just because it was available and we were so used to not having an open market like that. So yeah, the timing is great. Timing luck was on our side with that one, but it was just, it was available at the right time. 

[00:13:10] Bryan Pham: I love it. And I love the fact that you call out the competition. Call them out, David, screw it. You’re the best one. You’re best right now. 

[00:13:16] David Ho: No, no, no. 

[00:13:17] Bryan Pham: And I’m curious too, cause I know a lot has happened so recently, in the last, like three, four years, how’s your life changed? Because we feel like you’re still very humble. You haven’t let success really change you as a person, but I’m curious, like, how has your life personally changed from obviously from a financial perspective, but like your personal growth and your family? 

[00:13:36] David Ho: Yeah. That’s an awesome question. So, financially I was able to quit my job, and the nightclub world is very lucrative. So yeah, I’ve been able to buy a house. I’ve been able to buy cars that I like. But generally, I keep it very humble. I think it’s a huge moral compass of mine to never really let it get to my head. I still wear the same black shirt I wore when I was broke. I don’t really buy expensive things. I don’t own a watch. I don’t own jewelry. I just try to keep it the same. I think it’s a slippery slope buying, living up to how much you make because you’ll never be satisfied.

[00:14:10] So yeah, I keep it humble, but I still like to buy things I like, like I buy nice cars. I bought myself a Lotus just because I survived the pandemic. I try to keep it like just one big purchase, that’s it? I don’t live a lavish lifestyle or anything like that.

[00:14:22] Personally, I’ve grown so much these last four or five years. As I said, as a kid, I had a huge chip on my shoulder. Like I was like, I’m going to prove it to you, you and you that I’m going to be big one day. I’m going to make it, I’m going to be this hotshot. I’m gonna be rich. I’m going to be famous. Like I just had that chip on my shoulder really drove me to have really high discipline when I was a child. Since then, the discipline has changed, but I’m not really like, I’m going to prove it to you anymore. I have no one to prove it to besides myself now.

[00:14:53] But other than that, the first two or three years of Arena Nightlife Group, I was like, one thousand or one million percent dedicated. And that’s every moment of my life. I still feel like I am that way. But I’ve turned a corner a little bit in the realization that you might die alone if you keep on doing this. I think it’s a tough thing for a lot of entrepreneurs. Like you can’t keep relationships. You can’t keep friendships sometimes. You don’t have time for people that you love, your parents, your family or your siblings. So, I definitely turned that corner in the last two years or a year, just to consciously realize what you’re doing. Like I still work 18 hour days, 16 hour days. But I consciously know it like, Hey, you’re sacrificing some time with your family or you haven’t visited your dad in a while. And at least it’s in my conscience now that I do take some time off to further the things that I’ve put away in the past and not put away, but put on the back burner a little bit. So yes, personally I’ve grown so much. And even more now that I’m a little bit more mature in my tenure, as a nightclub owner. 

[00:15:56] Maggie Chui: Yeah. Thank you so much for sharing that. And I definitely agree with you, I think we hustled so hard and I’m sure during the first couple of years, growing Arena KTown you were extremely busy. I’m sure you’re still extremely busy, but it’s so easy to just be so indulged with just hustling every single day. Like 10 years later, five years later or whatever, like we look back and we’re like, we actually didn’t spend enough time with our family or we didn’t spend enough time with our friends.

[00:16:23] And I’m glad that you’re looking back and realizing that now because that’s so important and a matter of fact, it’s yes, we might die alone. But like none of us want to do that. 

[00:16:33] David Ho: Absolutely not. Yeah. I think with a lot of entrepreneurs, there’s a lot of like monetary goals of Hey, I want to see my bank account at this number. I want to see my net worth at this number. And for me, I definitely had those in and when I hit certain accolades, it was like probably one of, one of the loneliest times of my life, like I hit certain accolades I wanted to hit and I just look at it and I’m just like, was that worth it, and it was just reflections of all the failed relationships, reflections of all the failed friendships, reflections of, not being there for my parents enough. Yeah, as maybe advice to young entrepreneurs, it’s balance. 

[00:17:10] Bryan Pham: Yeah. And that statement really hit home for me a lot because I felt the same way. Before I was doing a lot of real estate and flipping houses and making a pretty good amount of money doing over like 20 projects. But at the end of the day, it’s like you realize that there are other things to life than just making money. Right? 

[00:17:28] David Ho: Yeah, absolutely.

[00:17:29] Bryan Pham: The loneliness that you speak of, people don’t usually recognize because we look at you on social media. You’re having the best life ever. Every single picture is like a key in front of building nice cars but like deep inside, as we all go through our own struggles.

[00:17:42] David Ho: Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:17:43] Bryan Pham: Yeah. We really appreciate you speaking up about that. 

[00:17:47] David Ho: It’s real. And I think everyone that I know who’s on the same level as I am or doing the same kind of things, All feel the same. It’s damn, man. We gotta really be there for each other more.

[00:17:57] Bryan Pham: One hundred percent. 

[00:17:58] David Ho: Yeah. 

[00:17:59] Bryan Pham: Maggie do you have a question? 

[00:18:01] Maggie Chui: I do. Okay. So I want to take it back a little bit. Just when you were starting to find a location for Arena SF, I saw one of your reels and it was such a good video because you were talking about what the journey was like building out arena SF. And when you were hiring a construction agency or construction company, I saw that they would only speak Cantonese and I was like, no way to communicate with them.

[00:18:27] Can you talk about just like the nuances of which side, communicating and working with so many different partners, not only the construction company, but all these different partners to put together a nightclub and the budget aspect of it and like how difficult it was because I saw that it only took you four weeks. And I’m sure those four weeks were grueling for you. And you were just like falling asleep at the club and falling asleep in the office. But to me, like that is extremely fast, like four weeks to build a nightclub, I commend you for that. You made it look so easy. 

[00:19:00] Bryan Pham: Hammer some things and paint some things in the nightclub.

[00:19:03] Maggie Chui: And then in the video you were like, you would rent a scissor lift by yourself and you would just install the lights by yourself and. That’s just so amazing. I want to know the whole process of that and just like how you dealt with the whole process. 

[00:19:16] David Ho: Sure. I think my engineering background has a lot to do with me having to do things sometimes. Like sometimes I have to do it like I have to put this light on or I just don’t trust other people or slash I just want to learn. So yes for your first question most general contractors we hired on number one would have taken too long. And number two, we’re like five times our budget. So we had to hire local Cantonese, Chinese dudes who were straight up from Chinatown. I didn’t understand a word they said, I’m Vietnamese myself. There was one of the dudes who spoke broken English. So like he was the project manager, and I like, talk to him and he’ll talk to his dudes, but sometimes I would just be with his dudes and that’d be like this there, like I would do a lot of hand signs, like black paint, and they would just like nod and I’m like, oh man, they didn’t get it. And I would just have to watch them do it. And I’m like, No, that there. So I was like the second project manager. I pretty much lived there. 

[00:20:15] Secondly, shout out to my crew back in the day in Viscous. We used to do lighting and sound and deejaying for weddings, corporate events. And I learned a lot of the ropes of the game like lighting design, lighting programming, and just general production from them. So when it came down to either hiring a production company, which would honestly cost like honestly like $500,000 to do a nightclub or to do it myself and just buy the lights and program it and wire the club myself, it was an easy choice for me to just do it myself.

[00:20:45] And every single nightclub that we own, I’ve done the lighting and sound myself. I wired the whole venue, electricity, DMX, XLR, programmed lights, even at the Commissary. 

[00:20:56] Maggie Chui: That is so amazing. Oh my gosh. You should pat yourself on the back for that because I feel like a lot of people would just hire general contractors and just let them do whatever, or like just wait for them to finish it, which will most likely take a long time. But you just took it upon yourself and especially because it’s just something that you didn’t mind doing either. 

[00:21:14] David Ho: I love doing it. It’s a passion of mine to build. As an engineer, you love working with your hands. I love doing it. I saved a lot of money doing it and I did it faster than anybody else. So it’s all wins in my book. 

[00:21:25] Bryan Pham: We need a documentary on your life and all that you are still doing right. It sounds crazy to hear. 

[00:21:33] David Ho: Yeah, I’m really bad at documenting things because I just do it, like if I want to do it, I’d do it. I don’t think about recording it first or hiring a videographer. So there are a lot of things that are undocumented. I have a lot of sketch things that I’ve done, like hanging on the ceiling, like mounting a light and shit. A lot of sketchy stuff I’ve done. 

[00:21:50] Bryan Pham: It’s not sketchy. It’s adventurous, right?

[00:21:53] David Ho: Adventurous is the right word. Yeah. And for me, it’s like another level of appreciation when you see a full nightclub and people partying and drinking, having a lot of fun and you just look up and you’re like, damn, like I definitely was part of this. I put that up there. I programmed that thing, it’s a good feeling.

[00:22:09] Bryan Pham: Yeah, I love that. And my biggest takeaway from everything you told us so far, it’s like every single experience in your life. No matter how small. Becoming an entrepreneur, you’ll draw these random experiences altogether.

[00:22:21] David Ho: Yeah. A hundred percent. You can’t graduate college and just be like, I’m going to be an entrepreneur. You could maybe in certain fields, but at least from what I’ve known and what I’ve experienced, it’s like literally the accumulation of so many life experiences boiling down to these points for me to be able to do all this.

[00:22:36] So I don’t regret going into engineering. I don’t know. Deejaying at Hollywood nightclubs when I was 18 years old, I don’t regret any of this. Because it really made me who I am today. 

[00:22:45] Bryan Pham: Yeah. It also prepared you to become the person you are today too. 

[00:22:47] David Ho: Yeah, absolutely. 

[00:22:49] Bryan Pham: Your success, we’re so happy for you, but talk about the times where, I know you mentioned earlier too, the times where you felt a little bit sad, a little bit broken, and especially I want to narrow it down to the pandemic. 

[00:22:59] David Ho: Yeah, that was a tough time. 

[00:23:01] Bryan Pham: It was like, holy moly. Like you guys, I immediately, like you started improvising. We’re going to do this, we’re going to do that. We want to hear start to finish, man. 

[00:23:12] David Ho: Oh my gosh. So March 13th, 2020. I remember the date exactly. That’s when we closed the club. Both clubs. And at first, I was like, ah, it’s two weeks. It’s going to be great. I’m going to get a vacation, finally. I was like, thank God I needed a break. I was so stressed and tired. Because I just remodeled Arena KTown so we remodeled Arena KTown and Arena KTown 2.0. It was a two-week project. I pretty much did everything. I was so damn tired. We ran the club for about a month and then the pandemic hit and I was like, ah man, at least I get a little break.

[00:23:46] And I thought it was gonna last for two weeks. The news came in and I was like, oh my gosh, this is actually a really big deal. And we started panicking. On our heads, at the time we had about $50,000 with rent every month on our heads. And our landlords weren’t cutting us in breaks. They were just like, Hey, you signed this lease, you owe us this money. And we were like, dude, we signed the lease for the opportunity to do business. We don’t even have the opportunity to do business right now. Like why do we pay full rent?

[00:24:11] So we were like, what are we going to do? And during the time the ABC relinquished alcohol to go. You couldn’t sell alcohol to-go before, but now you can cause whatever. And we’re like, no, one’s going to buy an AMF to go. And no one’s going to buy a shot of Jameson to go. I was tasked with the idea to come up with something. My first idea was like, let’s sell Hainan chicken because people are hungry around KTown and stuff. And maybe, that sounds good. I was in my kitchen cooking Hainan chicken. There’s no way we’re doing this shit. This is its hardest book.

[00:24:48] Then my second idea was like, all right, let’s do what people are doing like a lot of parties, like house parties and like parties within a household. Party packs, let’s say two bottles of alcohol, like a twister game together. Then I was like, no one’s going to buy that, man. You can just go to Ralph’s and buy that shit.

[00:25:04] So I was like, oh man, what are we going to do? And then we just came up with the alcoholic boat. We’re like, you know what? People will not take the time to brew tea at home and then do all this like sweetener stuff. And if you add alcohol to it, which Boba shops can’t do, because they don’t have the alcohol license, we can have a niche market. So I went to the lab. I literally knew nothing about making Boba. I knew nothing about tea. I knew nothing about anything. 

[00:25:25] So I’ll just YouTube, asking people. I was cooking Bobo in my kitchen for a week. And we came up with five, six flavors. And then I had some friends at Postmates. Shout out to Ben Trinh. 

[00:25:36] At the time, I was like, Ben, get me on Postmates. Like I’m gonna do alcohol Boba to go. So we did Postmates. We did pick up and it blew up at first. I was like, dude, we got so many orders. Like we’re making like a couple of thousand dollars a day on Boba. We’re like, dude, this is crazy. And I was working myself to the bone. It was like cooking. I was like making my recipe for popcorn chicken. People who know me at that time I could not cook at all. Like I was so bad at cooking, but like I had to do this. So I came up with a recipe for everything. I learned from A to Z, how to make Boba, like your steep times, your times in the honey, like what the texture should be like, the sweetness, how that should be, how much alcohol you should add to each cup, like learning how to seal it. I learned everything in two weeks and then we just launched and we went. 

[00:26:25] Maggie Chui: Oh, my gosh. That’s crazy. Now, look at you. You’re a mixologist, you’re a master chef. 

[00:26:31] David Ho: I know Boba in and out now for sure. And yeah. So going back to the original question. Yeah. Pandemic was rough. Super rough. That’s when I had a lot of revelation of, man, do people actually like me or do people just care that I can get them in the club? You know what I mean? Like all of a sudden, my phone goes from like blowing up 200 messages every Friday, Saturday night to like nobody. And it’s damn who’s the real ones here. So the pandemic was tough mentally because of that. I had stark realizations of the real friends and the club friends. And then I had the business pressure of making it. The end of the pandemic was the hardest for me. Because San Francisco was able to open before LA as a restaurant. So we opened up an Arena SF as a restaurant. Food, I don’t know how to cook. I don’t know what to serve as a restaurant. So we came up with Korean fried chicken. We had to come up with a recipe for that. We had the Boba, we had fries. We had Lumpia. We had all these Asian-inspired foods at the club and there was so much red tape. Then we would have health inspectors coming every night. No one could be standing. And it’s a nightclub. People are going to stand, so no one can be standing. No one can have their mask off. If they’re not actively eating or drinking. No one can dance whatsoever. No one can come to a party outside their household. So you had to check addresses and it was just so much red tape and it was so stressful for me because we had all this rent on our head. I was literally outside on Mrs. Street, begging people to eat my French fries. I felt like at the lowest point of my life, I was just like, I can’t believe I had the hottest clubs just a year ago and now I’m begging people to eat French fries on the street. 

[00:28:02] I am glad it happened because my life until then was like a fairy tale, entrepreneurial life like I got into it, I made a lot of money and it was just like, people loving you all the sudden and everyone’s what’s Arena? Who’s D.Ho?

[00:28:15] Everyone knows you all of a sudden to like me on the street asking for a $5 French fry order. So I definitely needed that realization. That business is not always handed to you. 

[00:28:26] Bryan Pham: Yeah, that is the most humbling experience. In retrospect, it gives you a better view of the world of who your friends are. Honestly, success is rented every day. It’s not always guaranteed. And it helps you think of the bigger term, like how could it be more sustainable? Like a saleable business never happens again ever or be prepared for it to happen again. And get your finances. So you can survive another pandemic or, never take on more than you can chew because it could leave one day, your hype can leave one day. Someone can get injured at your club and you could shut down.

[00:29:01] David Ho: Luckily, we haven’t had any, like any troubles besides the pandemic, but we’ve definitely opened our eyes up more that it’s not all glittering gold out of here.

[00:29:10] Maggie Chui: Yeah. And just wanted to thank you for sharing that with us. I’m sure that was such a hard time for you and it’s really deep. And a lot of people, when they talk about the pandemic and their business, they talk about the financial implications. But for you, you went a little bit deeper and talked about who are my real friends? Like I used to get hit up every single day and now it’s no, one’s hitting me up. And I bet you never thought you would be running a restaurant. So it’s like you had to adapt and that’s exactly what you did. 

[00:29:37] Bryan Pham: Yeah. Survive and adapt was the name of the game in 2020 and 2021. It was tough.

[00:29:41] David Ho: Very tough. 

[00:29:42] Bryan Pham: And I can’t imagine what kind of strain that puts on your team and with your partners. I know partnerships are not easy and a lot of people really underestimate that because I’m working with my friend, what can go wrong? So partnerships are almost like dating another person.

[00:29:56] David Ho: I think it’s more than dating, honestly. Yeah, my piece of advice is don’t go into a partnership with your close friend because you’re going to strain it for sure. And also a piece of advice is to code to go into a partnership with someone that is good at something that you’re not good at. ’cause if two people get at the same thing, it’s going to be butting heads. Like you need to be like, Hey, you’re really good at this. You handle that. You’re really good at this. Just handle that side. Definitely have a conversation about, Hey, like I dunno about this price or whatever it is, but that’s not my, that’s not my world because, I will stick to the creative and marketing side and, my partners will stick to the logistics and operations side.

[00:30:35] We generally don’t like to cross paths or like crossing to each other’s fields too much. Then you get a little animosity, so partnerships are very tricky and I’ve luckily got into partnerships where my partners do compliment me a lot.

[00:30:47] Bryan Pham: That’s great. That’s great to hear, especially during hardships, right? That’s when emotions are high. Stress is really high. You gotta make rent, you gotta be on payroll and all these other expenses. 

[00:30:57] David Ho: Tough. Yes.

[00:30:58] Bryan Pham: Were there times where you’re like, man, it’s not going to work. Screw it. 

[00:31:04] Yes, actually. Yeah. Half the pandemic was like, I’ve already accepted my fate of not being a nightclub owner anymore.

[00:31:12] Because there were talks of, Hey, this might never end or Hey nightclubs and may never come back because this might be a forever thing. And, I kinda was like, you know what? I might lose everything I worked. And I was okay with that. 

[00:31:24] What was the original question again? I’m sorry. 

[00:31:27] I was wondering if there are times when your conversations with your partners are heated.

[00:31:32] David Ho: Yes, definitely. Dude we got into it so many times there were points where I was like, dude, I don’t know if I can do this. Like I’m worth so much more, bro. I can literally leave and open up my own shit and be successful. But at the end of the day, you have to be loyal. We all did this together and we have to be loyal together. Stick it through, but yeah there’s definitely been times where we’ve gotten at each other’s throats. 

[00:31:53] Bryan Pham: Thanks for sharing the non-rosy things.

[00:31:55] David Ho: Yeah. There’s a lot of it. 

[00:31:57] Bryan Pham: When you’re in entrepreneurship, you’re dealing with so much uncertainty. Most of the time you feel like you’re falling off a cliff while trying to build a house at the same time while arguing with your partner. Like, why is this not working? 

[00:32:08] David Ho: Yeah, definitely. But we have a very healthy relationship. And at the end of the day, it’s because we’re very good at what we do and what we do is the opposite. So we like to just stay in our lanes and just work hard. 

[00:32:22] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I love that a lot for sure. So Maggie and I have supported your business a lot, so we go out and like let’s get tables.

[00:32:31] David Ho: I’m sorry. I’ve never formally met you when you guys were there. 

[00:32:34] Bryan Pham: No worries. You were on stage though. You just do your part. We’re not going to get this guy. 

[00:32:38] Maggie Chui: You have to pass by all the girls to get to you. 

[00:32:41] Bryan Pham: Yeah. But the one thing we did notice about every time he came out to Arena, the experience is always really good. And we talked to you about the bottle girls and it feels like the culture that you built is very healthy. Everyone seems very delighted that they’re working for you. 

[00:32:56] So what advice do you have for people building a team, building a culture, especially in the face of uncertainty. Where is David going to fire me? It’s the pandemic a lot of, you know, you probably make more money off, you know, government funding.

[00:33:12] David Ho: One thing that I think I can’t take credit for is the Asian community is so close, tight-knit, and we share a bond through a lot of the same struggles and a lot of the same idealism. So having a staff of a lot of Asians, already sets precedence for me. We already go into work with the implication of respect already and all you gotta do, at least for me, all I needed to do was show up and just be nice, be a nice owner. Don’t be an asshole. I’ve definitely had times where I’ve yelled at people, but you know, I’ve always taken my bottle girls out, like for dinner, I’ve always tipped them, always made sure that they felt appreciated and they always did. They built the culture themselves.

[00:34:03] I couldn’t take all the credit to myself, especially Arena KTown, it was the very first club we opened and we honestly didn’t know what we were doing. A lot of it was like, Hey, we don’t know what we’re doing. Can you guys try to figure it out? Let us know what works the best. So a lot of what Arena KTown staff was, they felt like they owned it too. Because they figured it out with us. 

[00:34:24] Bryan Pham: I love it. That’s a very healthy culture. You have a team there with more experience. They started telling smart people, capable people what to do. You have them sort of just teach you. You guys all learned it together. Really like the fact that you appreciate your team.

[00:34:37] David Ho: Oh, definitely a hundred percent. 

[00:34:38] Bryan Pham: It’s definitely like the newer mentality that we all have. Where it’s like the old mentality, your parents like, treat your employees like shit, but it doesn’t really flow with the new generation. 

[00:34:49] David Ho: Yes, but also here is my dog right there.

[00:34:51] Maggie Chui: Oh so cute. The way he walks. 

[00:34:55] David Ho: This is Ali, my best friend. 

[00:35:00] Maggie Chui: But I totally agree. I think the Asian aspect of it too, like you already go into the office knowing like everyone has this neutral understanding cause everyone has similar cultures. So that’s a really important piece to it.

[00:35:11] David Ho: Like respect is so ingrained in our culture growing up that like when you go into the workplace it’s already there. So all you need to do is set the rules and make sure they follow it. And you’ll make a nice culture for yourself. 

[00:35:24] Bryan Pham: I like that for sure. And David, as we’re nearing the end of the podcast, I’m curious what is next for the Arena Nightlife Group. And I don’t know why I keep drawing parallels to Zouk Group in Las Vegas.

[00:35:38] David Ho: Because they’re the Asian one too. 

[00:35:39] Bryan Pham: Yeah. I feel like your stories are very similar.

[00:35:44] David Ho: Shout out to Will from Zouk, a good friend of ours. He used to manage Trace. Now he’s at Zouk. 

[00:35:49] Bryan Pham: You know Will. I know Will.

[00:35:53] David Ho: Yeah. Awesome. It’s such a small world. 

[00:35:57] What’s next for Arena? We’ve acquired a lot of clubs in the last year and we are neck-deep in work, and good people and good managers are hard to find. So right now in the interim six to eight months we’re just working on training our managers and making sure our venues logistically, operationally have the right operations, I guess, lack of a better word.

[00:36:21] Culture I think is great. Yeah, so right now it’s just finding the right workers, finding the right managers, training the managers, making sure we have the right logistics and all of our clubs in the next six to eight months. In the next five years. I think we might slow down in the acquisition because it’s not just two times the work having two clubs, it’s not just five times of work. It’s 10 times the work because every city is different. Every city has its own culture. So you’ve got to adapt to that. You’ve got to be local. We have to understand the local crowd. You have to understand local mandates. So it’s a lot more work. You can’t just copy-paste nightclubs.

[00:36:53] So right now with five, we were pretty like, okay, let’s just work this out. We probably won’t be acquiring any more nightclubs in the next two, three years. Hopefully, we might do one or two. We want our end goal to open a club in Vegas. So, to acquire enough capital to be a real big player not just like your local KTown club or your local San Francisco club, you want to be like a big contender in the huge nightclubs. Cause that’s where you make the stupid money. But you have to get there first. We’re not going to jump the gun. 

[00:37:22] And for me personally, I would like to retire by, I’ve already set that in my mind, like 40, 45. I just want to be done with this nightlife industry and be done with the entertainment industry. Because it’s taxing. It’s a lot of work and just work on passionate projects for me, just things that make me happy, things that uplift my community. And just live the life I didn’t live in my 20’s and 30’s. 

[00:37:46] Bryan Pham: Thanks for sharing that. That’s awesome, man. And that’s funny cause if you didn’t say Vegas, it’d be like, David, we’ll see you in Vegas one day. 

[00:37:54] Maggie Chui: We were literally just talking about that. Brian and I were like when is he going to come out to Vegas and open up a club here?

[00:38:01] David Ho: Yeah. I’m actually going to Vegas next week for a nightclub convention. Funny enough. Vegas hosts a nightclub convention for all nightclub owners, operators. Let’s see if I learn anything there about Vegas nightclubs. 

[00:38:14] Bryan Pham: There’s no doubt in my mind that you guys will get to your goal. And we do have one final question, David. That question is, earlier, how you mentioned that you get like 200 text messages on a daily basis throughout this entire podcast. I don’t know. You guys heard it. We heard that. 

[00:38:29] David Ho: I silenced everything and somehow they’re still going through. 

[00:38:33] Bryan Pham: If we really emphasize the importance of taking care of yourselves, setting boundaries, and mental health at the end of the podcast. How do you shut things off? Whenever things get too overwhelming or are like, okay, this is my time, no longer work time. Do you have any advice for entrepreneurs who grind and hustle and can’t shut it off?

[00:38:48] David Ho: That’s a great question because I need to reflect on myself with that too. Personally, I think to backtrack on that question a little bit, a lot of people often ask, how do you find your passion? Like, how do you know you’re passionate about something? I don’t want to work for this cause I’m not passionate about it. And I’ve always been an advocate of saying.

[00:39:09] Passion is not about what you want to do, it is about your intent. You could do anything and be passionate about it. You just gotta believe that you’re passionate about it. And I think it’s very cringing for me when people say oh, I quit this. Cause I wasn’t passionate about it.

[00:39:20] Sure. I would quit things cause it’s not a priority. And, but I’m always passionate about everything I do, whether it’s engineering, whether it’s deejaying, whether it’s club ownership, I’m always passionate about everything I do. And I say that to say this I think at least for me.

[00:39:34] This whole mental health thing and learning to shut things off, yes, it’s important. But for me, The same way that I’m just passionate in everything I do. I don’t let that affect my mental health. Oh, I don’t let that get to me, so I never shut it off, unfortunately. So like my advice, I don’t know, because I don’t ever shut off. But not in a bad way. Like I don’t ever feel burnt out. I never feel this is too much. I’m gonna explode. Because my mentality is this is what you love to do, and this is what you signed up for. So just do it. So yeah mental burnout is definitely a real thing. My way of circumventing it is in my head like, Hey, this is what you’re doing. This is what you signed up to do. Just do it. There’s worse out there. There are people who are struggling, not in your position. And I don’t let myself get burnt out that way. Other people might need to take breaks or take a vacation or, take a meditation every day, but I just personally don’t do any of that. 

[00:40:24] Maggie Chui: Wow. That’s really good. You said you don’t have any advice, but I feel like that was already advice in itself. 

[00:40:30] Bryan Pham: It never feels like work. 

[00:40:32] David Ho: It’s just what I do. I signed up for this. I’m a leader of my community. I need to do it, so I never let it get to me. 

[00:40:38] Maggie Chui: Yeah, absolutely. And I agree with you. Like some people will try to find that passionate thing that they’re passionate about for the rest of their life. And, if you keep thinking that way, it’s possible that you may never find that passionate thing, right?

[00:40:51] David Ho: Yeah. I think you honestly won’t just like how, if you always live to how much money you’ll make, you’ll never be satisfied by how much money you make. Same thing with a passion. I feel like if you’re always looking for the next thing you’re more passionate about, I don’t think you’ll find it.

[00:41:03] Maggie Chui: Yeah, absolutely. Thanks so much for that advice, David. So our last question is where can our listeners find out more about you and all of your nightclubs online? 

[00:41:14] David Ho: Oh yeah, sure. My personal Instagram is @dhocreates. The nightclubs, let’s start with Arena KTown, arenaktown.com. On Instagram, @arenaktown. You have Arena SF, arenasf.com, or @arenasf on Instagram.

[00:41:29] We have our newest tech club commissary. It’s @commissarylounge, but the website is thecommissarylounge.com. We have Opal, which is our new South Bay San Jose nightclub that we’re soft opening this weekend actually. The website is opaleventcenter.com, but we might change that. Instagram is @opalsocialclub.

[00:41:47] And then we’re opening Sip, which we’re super excited about in about a month and a half. And that is our spinoff alcoholic Boba bar, like our alcoholic Boba did so well at the nightclubs that we wanted to do a spinoff, a smaller bar, more sophisticated, more grown just to do craft alcoholic Boba. I’m super excited for that one. Instagram is @sipbobalounge. Website is sipbobalounge.com 

[00:42:11] Maggie Chui: Awesome. Oh my gosh. I’m so excited to check out Sip and Opal. 

[00:42:14] Bryan Pham: That’s quite a list.

[00:42:15] David Ho: I get tired of just saying it all. 

[00:42:18] Maggie Chui: You’re like, oh, what are they again? 

[00:42:20] David Ho: Yea, like what are all the websites?

[00:42:22] Bryan Pham: I’m going to have you come back in like the next 10 years. It’d be like, all right, David, here’s a 20-minute segment of everything you created in the last 10 years.

[00:42:28] David Ho: Oh, sorry. Forgot to shout out at the Academy of DJs. Oh my gosh. Oh yeah. Academy of DJs is my DJ school, it’s in Orange County academyofdjs.com or Instagram @academyofdjs. We do one season every six months and over 200 people apply every season and we only accept about like 10. So the acceptance rate is lower than Harvard. We really groomed these people to be all-star DJs. If a military, boot camp, and fraternity had a baby. That’s the Academy of DJs. So yeah that’s my school.

[00:43:00] Maggie Chui: Amazing. We’re going to leave all of that in the show notes. David, thank you so much for being on our podcast today. It was so amazing hearing your story. 

[00:43:08] Bryan Pham: Thank you, David. 

[00:43:09] David Ho: Thank you for taking the time to interview me. 

[00:43:11] Bryan Pham: Of course.