SuperCity: The show must go on
BY CHRISTA WITTMIER / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Everything I was working on last week came to a screeching halt on Thursday when one of my worst nightmares came true.
Dear friend and trusted colleague Matt Bendik was found dead in his Philadelphia hotel room by a maid while on a business trip. He was there checking out the nightlife, looking to expand his already healthy portfolio of successful nightclubs. Honolulu knows him as the young nightlife tycoon who opened Addiction Nightclub after being hired by the Modern Honolulu as a third party entity to totally re-brand and manage the club formerly known as Crazybox.
Of course, I had to get the news from Twitter after seeing multiple “RIP @MattBendik” updates. I had been wondering why I hadn’t heard back from him that day. He usually gets right back to me, often calling the minute he lands in Honolulu to meet up for lunch or dinner. I missed his recent Honolulu trip, getting a text while in Taiwan that he was back in town.
“Bummer!” is the last text I ever got from him.
Before any of us could even take the time to process the information or grieve properly, we had a new promotion to execute at his club. It was the first night of a new monthly called “So Fancy!” that features an all-female DJ lineup every second Thursday of the month.
Hours before the doors were to open I was reaching out to the club’s managers, trying to figure out our next step.
Are we really going to go through with this? How?
It’s true, only a handful of people outside the Addiction staff would even really know Bendik. In every sense of the phrase, the show must go on. If anything, that’s what Matt — the utmost professional — would have wanted.
It was going to be the toughest night of our lives.
A rush of thoughts poured over me driving to the Modern that night. I thought of Bendik’s beautiful girlfriend, “Glee” star Becca Tobin; he was head over heels in love with her and often brought her to Honolulu.
I thought about a lunch we had together in the courtyard of Du Vin, not knowing why people were staring at her until much later. I remembered how deliriously in love they both were and how happy I was for my friend.
I thought of his business partner and good friend Tyler Dickinson, who has taken on more responsibilities as they worked on more and more projects in Los Angeles. How he told me on a trip to the North Shore that he got the job working for Bendik by simply reaching out and asking how he could help, similar to the way Bendik got his first-ever nightlife job when he was still a freshman in high school.
I thought of every single person who works at Addiction, just about all of them hand-picked by Bendik himself. I thought about the multiple staff swaps Bendik had done with his Los Angeles club staff and was planning to do with the Honolulu staff. There were so many people in Honolulu who owe this man so much, and now he is gone.
Meanwhile, the news was traveling fast in the outside world. The story was picked up by every major (and minor) celebrity news source. By the time I got to the Modern, the story had become the number one trending topic on Facebook. Unfortunately for many friends, it’s also how they found out.
The shock I was feeling was mirrored by the rest of the staff, many too stunned to grieve. But the doors were set to open and people soon began pouring into the nightclub. A video projection image created by Addiction barback Alex Kim rotated the promotion’s logos set against a background of the blue sky with floating clouds. Every once in a while the words “We Love You Matt” would slowly come on the screen. Luckily, Kim had gotten the news as he was creating the video file and was able to make this simple yet momentous message for the night. It was beautiful.
Shortly after 2 a.m. that night, the club raised the lights and the host Roxy on the Mic led a quick moment of silence for Bendik. Save for the staff, many had no idea. Everyone was quiet at that moment while we remembered our friend.
Everyone runs their clubs different, but Bendik put quality of service before everything. Design, operations, entertainment — nothing came before the guest experience. When he opened Addiction in December 2011, he heard pool parties were all the rage, so he arranged to have one every week that month. He was never afraid to take an idea outside the box if it meant doing something impactful. Each holiday, each event had to be better than the next.
Above everything, he personally took so much pride in the level of service he provided. The weekends that Bendik was in Honolulu, he would be at the front in his suit, walking the VIPs up to the bar, buying them a round and having a bit of conversation with them before going back downstairs. He was never above greeting anyone in this fashion. Just last week, I heard a club manager say they wanted to be at the same level as Addiction, yet they completely overlooked this simple yet effective quality.
How you treat people is so very important. It’s reflected in your club’s vibe. This is what keeps the right people coming back. Bendik knew this.
Bendik never batted an eyelash while accompanying me to events around town, often handing me his phone and saying, “here, post something cool on my social media,” while making sure to greet everyone I introduced him to with a warm handshake and his business card.
“Call me if you ever need anything,” he would tell people.
Matt’s confidence came from operating some of Los Angeles’s most elite nightclubs in addition to the one in Waikiki. He has literally worked every job possible in a club since before he even graduated high school. I remember being a bit intimidated to work with him at first, but winding up incredibly empowered by his support and appreciation for even the smallest things I could do to help his business.
One of his favorite proverbs became mine as well: “Speak well of your friends, of your enemies say nothing.”
At this point we still do not know what caused his death. What we do know is the autopsy was inconclusive, meaning there was no definitive trauma or organ failure.
Some are presumptuously citing stress as a possible cause. Those of us who know and work with Matt knew he definitely had a lot on his plate, but also had a very relaxed and methodical approach to everything. It’s why we all admired him so much. We all knew him to be extremely moderate in his drinking habits and he never did drugs. That’s why it’s still so shocking.
Whatever the cause, it was definitely too soon and will take a long time to fully accept. He leaves so much behind. The next time you are in Addiction take a minute to reflect on what he has done and remember Matt Bendik.
Christa Wittmier has chronicled Honolulu nightlife since 2004. She is senior marketing director at Young’s Market Co. of Hawaii and executive director of music for POW! WOW! Hawaii, and also helps promote the popular “Bacardi Pool Party” on Oahu. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.