Billy Dec has been working in the restaurant and entertainment industry for as long as he can remember. “In the sixth grade, I started as a coat check kid and eventually moved up the ropes to becoming a host.” So when his father and brother sadly passed away when he started college, Dec added on security gigs at nightclubs to make extra money for his family.
The relationships he founded—many with noted musicians and artists—led him to open his first club, Solo, in 1995. By 2002, he had founded Rockit Ranch Productions alongside partner Brad Young (Arturo Gomez joined shortly thereafter), with a portfolio that now includes Underground, Sunda, and Bottlefork among others. In his off time, Dec is also a contributor to KISS FM and ABC TV’s Windy City Live!, and was just appointed to President Obama’s White House Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, proving his plate is never really full.
ILM+E: When you started Rockit Ranch, what was the idea for the company?
BD: “We wanted to elevate experiences for both hospitality and entertainment in Chicago. We were doing so successfully with our nightclubs but wanted to have multiple dimensions where people didn’t have to sacrifice quality or comfort.”
ILM+E: You’re a Chicago native, but did you ever feel compelled to take the business to another city?
BD: “I had no money when I started. All I had were my relationships, and you can’t easily take those with you. ... Ten years ago when people were talking about the coasts, I took offense to the lack of value that was being attributed to Chicago when it deserved so much more.”
ILM+E: Does Rockit Ranch employ planners and what do you offer to groups? BD: “Yes, my partner Nicole Salerno created an entire planning division for RRP venues, as well as off-site entertainment for weddings, birthday parties and corporate launches. We’ve always had great private and semiprivate rooms with all the bells and whistles, but lately we’ve been enhancing our interactive experiences with hands-on food and mixology classes and chef storytelling.”
ILM+E: What can you tell us about your new advisory role with the President?
BD: “I’ve always been excited to help the community as much as I can. I grew up Asian American, and I knew about this commission and expressed interest. After being sworn in and sitting face-to-face with the President talking about serious issues, one of the first things I did was fly to South Korea and the Philippines to rebuild homes after the typhoon hit. It’s been a cool chapter and relates back to how much my family and community have always mattered to me.”