Jeff Durocher – Chicago Hospitality Professional of the Month (April 2016)

April 23rd, 2016 | hereschicago
Jeff Durocher

Jeff Durocher

First and foremost, can you tell us your current position, company and describe what you do?

I am the owner and president of US Poker & Casino Parties.  We are a corporate casino party company that also does charity fundraisers.  Our top quality equipment and dealers bring the casino to you!  Our events range from a full-on casino with 25-30 tables for large corporations to small 1-3 tables for weddings, Bar/Bat mitzvahs, house parties and small company events.  

One of the things that I really enjoy about the business is the unique venues and places that our clients ask us to bring the casino.  From beaches, golf courses, boats, condos, rooftops, law firm conference rooms, 95th floor of buildings, House of Blues, Navy Pier, Untitled…etc. all the way to more recently the Bellagio and Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas.  There is not been a place we haven’t been able to take the casino party.

What aspects of hospitality do you incorporate in your business today?

Customer services, going above and beyond, providing quality equipment and dealers and building strong partnerships.  We do everything from event planning to décor, music, DJs, magicians, Showgirls, cigar rollers, bartenders, green screens, money machines…etc.  If the client wants it, we can get it done.

Where did your hospitality career begin and when was that “aha” moment when you knew you were supposed to be in hospitality as a career?

I think I was born into it.  I grew up in a family that worked in the carnival business.  My grandpa made carnival food wagons and had all the rides to support a small carnival. As kid my cousins had the Scrambler and a Farris Wheel in their backyards.  I was running games at the carnival at 7-8 year old and have been serving people since I was tall enough to see over the counter.  My dad left the carnival business and bought his own companies in the food service business so I have been waiting on people at various small businesses for a looooong time.  This continued  as I worked my way through college (first at Central Michigan University and then DePaul University).  More recently, I bought US Poker & Casino Parties in 2011. 

My aha moment was when I happened when I began to work for other people besides my dad.  It was interesting to see how other people ran their businesses.  They often didn’t work on ‘the little things” that make a big difference.  It surprised me because that was all I knew.  It made if very easy for me to improve their business. 

How many years have you been in the hospitality business?

I would say about 25-30 years.  I did take some time out to be a marketing executive and completely unplugged from hospitality.

Why do you feel you are hospitality professional of the month? What would your friends say about you if they were nominating you?

I think they would say I’m responsive, creative and easy to work with.  I really enjoy ‘pulling a rabbit out of a hat’.  When someone says it can’t be done, I love the challenge of trying to make it happen. 

Also, I try to be a connector in this industry because relationships are so important.  I hope that I’m seen as helpful.

What qualities to you feel a person needs to excel in as a hospitality professional?

A client first attitude.  No matter how difficult a client is or what surprise comes up during an event, you have to make sure you represent the client and make sure they are taken care of.  A lot can happen behind the curtain but it cannot spill over in front of the curtain.  Just fix it.  Make it happen.

How did you get into hospitality field?

I grew up in it.  I blame my parents 🙂

Who has been the biggest influence in your life?

Easily my dad.  He led by example, worked hard.  He came from nothing, barely had a HS diploma and retired at 55 years old.  A real self-made man.

What kinds of things really make you laugh?

I love pranks.  For some reason I find it really funny when things happen at someone else’s expense.

What’s your favorite place in the entire world?

San Francisco has a special place in my heart.  It has everything!

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

Other than my wife, I’d have to say it really depends.   I feel like life is now so rich and we know so many people that it is difficult to have just one best friend.  I think of my friends as a series of tribes or communities– so within each tribe, I have a number of great friends.

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

Cool Hand Luke, Tombstone and Shawshank Redemption.  They all show a level of loyalty that is important to me, preservation and hope.   I love how the characters in each of those movies give each other something to live for.

What’s your biggest goal in life right now?

I think I’ve accomplished all of my big goals (family, friends, money…etc.)  Now my focus is on growing this business and learning to love life.

What is your favorite way to spend a Saturday?

Sleep in, read the news, coffee and then fall back asleep.  I love naps!

Do you have any pet peeves?

Too many to list 🙂 My biggest one is the lack of effort by those who complain that the world is not fair.

What was your family like growing up?

Our hobby was work.  We worked a lot.  We had a lot of love and we were together all the time but we didn’t vacation, or explore quite enough.

What were you like as a kid?

A smartass

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

I played Division 1 football

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

JD or Roach which are versions of my name.  I always liked it when my dad would call me ‘Jeffy’

Have you received any praise or accolades recently?

Mostly from clients that are happy with their events.  I was also nominated for a couple of awards by MPI CAC so that was awesome.

What type of events you plan?

Casino nights and charity fundraisers

What type of music do you love?

Southern Rock or Country Rock or anything that tells a great story.  Lynard Skynard, KidRock, Foo Fighters, Waylon, Jamey Johnson all speak to me

What don’t people know about you?

I’m tall

What do you love about planning events in Chicago?

The people are awesome.

What is your favorite restaurant or bar (Personally)?

I like Italian deli’s.  something about fresh slice meat and cheeses.

When not working, what do you love to do?

I sleep.  I don’t have many hobbies.  I’m working on that one.

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

I’m a great dad 🙂

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

No, haven’t done it

Future trends in event planning?

Less notice and bigger budgets.

What does it take to be a successful event planner?

Patience, planning and an ability to figure it out.

What is your favorite color?

Maize and Blue 🙂

What are you passionate about?

College football and basketball and more recently I’ve gotten into politics.  It’s a fun sport.

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

Do it if you love it.  Few get rich from a monetary perspective but we all enjoy making the client happy.

Do you have any Association affiliations?

MPI, ISES, Here’s Chicago, Bizbash, and Catering Executive Club

Are you a Cubs or Sox fan?

I’m a Chicago fan but if I have to choose I prefer the Cubs

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

Cereal

What’s your favorite thing about your hometown?

The water.  It’s beautiful to look and and enjoy

Which book(s) have you read multiple times?

I don’t really read books.  I prefer movies.  You’re ‘in and out in 2 hours’.  (That’s a line from a movie)

What’s on your bucket list?

Live in London

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

Probably a wipe out in the winter time

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

I’m not a fan of school.  It’s not how I learn.  I learn by doing not by reading something, memorizing it and regurgitating it on test day.

What are your thoughts about Hereschicago.com?

I love it.  it’s a great community of great people.

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Thanks Jeff for such an awesome interview and congratulations for being this month’s Chicago Hospitality Professional of the Month (April 2016)!

Contact Jeff Durocher of U.S. Poker & Casino Parties to learn more about planning your upcoming Chicago Casino night.  Thanks Jeff for such an awesome interview and congratulations for being this month’s Chicago Hospitality Professional of the Month (April 2016)


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