In 1968 his parents, Hilda and Raimundo, fled Castro’s Cuba, settling in well-to-do Summit a year later.After high school he enrolled at Kean College in Union as a business major, but he left during his sophomore year.“I think the company has great potential with the new clubs and management contracts.And the Rascals name is well known and also has terrific potential,” Vassalotti says.In 2004 he changed the company’s name to Headliners Entertainment Group and, as chairman of the board and CEO, he acquired five other clubs, from the Red Cheetah in Cincinnati to the Cactus Café in Omaha.“Our strategy has been to diversify beyond comedy,” Rodriguez says.“I discovered that I had a gift for it,” he says, “and it was important to my career, this confidence that I could close a sale.” In the summer of 1999, Rodriguez and Magnusson took Rascals public, trading its stock over-the-counter for a share.By then there were three Rascals—another in New Jersey and one in Miami—and the plan was to raise enough capital to buy an additional 25 comedy clubs.
I was hoping to use that name to increase the profile and revenue of Headliners.” In addition to the Rascals video library, Rodriguez was taping and cataloging hours of new talent as part of what he called “The Rascals Comedy Hour.” He also recognized that technological advances had ushered in an era of increased opportunity. They asked to see some of our video, and they loved it.” Last March Microsoft introduced its MSN Video Downloads, a service that could send digital videos to a Windows Media Player 10 library; the video also could be synchronized with portable devices, enabling users to take along their favorite videos wherever they went.“Headliners is a small company, but if their plans work out, I believe their stock will do well.” The foundation of Rodriguez’s plan always rested on the prestige of the Rascals name.“I knew that Rascals was an important part of the history of American stand-up,” he says.Like any ambitious business plan, this one is not without risk.But Rodriguez, 44, comes from a family accustomed to risk.
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“A crystal ball would be very helpful in this business.” Although Rodriguez was cheered by his early entry into the wider world of media, he knew it wasn’t enough to turn Rascals into the kind of brand he wanted it to be.