How Ralf Madi Built His Career On Curating Connection
Everything Madi has worked on has led him to his dream project: a hotel in Bali that he can’t wait to present to the world.
There’s a common theme in everything Ralf Madi creates: connectivity. Madi’s undeniable talent is the original way he sees people and the world around him. As a self-made success — entrepreneur, event curator, club owner, restaurateur and investor — he built his career on his love for bringing people together through curated experiences.
To fully understand where Madi is today, it is important to get to know where he came from and the influences that surround his life. Raised by a single mother, Madi understood the importance of hard work and knew from an early age that he would be in charge of creating a purposeful and fulfilling life for himself: “I create families. Family doesn’t just have to be blood. You can create a family. I think it’s such a new world now. Go and create your family.”
Outgoing and uber-friendly, Madi’s connections of friends and family span the globe. By the time he was 21, he had a whopping 700 people attend his self-thrown birthday celebration. “This is what I love to do, bringing people together, making people happy, through music. I was able to mix all these amazing people together. They were all there for a common purpose, for my birthday. So when I finished university, right away I jumped into the bar business,” says Madi.
Naturally, Madi thrived in the hospitality realm, and after graduating from university, he started managing a bar in Toronto called Mad Bar on Richmond Street. While building his clientele at Mad Bar, Madi’s trajectory led him to meet Charles Khabouth — the ultra-successful nightclub owner, restaurateur, music promoter and hotelier, known as Toronto’s “King of Clubs.” Khabouth took Madi under his wing for three years at the Guvernment, one of Canada’s largest and longest-running nightclubs. Under Khabouth’s tutelage, Madi learned how to take the hospitality business to the next level and build a company from the ground up.
With hands-on experience under his belt, Madi started a production company with his friend and business partner Zark Fatah, curating events for different clubs across the city. The venture was a success, with a loyal following, and provided Madi with a foundation on which to open his first club at the age of 30, called Century Room (now Everleigh).
Having worked hard to attain a footing in the industry, Madi kept his head on his shoulders and carefully invested his hard-earned savings. “I bought real estate back in the day — all pre-construction — so I was really smart with my money. It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, I’m in the clubs. I’m going to travel and spend it on girls and cars and all that.’ Real estate is the most important thing for you to build the foundation for yourself and wealth.”
Madi, wanting to expand his portfolio into the lifestyle realm, decided to add restaurants and spas to his repertoire. So far, he’s on his way to building his own lifestyle-entertainment empire, having opened Hammam Spa, Maison Mercer, KiWe (now known as Portland Variety) and Petty Cash.
Throughout his lifestyle portfolio expansion, he founded international projects, including festivals in Mexico (BPM), Jamaica (Tmrw.Tday), and Mykonos, Greece (VOID). It’s worth noting that Madi played a huge role in the influencer hotspot that Tulum is today, greatly due to BPM, which he created when he was 34 with his best friend Craig Pettegrew. “BPM was in Playa del Carmen, which is half an hour away from Tulum. We would do parties in Tulum, so that’s how Tulum kind of blew up, because people would come to BPM,” he says.
“From a busboy to a waiter to a promoter to a club owner, you dream of heaving a hotel”
His most recent project is an exclusive experience that explores the tribal lands of Kenya through safari and music culture called Marafiki Safari. One of its biggest supporters is Guy Laliberté, owner of the legendary Cirque du Soleil and close friend to Madi. They first met 12 years ago, when Madi attended one of his famous private parties at his Montreal estate, after Formula 1. Says Madi: “He’s taken me on these amazing experiences all around the world, so the Marafiki Safari was what I learned from Guy. He’s such a kind, loving person and so giving, and he incorporates party with education.” Laliberté was the first person Madi called to run by the concept of Marafiki Safari. “Right away, he Skyped me and said, ‘Hold 12 spots for me.’ It was the first time that he’s ever gone to somebody else’s event, so it was such an honour. This guy you look up to is now part of what you’re doing. It’s like he passed the torch to me,” says Madi.
In all of Madi’s projects, there’s an element of philanthropy, education and preserving Mother Earth. “For the safari, we raised US$60,000 to go toward anti-poaching for the animals. It’s about opening people’s eyes to what’s happening.” On the safari, which is already planned again for February 2022, Madi connected with someone from Extreme E, a racing series where electric SUVs compete in the most remote corners of the planet to highlight the climate-change challenges faced by the different ecosystems. Spanning four continents, at some of the world’s most remote locations, Madi will be in charge of curating the experiences for each location they visit.
With sustainability and climate change top of mind, Madi hopes the pandemic will positively change the way we see the world and the people around us. “I think they’re going to realize that we live on such a beautiful planet, and that it’s time to take care of this planet that we live on, and not just walk through life throwing plastic here and there, polluting. I think people now appreciate how important it is for us to communicate with one another.”
At some point along his journey, Madi realized that clubs weren’t his passion anymore. “I always dreamed of having a hotel, and Teddy Azar, whom I met in Mykonos, basically asked me to come check out this property in Bali. I came and checked out this property, and as soon as I walked in, I got goosebumps,” he says.
Currently, Madi is working on his dream project in Bali alongside Azar, on a hotel called Morabito Art Villa. Says Madi: “From a busboy to a waiter to a promoter to a club owner, you dream of having a hotel. So now, all my experience can be put into this hotel. I can’t wait to present this to the world.” Madi will still be creating these passion projects while he’s staying in Bali, until the hotel is running at 100 per cent.
If you take a look at his Instagram feed, you can see the environmental initiatives he’s working on, the orphanages he visits and the progress of Morabito Art Villa. Madi lives life to its fullest, even when it comes to the clothes he wears: “Fashion is not about labels for me. It’s about mixing in different things to create a style, and it’s how you represent yourself. When I’m out and I see a stylish girl or guy, I always go and introduce myself, because I know that we are kind of likeminded and we like the same music.”
That stylish girl he’s talking about may very well be his fiancée, Virginie, a fashion designer. They met shortly before COVID-19 started, and he proposed during the pandemic, while they were staying in Bali. “I gave her this ring that I bought in Bali, because we had to pretend that we were married to go to the orphanage, so we could stay together.” They are now working together to launch their fashion brand, called Orion et Coco.
Partnering with females is something that Madi believes is one of the major keys to his business success. He has always hired women managers to run his businesses, because it makes him feel more comfortable. And he recently partnered with the female-run creative digital agency 2Social. “Something that I realized, coming from a single mom, is that I really think that women run the world. I just think women care more, and the egos don’t get involved. I have such strong women around me. I just love to empower women. There are so many talented women out there,” Madi says.
Madi always lends a helping hand, because he understands the impact he could have on someone, just like the effect Khabouth and Laliberté had on him: “I’m always helping people out, even if it’s my competition. I do things without needing something in return; I’ve always done that. It’s about positive energy and karma. I’m living proof of good karma, because everything came back to me.”
It’s true: everything has come back to Madi. While Madi has been able to create life-changing experiences for so many people, he has created a dream life for himself, focusing on giving back through the establishments by emphasizing the importance of educating people on problems that exist around the world through these experiences.
Over the next couple years, Madi would like to start a family of his own: “Personally, I would like to have a baby. I’m even thinking of adopting, to be honest with you, because there are enough kids who are in the world. I would like to have a child, so that they can create a legacy that I’ve created.”
Madi’s life story highlights, more than ever, that finding connection, sharing knowledge and nurturing your family aren’t defined by blood. The legacy Madi has created goes past his business accomplishments. He set out to create exactly what he said he would do: a family larger than he could have ever imagined that has deep roots spanning the globe.