‘Groot University’ – FIU Course Connects Students to Miami’s Top Hospitality Entrepreneur

In the world of Miami hospitality, no one comes close to the king—David Grutman. The best of the best, Grutman

David Grutman

In the world of Miami hospitality, no one comes close to the king—David Grutman. The best of the best, Grutman manages to knock one venture after another out of the park—and one of his newest endeavors may surprise some. Grutman has teamed up with Florida International University for a course that brings his hospitality genius and business acumen to students hoping to learn from the best. CELEB talks with the Dean of FIU Michael Cheng about the exciting class, what it means for the university, and what amazing surprises Grutman has in store for his students. 

How Groot University Came to Be

The class brainchild was born after FIU’s Chaplin School of Hospitality & Tourism Management Professor Joel Feigenheimer brought Grutman on board. Dean Cheng explains, “in Miami, there are a lot of celebrities. And a lot of times, partnerships like we have with David happen from a personal connection. If Dr. Feigenheimer had not known David, and invited David to provide a guest lecture in a class, we wouldn’t have this partnership. The whole thing with him teaching is that he’s not teaching from the textbook. He’s teaching from experience. And it’s giving students a very memorable experiential education. They’ll talk about it. And they’ll remember that the best time they had in college, and the coolest class they ever took was the one with David Grutman.

Those are the things that makes us unique. We always focus on having faculty with industry experience. David checks off that box. And we’ve always emphasized that our curriculum has to be relevant and has to be current, we cannot be teaching something out of the textbook. Those books can be 5, 10, 15 years old.”

Cheng reminisces on how they turned guest lecturing for Dr. Feigenheimer into a full course. “David had been guest speaking in Dr. Feigenheimer’s class for about I think two or three years prior to 2019. He had invited him a few times every semester. And then it was from those conversations that one day Dr. Faganheimer told me that David would like to do more.”

“We set up a meeting. It’s me, Dr. Feigenheimer, and my executive director for partnerships, Shivani Joshi. And we went over to David’s house. And I remember very clearly, not more than three or five minutes into meeting David for the first time, he said, ‘Well, I’d like to teach a class.’ You want to teach a class? I said, ‘Sure, why not?’ That’s how we really got started. ‘What would this class look like? And what would his time commitment be?’ We know he’s a busy man, he’s an entrepreneur, he’s got all these businesses that he’s running. We started talking about different formats.”

With the ever-changing landscape of hospitality, Grutman’s real-world and real-time experience is absolutely vital. And as students mix and mingle, they’re making future contacts for their careers. And with FIU’s PODs, Grutman was able to find the time to help the next generation of entrepreneurs dip their toes into the experience.

PODs Started it All

With Grutman’s busy schedule in mind, FIU had exactly the kind of time-friendly program needed for a Grutman hospitality class: PODs, which allow the university to pack a lot more information into a shorter period of time. In the hospitality industry, things move quickly. A year-long course might be irrelevant by the time it wraps up. Cheng explains, “Fortunately for us, about three years ago, we came up with this idea, this POD—Programming On Demand, and basically the impetus behind it.

The impetus behind the POD idea is that the traditional college curriculum literally takes a whole year. If you want to change anything at anything, you have to go through your internal approval process, have faculty vote on it, faculty will discuss it, and then go through a university process. By the time we can offer a class, it’s like 12 months later, whatever content you wanted to offer that point, may or may not be relevant. We were actively trying to find a way to make it faster. But for us, with the way the industry moves, it’s all about currency and relevancy.

Who knows if something will still be relevant in 12 months, right? So we came up with this idea called POD. And essentially, it’s a really easy premise. We just create a class. It’s the 43000 level class, we put variable credits behind it. And we can put in whatever content we want. A lot of flexibility. That’s how we got David’s class off the ground. And we’ve been offering a bunch of different content in it like social justice and tourism recently. Before that, we offered classes on building brands, employee engagement, behind the scenes tours, the marketing technology- mixology 101 was another one. And then one that recently started is another very unique class with a with an executive from Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits—it’s about barrel to back bar. It’s literally going to take students behind the scenes of what happens for spirits from when it’s first produced, and how it gets all the way to the customer’s hands.

It’s definitely very engaging. For David and the early discussions, we started talking about content for these PODs. A lot of people are very intrigued by David, his story, his restaurants. And we thought that entrepreneurship was a natural fit for him. And he agreed. We used that thought structure and created a class in about I would say about three weeks, and then we offered it and it was sold out. And now he wanted a big audience. He says, ‘what’s the biggest room we have on campus?’ Which was like 200 seats. I left the meaning with a plan. We considered, ‘what are those weeks going to look like? How much would be in classroom? How much would be off site at one of those locations? And then let’s advertise it. And all it took honestly was for David to put it on his Instagram.

In 24 hours, it was full. It was just like that. It was one of those stories. David goes all in, he’s fully committed. He brought his team, his entire Groot Hospitality operations managers, directors, marketing, restaurants, the nightclubs, and he literally invested his own resources and money into this POD to make sure the students walk away with a memorable experience. And it’s really about learning the business from him directly. And I think he hired probably half a dozen students from his first class alone, who are now working for him.”

What Students Can Expect From The ‘David Grutman Experience’

Dave Grutman and David Beckham

Cheng went on to explain what students can expect from the David Grutman Experience: The Class. There is a massive wait list to get in, and attendees must be a member of FIU’s student body. There is no major requirement to attend, just that you are attending the school itself. For a class with Grutman, some of your credit hours will be spent in class and some will be spent on site for a field trip to a relevant locale, like a nightclub.

Cheng explains, “Right now, we plan to offer his POD once a semester with respect to his busy schedule. It’s 45 contact hours for a three credit course. And the way he teaches the class, there’s pre-class and post-class work, so they do have to write papers after each class session that develops the writing skills, critical thinking and analytical skills. They have to do a bunch of compare and contrast.”

And honing your business and hospitality skills isn’t the only benefit—Grutman also brings in some of the biggest entrepreneurs in the world to give his students insight. Cheng shares, “When we brought David on board, we had no idea how to bring celebrities on board. But David brings in DJ Khaled the first night. And then he showed up with David Beckham. He’s leveraging his personal relationships to bring in guest speakers. And they’re all on point. They’re all happily and willingly sharing their stories on their businesses and what they’re doing as an entrepreneur. It really does tie into the content very well.”

In David’s Own Words

Grutman himself offered some wisdom for CELEB into his experience with teaching the class. When asked what his biggest takeaway from the experience was, Grutman explained, “Both semesters I’ve taught this class I was excited to do something great for the students, but in the end I’m the one that leaves most fulfilled. Their energy and excitement about our industry is contagious.”

While Cheng describes Grutman as a natural-born teacher who can lecture for 2 hours to a rapt audience, Grutman demures; “I still don’t think I’m a natural born teacher, but I love the real life experiences—both successes and failures that I can share with the students.”

Grutman has considered expanding the class, adding, “What we discuss can impact students worldwide—maybe one day!”

And as for his celeb pals showing up to dazzle students? Grutman doesn’t want too much focus on name-dropping. The business titan considers his friends valuable entrepreneurs in their own rights whose experience can help students, explaining, “The class isn’t necessarily about my friends, it’s about the life lessons that can impact the industry, I just invite my friends to help tell the story.”

FIU is A Giant in Hospitality Training

Dave Grutman

FIU is already top in its category for training the next generation. With a partnership like the one with Grutman, the university stands to offer something nowhere else can—mentorship from the best. After all, there’s only one best and for now—FIU is the only place to go for the David Grutman Experience.