At Rutgers, Matt Cortland majored in art history. Occasionally, friends and acquaintances asked him the inevitable: What are you going to do with a major like that?
Quite a lot, it turns out.
Cortland SAS’11 is cofounder and CEO of The Cauldron Co., which operates magic-themed pubs and restaurants in England, Scotland, and the United States. A new venue will open soon, not far from his alma mater.
To the delight of fantasy fans, a visit to The Cauldron is like passing through the wardrobe into Narnia or stepping into the Prancing Pony of The Lord of the Rings (though it’s not affiliated with these or any other specific text or series). Patrons don wizard robes and wave wands to control their environment and concoct all sorts of specialty drinks, including cocktails, mocktails, and teas.
“Conceptually, it’s built around that feeling that the magical world is sitting right below the surface of our own world,” Cortland says. “You just have to know how to access it.”
Since Cortland and his business partner opened the first location in London in 2017, they have expanded to Edinburgh, Dublin, and New York City, with another soon to open in Philadelphia. Cortland has been featured on Good Morning America and the BBC, and he was the subject of a business news podcast “It’s Just Business” in an episode titled The Cauldron: How Matthew Cortland Magically Grew a 7-Figure Business in Two Years.
For Cortland, a native of South Jersey, success boils down to doing what you love. He grew up devouring works by fantasy writers including J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. And at Rutgers, his creative drive flourished.
“At Rutgers, I pursued the things I was interested in,” says Cortland. “With art history, you are deeply analyzing a work to understand the greater context around it. That’s a transferrable skill for anything you want to do in your life.”
To accompany his art history major and Italian Studies minor, he created an interdisciplinary second major that focused on the Madison Scouts, a renowned drum-and-bugle corps from Wisconsin. After graduating summa cum laude, Cortland became a Teach for America corps member in Miami and then studied in Taiwan as a part of the Luce Scholars Program. In 2014, he was named a George J. Mitchell Scholar and pursued a graduate degree in creative digital media from the Dublin Institute of Technology (now the Technological University Dublin).
He soon found that all his experiences and interests began swirling together, inspiring him to brainstorm ways to combine his lifelong love of fantasy with his newly honed interest in technology. Finally, in 2016, he built a magic wand outfitted with miniature sensors that can act on objects with a compatible receiver. Waving that magic wand was what sparked the idea for The Cauldron.
“Once your brain starts to go down the rabbit hole of the magic wand, that’s it,” he says. “I wanted to create a real-life pub where you could feel like you walked into the magical world and that had that English pub feel.”
An Enchanting Establishment
Cortland moved to London and met his business partner, David Duckworth, who brought a background in mixology, entertainment, and hospitality to the table. The two assembled a team of engineers, prop and set designers, and food and beverage experts to bring the vision to life.
They knew they were onto something at their first venue when a security guard spied a middle-aged man obsessively using his wand to open a locked cabinet as he laughed the whole time.
“Our security guy took me aside and said, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this,’” Cortland says. “He had just watched a 50-year-old man become totally excited and light up like a little kid.”
One of The Cauldron’s signature attractions is its potion-making class. There, patrons learn how to brew molecular cocktails (“elixirs”) such as green chartreuse, chamomile and hibiscus teas that feature an expanding head of foam, and the Blood Boiling Curse—a combination of gin, blackberry, and sour cherry liqueurs. With a flourish of their wands, visitors can also cause their drinks to change color, give off a mist, or burst into flames.
Cortland is now franchising some Cauldron operations in the United States while continuing to run the principal locations. He says that at some point he may sell to a larger entertainment company so he can pursue interests in teaching and technology.
For now, he’s happy giving magic to the masses and continuing to find new ways to bring fantasy to life through science, technology, and design.
“It’s very satisfying seeing people come in, have a great time, and tell their friends,” he says. “One of my models is Disney because of the way they get people excited about being there. I am always thinking, ‘How do we reach that level of excitement and engagement?’”
Rutgers alumni can receive a 10 percent discount when they book a visit to the Cauldron by emailing email@example.com.