As a boy, back in his Kentucky hometown, Memphis Garrett would saddle up to the bar, and the kitchen would immediately start working on his order: fried shrimp and a Shirley temple with two cherries.
He’d eat while his mom finished her shift at the Whaler’s Catch in Paducah, and Garrett would watch as she busted her hump.
“It’s where I learned the value of hard work,” Garrett says. “Right from that moment, I don’t think I wanted to do anything else.”
Since then, Garrett has gone deep in the hospitality world. He’s now director of food and drink at The Dalmar Fort Lauderdale hotel. It’s the 35th venue he’s opened, along with a short break for a bit of fame on reality TV.
All that might sound like a lot of hustling, but the hustle is something Garrett says he mastered early. When he was a sophomore in high school, his mother came home one day to find Garrett counting 15 grand in small bills on the kitchen counter. “She freaked out,” he recalls. “She thought I was selling drugs.”
Garrett and a friend had come up with a scheme to get 27 of their classmates to sell T-shirts with the logos of school mascots. All their sales staff got in return was a free shirt, but they ended up selling thousands. Garrett and his buddy also held parties and raked it in by charging for beers. “Any way we could take a buck, we would make a buck,” he says.
This resourcefulness continued at Florida State, where Garrett got his first job working security at The Moon. Then he started working with clubs to set up VIP services—something that was new back in the early 2000s and an idea that turned the venues into big-money businesses.
He moved to Los Angeles after school and worked his way up from busboy to mixologist at a property owned by the SBE hotel chain. He was eyeing a management gig when he got a call in 2008 about a reality TV audition. One of the potential contestants for “Big Brother” had dropped out right before filming would start, and Garrett landed the spot. He ended up as the runner-up for “Big Brother” season 10. He also walked away with a 1969 Camaro and $50,000—and a bit of name recognition.
Garrett used that newfound fame to ask SBE for a promotion. Soon, they were tasking him with opening new venues, and he landed a position as director of nightlife at the SLS that opened in Las Vegas in 2014. The SLS company then moved him to Miami to oversee properties in South Florida. But Garrett soon found himself burned out on the world of big hotel properties.
Three years ago, Garrett moved to Fort Lauderdale and opened the Poke House, a fast-casual concept in Victoria Park, and he added the juice bar JB&C in the MASS District.
When The Dalmar called last year about a job running the property’s dining venues, he liked the spiel. The Dalmar is the first of its kind for Marriott, a property that’s split between an extended-stay Element by Westin and an upscale Tribute Portfolio hotel.
The goal of the property is also to become something of a destination for locals, Garrett says, with venues that can pull in a crowd from early morning coffee drinkers, to lunch and dinner, to late-night drinks. Early this year, Garrett buckled down into what he says were 70-plus-hour weeks to open one venue after the next, spots that were earning national attention for their design and bringing something entirely novel to downtown Fort Lauderdale, a high-end hotel full of style.
On a recent Friday morning, Garrett sat with legs crossed in a heavily pillowed armchair in the hotel’s lounge. He wore a black jacket, black T-shirt, dark blue pants and dark slip-on shoes, with the only spot of bright a Dalmar pin on his lapel. He has undeniable style, right down to his electric blue classic Bronco. You can find him regularly on Twitter, where he clocks in at 17,000 followers and counting.
Garrett figures it will take two years to get The Dalmar “where it needs to be.” From there, he’s not sure, admitting he’s addicted to openings, to building something from nothing. For now, though, he’s working on adding things, like jam sessions where a bunch of musicians rotate on and off in the main lounge, a handsomely decorated sixth-floor hall with stunning views of downtown.
Unlike the nightclubs he opened throughout his career, the goal with The Dalmar is more long-term, he says. “Here, we’re on a journey and a path to create something really unique,” Garrett says. “It’s like, how long does it take to build an iconic hotel, a place that’s not just cool for a year but can sustain?”
For someone who’s spent the past decade traveling the country for new openings, Garrett says Fort Lauderdale might be the place where he finally settles down, where he finally finds his own way to sustain.
• Sparrow: A rooftop bar with a ’60s-style décor that the owners say is “inspired by the golden age of American travel.”
• The Terrace Grill: An American bistro with “power lunch” specials, entrees in the $30 to $40 range and curvy banquettes under soaring ceilings.
• Rose’s Coffee Bar: A casual spot just inside the front entrance with pastries and coffees from Philadephia’s La Colombe Coffee Roasters.
• Sip ‘N Dip: A casual bar next to the sixth-floor’s infinity pool.
• Lobby Lounge & Bar: A sweeping hall space overloaded with stylish touches and views of Fort Lauderdale’s skyline.
The Dalmar, 299 N. Federal Highway, Fort Lauderdale / 954.945.9500 / thedalmar.com