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.” 

You may not have seen her name among Chicago’s James Beard award nominees or caught in the buzz of another trendy eatery opening, but the ripples of Rita Dever’s culinary creations have made an impact far and wide. After cooking around the world, the Pacific Northwest native put down roots as Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises’ (LEYE) associate partner and corporate chef where she collaborates in the company’s test kitchen to innovate new dishes for all LEYE restaurants.

 

For Chicago-based event planner and stylist Rachel De Marte, her bright, dynamic personality isn’t just one of her many amiable characteristics. It’s her calling card.

“I’m a big personality and a maximalist through and through. There’s definitely an energy and excitement level I bring to each event that you’ll start to grasp as we sit down together to brainstorm,” says De Marte. “‘Where does she get all of this energy?’ and ‘force of nature’ are things I hear all the time,” she laughs.

 

Passionate entrepreneurs and ESP Presents co-founders Matt Woodburn and Sarah Neukom collaborate to craft experiential events. 

ILM+E: What are your backgrounds in the industry and how did you come to establish your production firm?