Keep an open mind, stay positive, and be flexible. You might have to pivot…over and over again.
The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.
As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dan Kobin. Dan is the Founder and President of AES NYC (Absolute Event Solutions) which offers its own exclusive event spaces including Center415 and soon to open Iron23, as well as Venue Seek — a division of AES NYC to help place clients in other unique event settings, including white spaces, raw spaces, pop-ups, brownstones and more, throughout NYC.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?
I don’t have an ordinary background, but then again, who does? I’m originally from Western Massachusetts and I also lived in a commune-style school with my family (my folks were teachers there) in the Adirondacks in New York when I was 6–7 years old. You had the likes of Ben of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream hanging around then. I used to hang around the cook a lot. She let me do various odd jobs around the kitchen. I think that’s when I realized I really enjoyed food and cooking. We then moved back to Massachusetts where I started to study ballet at age 11. It was a dance for athletes program. It seemed to mesh well with my soccer playing. I was surprisingly good at dance and was awarded a summer scholarship at the Joffrey in NYC. At 16 years old I was accepted into the North Carolina School of the Arts to study dance seriously. That’s where my story really begins.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
My favorite life lesson quote is “when someone tells you it can’t be done, don’t let that stop you from trying.” I pursued a career in ballet, and I was told I couldn’t do it and that I would eventually fail. To everyone’s surprise, I left one of the top schools in the country for a job with the Alberta Ballet Company in Canada. Keep in mind, I was the only dance student to leave with an actual job offer at the time.
Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
What comes to mind is not a book, podcast, or film but an actual inspirational story culled from my studies of dance history. In short, is is the story of Diaghilev who brought Nijinsky and Stravinsky together to do the Rite of Spring. This story still gives me intense emotions as it exemplifies the extraordinary in all of us.
Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?
Following an early stint dancing with the Joffrey Ballet and the Alberta Ballet Company, I hung up my tights for chef’s whites. I pivoted. I was the night chef at Arcadia, which Time Magazine named as America’s Best Restaurant in 1985, and subsequently launched my entrepreneurial career as Chef/Founder of Over-the-Counter, World Café, Dano in the West Village, and Restaurant Dano, a fixture at 28th & Fifth Avenue for 10 years.
In 2002, I developed Events by Dano, an event management business, producing upscale events in private, unique NYC venues. In 2010, I founded Center548, a 35,000 s/f event venue in the former Dia Art Museum in the Chelsea Arts District. Center548 quickly became a leading venue for Fortune 500 companies, marquee trade shows, product launches, and high profile clients. I am presently Founder and President of AES NYC (Absolute Event Solutions) which offers its own exclusive event spaces including Center415 and soon to open Iron23, as well as Venue Seek — a division of AES NYC to help place clients in other unique event settings, including white spaces, raw spaces, pop-ups, brownstones and more, throughout NYC.
What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?
The pandemic has not been easy for any of us. However, I have always been a believer in adapting to the circumstances around me no matter how tough they are. Usually innovation happens under pressure and this pandemic allowed me to be unconventional and to find alternative solutions for my industry. Our first goal as a company when the pandemic hit, was to do everything we could to serve our customers while taking the recommended measures to keep everybody safe. With that in mind we are presently available for film production, hybrid and virtual events, limited-attendance exhibitions, branding storefronts, pop-ups, and small group events until it is safe to re-open for large-scale live events like trade shows, conferences, fashion shows, auto shows, product launches, experiential events, and more.
Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?
An important Aha moment led me to manage event spaces. I had been a chef and restaurateur for many years. I also catered. Not everyone wanted to host catered meals at my restaurant so that lead me to look into alternative venues to present my food. I became the venue seeker for spaces, long before most. Hence, Venue Seek. I realized, for me, the profitability was to take over and manage the event venues and house the events and have others do the food, production, furnishings, lighting, etc.
How are things going with this new initiative?
I am an optimistic person at heart and feel positive about the future of the events’ industry. I believe that the market will continue to find innovative and safe alternatives for its customers. I am very excited for upcoming projects that my team and I have been working on including opening a new large venue — Iron23. That’s a big leap right now, but I believe it has all the necessary requirements for success. In addition, I have invested in other areas including an app company called Membit which just launched at the Hudson Square stores with a new AR holiday shop experience. Check it out!
Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I think the person I am the most grateful for in my life is my grandfather. He taught me discipline and honesty. He was a respected man who had a business in the famed NYC meat market. He used to buy meat for the navy servicemen who were on the ships that docked in NYC.
He was always supportive and never doubted my success or career choices. An incident that I will never forget is when I ended up in a kitchen in the West Village in 1983 butchering lamb chops, I found myself looking up and smiling because I knew my grandfather would be proud of me.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?
One of the most interesting stories to happen to me in regards to finding venues occurred while I was scouting for a venue to house the Louis Vuitton Exhibition and discovered an unoccupied 60,000 s/f American Stock Exchange Building. As a result I have been able to place several other events there including Samsung, Calvin Klein, Michael Kors, Donatella Versace, and Bottega Veneta. A great Venue Seek treasure.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- That everything is possible as long as I put my mind to it. I was told over and over again that my business model won’t survive, but here I am. Believe in yourself and always be aware of your potential.
- Give back. It’s truly remarkable how much it affects your overall wellbeing. I love being in the service industry and it’s very satisfying to see that I am able to help brands and companies execute their dream events every day.
- Take time for yourself everyday. Even if it’s for only an hour or two. it’s important to set aside time for yourself. If you take care of yourself, you will be able to take care of those around you.
- Pick the right team. Your success is the reflection of the people you work with. Choose wisely.
- Keep an open mind, stay positive, and be flexible. You might have to pivot…over and over again.
So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?
As an entrepreneur, it is important for me to take care of my mind and soul, so I can take care of my family and team. The best way to do so is to remove myself (for at least 30 minutes a day) from my daily routine. That “me” time allows me to refocus and restore my energy. I also love to cook. Giving up my restaurant and catering didn’t have me toss in my toque, as well. I am passionate about food and cooking. It is creative, soothing, and nourishing to body and soul.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
I never think of myself as a hero or a person of influence. We are all trying to be the best versions of ourselves. I wish and hope to positively influence those around me. Karma is real. That’s why I always aim to help and push those around me forward. I believe that if all of us spread positivity, the world would be a better place.
Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!
Easy question: It would definitely be my father who I lost 20 years ago. He moved from Brooklyn to Western Massachusetts to be in real estate. He was chasing properties day and night. Who knew I would end up chasing event spaces in NYC 20 years later? Life works in mysterious ways.
How can our readers follow you online?
Follow me on Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/dankobin/
Thank you so much for sharing these important insights. We wish you continued success and good health!