I recently had the opportunity to interview Nicole Benjamin-Sathre of Handmade Events. Alongside her husband Garrett Sathre, the duo coordinates Pop Up Dinners -- massive festive all-white picnics modeled after a Parisian event that originated in the 80s -- an afternoon of wining, dining, and dancing. It takes place in Los Angeles this Saturday, August 23 at a secret location that won't be disclosed until the day of the event. In years previous, it's brought out over 3500 attendees, many of whom sung wonderful praises about the amount of fun they had.
Listen to the interview via Soundcloud, or read on below! I'm so thankful to have spoken with Nicole (did I say "appreciate" enough at the end of this, or what?), as one of my goals moving forward is to conduct more interviews with urban entrepreneurs. Learn more about Handmade Events and be sure to purchase your ticket if you live in LA! Be on the lookout for an event recap following the event, to see how it turned out.
KN: Can you tell me a bit about why you started Handmade Events?
NBS: Sure. So my husband and I started it 4 years ago, and he was partnered into a couple restaurants at the time. We originally did it just for some publicity for his restaurants. And we did our first one in San Fran, and it was just incredible. It was our favorite night ever. So, originally we thought maybe we were only going to do that one. And then after that night, we started brainstorming about how we could actually make a business out of it. And that’s sort of what we’ve done! Now we’re in 8 cities nationally, growing into 4 more next year.
Did you have a prior background in event planning?
Absolutely none. My husband’s a chef, and I was a social studies teacher. *laughs* No experience whatsoever. We got really lucky. What happened the first year was that we contacted Urban Daddy, and they broke the story in San Francisco, and it was just such luck because it was one of those things that just went viral. We were wondering if we were going to get a thousand people, and had a 10,000-person email list within a 2-day period after the article broke. It’s been incredible, I mean, other cities have definitely been harder to build, Los Angeles being one of them, but the San Francisco event has always been around 4,000 people at every year. It has provided enough financially for us to grow the company to other cities.
Can you touch on how living just outside of San Fran influenced the birth of your business? How did San Fran itself specifically contribute to this passion?
Oh! That’s a really interesting question. San Francisco is where we’re from. These events, the traditional one takes place in Paris, and we just knew it was a very city-centric event. We wanted to bring it to our city. But I think that the reason it’s so successful in San Francisco has a lot to do with the culture. It’s very open to new things and different ways of doing things. You know, people in San Francisco just automatically understood the concept. When we move into more conservative places, Minneapolis, San Diego, LA, we have a little bit of a harder time conveying to guests what it is and why it’s special. There are definitely those that get it, but San Francisco just has the culture to pick something up like that and run with it, not ask any questions – just be excited about it. This is now the 4th year, and the things that they bring to the event are just incredible. The tables, the food, the people. There’s just no end to the creativity, and the spirit of it – it’s been a driving force in the company as a whole.
That sounds magical. I cannot wait, I’m telling you! Do you guys do research in the cities before you expand there, or do you just choose cities and say “I want to do the next event there?”
You know, to be honest, I know it’s probably not the smartest answer, but we just choose them. We decide cities that we feel like we have a connection to, or that we want to be visiting every year, because we do travel to each of the events. So we try and find places that we love. With everything we’ve done with this business, we’ve just sort of made a decision and figured out how it would work later. And, it has worked so far! As we get a little bit bigger, we are getting choosier. It’s really hard to do first year events with no sponsorships, so we are taking that into account and being a little bit more careful of that going forward. Just simply because we’re a little exhausted! Coming out and building events from zero, that’s a really hard thing to do. And then it takes about 3 years where you’re even at that point where you break even in some of these cities, so you know, we are starting to be more careful. But, the company was definitely born out of the spirit of just figuring out what we wanted and figuring out the logistics of it as we went along.
What inspired the festive all white theme that’s central to the Pop Up Dinner?
Well, we were inspired by the event that takes place in Paris, and that’s been going on since the 80s -- they have an all white theme. But when you think about the event, and tweaking it, and making it your own, it was something that we really did want to emulate. The white signifies so many things – it’s the fresh and crispness of the season, being in summer, and it’s just this unifying theme. You have anywhere from 2000 to 4500 people that are coming together to, in their own way, be a part of one dinner party. It’s a lot simpler when you have that theme to go by. Everything matches, everything looks beautiful together and it just unifies the whole party, even though it was still individually put together.
Besides the unifying all white theme, what do you think are some other important aspects for you in creating these enjoyable vibes?
Sort of what Handmade Events has done was take this concept that was traditional & that we loved, and make it our own and make it successful in American cities, because there are a lot of different aspects. For example, with the original one, you bring your own tables and chairs. We just didn’t see people doing that in the US or being quite as enthusiastic about it *laughs* so you know, what we’ve done is started providing the tables and chairs, which we loved because it has done a lot. It frees up people’s hands and logistically just makes them more creative in their tabletops, which is something that we love to see. We want people to go all out and do incredible things. You really do see it taken to the next level since they’re not worried about those basics of the tables and chairs. We’ve also, with Acura coming on board this year, included a musical element. We have a special secret musical guest coming to LA. We had Ben Folds come to Brooklyn a few months ago, so they’ve definitely taken the entertainment portion to the next level, which has been fantastic and super fun. And let’s see, is there anything else? Yeah, it’s just become more of a festival. We obviously have to be fully licensed, fully permitted, and fully insured. The backbone and the not so fun stuff behind it is incredibly costly to us. We’ve had to also build on the front side and make sure people understand what they’re paying $35 for and make it worth their while so that they want to come back year after year.
I know it takes an extreme amount of work and funds to produce such a large scale event, so on Pop Up days are you strictly on work mode still or do you get to relax a little bit and join in on the fun?
It depends on the event *laughs*. Umm, you know, if it goes smoothly there are definitely a few hours of down time where we’re able to relax and enjoy it. And then there are ones where you’re just working the whole time, and cursing as you do *laughs*. But it depends on the event; I’m never relaxed as anyone else there. There’s so many worries, especially with the drinking. You just want to make sure everybody is able to keep themselves under some sort of control, doesn’t hurt themselves. There’s so much you’re responsible for outside of just making sure that there’s bathrooms and music. So, it is quite a stressful endeavor. But at the same time, you know -- our job is incredibly hard, I feel like I’m cramming for finals right before the event – but it’s the same sort of relief when you’re watching everybody leave with the biggest smiles on their face saying they had the best time. We get so many emails that are like, “that was one of the best nights of my life!” That relief afterwards of having had it been a success, the enjoyment that everybody has, I don’t think at this point in my life there’s any other job I could do. It’s so wonderful to see and wonderful to do.
You guys currently have Pop Up Dinners in 8 cities, and I see that you’ll also be introducing an Evening of Masquerade? Can you tell us what we can expect from the future of Handmade Events?
Yeah! Actually, our Evening of Masquerade is going into its 3rd year in San Francisco, and it’s 2nd year in Los Angeles. It’s basically the winter version of our white event. We bring it indoors, it’s a black and white theme, it’s more of a ball. But is has that same element of the dinner party – the location is still kept a secret. It’s obviously smaller, just due to logistics, because we have to get everybody indoors. It’s the same idea and same feeling. That surprise, the secret, the element of showing up and producing something for your table of family and friends. And then it’s just heavy on the music and the dancing, a festive masquerade ball.
The Los Angeles Pop Up Dinner takes place this Saturday, August 23 at a secret location. San Diego, Miami, Wine Country, San Francisco, and Charleston will all host Pop Up Dinners this summer as well. More info can be found on Handmade-Events.com, and tickets can be purchased here.
Did you enjoy this post? Please consider sharing! I'd also appreciate any feedback and constructive criticism for the interview... drop a line in the comments below or contact me here.