Dave Pawelek – Chicago Hospitality Professional of the Month (November 2015)

November 25th, 2015 | hereschicago
Dave Pawelek Chicago Wolves

Dave Pawelek

Jim Grillo, CMP of HeresChicago.com interviews Dave Pawelek of the Chicago Wolves – Chicago’s Hospitality Professional of the month (November 2015)

How did you get into event planning?

My first taste of the event business was when I was 19. I was an employee for an audio and lighting store that also operated a DJ company. During the week, I represented the DJ company in hopes of getting those in need of a DJ to buy our entertainment services. On the weekends, I would entertain at events as a DJ. After several years in the mobile DJ business and working for a few companies, I had the opportunity to join the world’s largest “event company”: The Walt Disney Company, where I worked for 12 years.

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

Personally, my parents have had the biggest impact on me. My dad, Jim, was always a corporate man and taught me how to be a hard worker and an ambassador of the brand you represent. My mom, Pat, had the hardest job out there. Her career was tough, the pay was horrible and the hours were just as bad: She was a stay-at-home mom who had me for a son! My mom showed me how to take care of myself outside of the business world. Professionally, it has to be my first leader at The Walt Disney Company, Karyn Esken. Karyn taught me the importance of building relationships as well as the importance of making sure you take care of your internal customers (your team) as well as taking care of your external customers. The rest will always fall into place, but as a leader you must always be a champion for your team and clients.

What kinds of things really make you laugh?

The classic “dumb” comedy movies: “Anchorman”, “Superbad”, “The 40-Year-Old Virgin”, “Zoolander”, “Tommy Boy”, “Napoleon Dynamite”, “Spinal Tap”, “21 Jump Street”, “Bridesmaids”, “Spaceballs,” “Animal House” and anything else by National Lampoon. I’m laughing right now as I think of all these movies.

What’s your favorite place in the entire world?

Kona, Hawaii

Who is your best friend? What do you like about him/her?

I’ve been very lucky to have four best friends be part of my life during different time periods — from the guy I met in first grade and still talk to on a regular basis to those I worked with at Disney. The “CIRCLE” knows who they are and, to protect them, they shall remain nameless. As for what I like about all of them? They all have my back.

What is your favorite movie of all time? Why so?

“Pay It Forward”. It’s a very simple but extremely powerful message.

What’s your biggest goal in life right now?

Professionally, growing our group tickets department to exceed attendance and revenue records from the past 21 seasons. Personally, health and fitness along with a half marathon next year…or potentially a full marathon.

What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday?

From October through April – hopefully June because that would mean our team is in the Calder Cup Final — a favorite way to spend a Saturday is at a Chicago Wolves games watching all of our fans cheer us on for a win. As for the rest of the year, you can find me in my backyard on a Saturday making my home-brewed beer and cooking with my Big Green Egg while the fire pit is going nearby.

Do you have any pet peeves?

When leaders say “My.” For example, MY staff, MY idea, MY client…it drives me nuts. Simply replace “my” with “our” and watch the difference it makes in the team you lead.

What was your family like growing up?

Pretty amazing. I have sister who is 10 years older and a brother 8 years older. They laid the groundwork for me, which allowed me to get away with a ton. Ah, the perks of being the baby…

What were you like as a kid?

Obnoxious. Funny. Class clown. Witty.

What should I know about you that I’d never think to ask about?

I went to three high schools in four years as my dad was transferred in the corporate world from Park Ridge to Wichita to Dallas. Chicago is my home, but Kansas and Texas had a big impact on me growing up as well.

Did you—or do you—have a nickname? What’s the story behind it?

Downtown Dave and Downton Dave and Tan Dan. “Downtown Dave” was my talent name when I was a DJ for Radio Disney AM 1300. When I joined the Chicago Wolves, it was modified to “Downton Dave” as a Downton Abbey reference. As for Tan Dan, buy me a beer someday and I’ll tell you the back story.

Have you received any praise or accolades recently?

I recently set my gym’s age group record for the plank challenge: 5 minutes and 12 seconds. I missed beating the overall record for 40-and-unders by 1 second. One second! Not that I’m bitter or anything.

What type of events do you plan?

I plan large-scale events for which our ticket team can sell group ticket packages.  For example, we’ll host our third Faith and Fellowship Night on April 9 and we’ll have a postgame concert featuring a Christian band. Our ticket department team also is responsible for customizing group events. Whether you have 15 people in your group or several thousand, we can find a way for you to utilize Allstate Arena and our hospitality rooms – all while getting to watch our four-time champion professional hockey team.

What type of music do you love?

As a former DJ who has worked for several radio station formats, I’ve learned to love all types of music. It’s probably easier to tell you what I don’t like: Anything played at a wedding that involves getting people into a group dance. It has been years since I served as a DJ, but I still cringe when I hear the “traditional” wedding music. My favorite song is the live version of “Life Without You” by Stevie Ray Vaughan.

What don’t people know about you?

I’m the CEO of my home brew called Polski Jack. Our tagline is “Nationally unheard of; Locally unknown.”  Our website does not exist. You will not find our brew in any stores. It’s super-exclusive and because of this unique marketing technique, the demand is always high – but people are simply not aware of how high the demand really is. The other two volunteers (our CFO and CMO), along with me, tend to drink all of the product, which keeps our business in the red. We are learning from our mistakes, but for some reason continue to make the biggest one…we drink the product! It’s probably my favorite mistake that I’ll never get tired of repeating.

What do you love about planning events in Chicago?

I love creating experiences for people that become a memory-maker and/or potentially change their lives. I had a great ride at Disney and planned some very magical events with talent that ranged from Chubby Checker to Selena Gomez to Buzz Lightyear to Mickey Mouse himself and his Fab Five friends walking down Michigan Ave. during the Magnificent Mile Lights Festival. I never thought I would have the opportunity to combine professional hockey into event planning in a city known for hockey. It is very fulfilling to create events that are not supposed to be done in the first place or for a client who doesn’t think it’s possible, but with a great team and support we knock it out of the park (or should I say deliver a hat trick). I’m always up for the challenge and taking it to the next level! To infinity and beyond!

What is your favorite restaurant or bar (Personally)?

Bob Chinn’s / Double D’s

When not working, what do you love to do?

Drop the top on the jeep and just drive!

Besides your professional talent, do you have any personal talents? (Play guitar, etc.)

I make amazing deep-fried habanero pickles and I have the best recipe to make corn on the grill. The secret is the Korn Kooler!

Have you ever sung karaoke? If so, what song?

Next question.

Future trends in event planning?

We are seeing that our guests want a great experience watching what takes place during the game on the ice as well as being part of what takes place off the ice. We are always trying to enhance the fans’ game-day experience by incorporating them into our product. For example, we offer fantasy hockey, meet-and-greets with the players, ceremonial puck drops, open skates before and after a game, etc.

What does it take to be a successful event planner?

There is a reason why we have two ears and one mouth: LESS talking, more LISTENING. With so many different options, venues, and experiences for guests to choose from, we have found it is better to listen, ask good questions, and then customize a proposal that fits their needs. Too many times reps want to talk about their product or service. Silence is really scary for reps. The most successful event planners on our staff listen and use it to their advantage.

What is your favorite color?


What are you passionate about?

I really enjoy coaching those who are just getting started with their career. It’s very fulfilling for me to see someone on our team learn, develop, apply, and become successful. I’ve been in a handful of situations where the student I’ve been coaching has become the teacher. It’s a lot of fun to go on the ride with them and see their hard work pay off and become successful.

What do you recommend for others who want to get into the event planning profession?

I’m not from the traditional background of the hospitality industry where receiving degrees or certificates fit my career path. Although my degree in Psychology does help in this field…:-). But I digress. Education is huge and a degree will never hurt you in any field but, personally, if you have work-related experience in the field I’m hiring for and can drive results, I’ll interview you to see if there’s a fit. A degree does not always inspire you to have the WANT that is needed to succeed in your profession.

Do you have any Association affiliations?

Chicago Chamber of Commerce and Party In The Park / Project Just Start / For The 10. I’m proud to be part of those last three affiliations that are responsible for putting on Roselle’s Fourth of July fireworks show/concert for 10,000 people near my hometown of Bloomingdale. As part of this event, our mission is to collect school supplies and donate them, along with a backpack, to children in need.

Are you a Cubs or Sox fan?

Cubs. Next year is our year. No, for real this time!

What’s your go-to meal when you’re home alone?

Pizza and Beer…Lou Malnati’s for deep dish or Home Run Inn for thin crust. Beer…any IPA or other craft beer.

What’s your favorite thing about your hometown?

Bloomingdale is a bit off the grid and I like that. Less congestion and more time for us locals to enjoy our hometown.

Which book(s) have you read multiple times?

The Extraordinary Coach.

What’s on your bucket list?

To take a road trip in the jeep through the Florida Keys.

What’s the most embarrassing moment you’ve had?

Sharing the answer to my next question.

What was your first concert?

Liberace. I was 7 and served as my grandmother’s date. (I had no choice, so don’t judge!)

If you had to go back to school or learn a new skill, what would you want to learn?

Improv & Acting

What are your thoughts about Hereschicago.com

Here’s Chicago continues to be a leader in the event and hospitality industry. Here’s Chicago is a great resource for anyone planning an event or anyone who has a career in this industry. Because of that I’m excited to share two announcements. First, the Chicago Wolves have become an advertising partner with Hereschicago.com. Second, Allstate Arena will be the location for Here’s Chicago’s March 30 event and hospitality showcase. The Chicago Wolves offer a unique solution to those planning events. Here’s Chicago has the ability to keep the Wolves top of mind to our fans who want to customize an event during 60 minutes of professional hockey.

I hope you enjoyed reading this interview as much as I enjoyed being asked these questions. As this is the season to be thankful I want to say thank you for taking the time to learn more about me personally and professionally. I hope you will save the date and be my guest on Wednesday, March 30, as the Chicago Wolves take on the Rockford IceHogs.

I look forward to meeting you and your team while you get to enjoy our venue, meeting space, custom menu options, and championship-winning professional hockey team…the Chicago Wolves!  For now, save the date…details to follow as we get into the New Year. Happy Thanksgiving & Happy Holidays!  GO WOLVES!

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