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Four to Know

By Brita Nelson

Chris Arredondo Eclipse Entertainment
Industry: Entertainment

(Photo: Eclipse Entertainment)

As a former professional singer, dancer and actor, Chris Arredondo, CTA, understands how artists think. After all, he was Ricky Ricardo just a few days ago. Not in a theater production, but as part of an event he hosted with Eclipse Entertainment, the company he joined in 1985 and now operates as a key partner.

In the 23 years since the company charter was formed, Arredondo and Eclipse Entertainment have thrice won the ISES award for Best Entertainment Production, and added awards in logistics, organization and socially conscious efforts to the mix. But Arredondo’s not in it for the glory. “I’m in it for the passion,” Arredondo says. “I love the arts.”

And guests love his productions. “We’re a niche business; no one does what we do in the Southwest,” says Arredondo, estimating Eclipse has about 1.5 million costumes on hand and even more wigs, all to clothe and transform the talent hired by meeting planners. He makes sure he and his staff research every theme before executing the event or even deciding upon the array of entertainment they’ll provide for an event. “Everyone wants something different, and we try to find out what the purpose is,” says Arredondo, who personally meets with planners to walk through the surprises they wish to create for their guests.

Arredondo recalls a recent creative project that had guests talking for weeks. He worked with an event planner to produce an anniversary party for a couple who loved the arts. “They wanted spectacular,” he says, “and they got it.” The event was disguised as a formaldinner complete with colossal chandeliers. After dinner ended, the chandeliers began to fall from the ceiling, revealing human centerpieces. The largest chandelier was the last to fall, and in it? A popular DJ who immediately broke into the first song of the night. “It was like a lightning bolt struck,” says Arredondo, as everyone started dancing and the chic dinner turned into an epic dance party.

At the helm of Eclipse Entertainment, Arredondo uses events like these to show off the company’s logistical skills. All the moving pieces have to be perfectly coordinated for a cohesive, successful event. Or entertainment vendor, for that matter.

James Walsh Barton Creek Resort & Spa
Industry: Hospitality

(Photo: Barton Creek Resort & Spa) 

Twenty-five years ago the Barton Creek Resort and Spa opened in Austin with James Walsh manning the front lobby at the concierge desk. Now, as the resort celebrates its silver anniversary, Walsh is still at work- this time as the property’s vice president and general manager.

The resort’s 2000 expansion of its meeting space to 43,000 square feet was Walsh’s pet project, but Barton Creek’s roomy digs aren’t its only draw. Walsh encourages meeting and event planners to offer feedback, and vows to make it matter.

Because of planners’ input, he says, the group event spaces are unequaled. Among the favored additions is the resort’s pavilion, which features glass walls and offers views of Barton Creek’s beautiful surrounds.

These gorgeous grounds aren’t just for looking at, though. “Groups love to go out to the pond or tee up on one of our four golf courses,” says Walsh. While the banks of the property’s pond are a favorite of guests looking for downtime, it’s also where you’ll occasionally find Walsh or staff members taking a stroll and engaging in meaningful conversation.

“We’re a team here,” says Walsh, so planners don’t expect to see a lot of new faces as they visit the resort from one year to the next. In fact, Barton Creek Resort and Spa’s executive chef actually outnumbers Walsh’s years at the resort by one.

Whatever the tenure, Walsh encourages everyone on staff to stay connected with guests at the resort; Walsh participates in many of Barton Creek’s annual events, including Holiday Lights and Ice, which features 200,000 twinkling lights strung above and around the hotel and a 4,100-square-foot ice rink.

“We like to make sure people utilize the resort to its maximum potential,” says Walsh, which is one reason Barton Creek offers planners a conference service manager who coordinates innovative culinary options and on-site audio-visual support.

For Walsh, there’s only one more thing left to accomplish at the resort, and it’s a big one: “I want us to be more than we were yesterday.”

Tom McGrath Ultimate Cuisine and Events
Industry: Catering

(Photo: Ultimate Cuisine and Events)

We all have one. An impossible-to-please group, client or persnickety boss. And that’s where Ultimate Cuisine and Events comes in. Owner Tom McGrath has spent years dialing in the details of a personalized catering experience to fit very particular needs. He knows his company stands out, especially when he hears from clients grateful they don’t simply have to select their menu from column A, B or C. At Ultimate Cuisine, every menu is handcrafted for each event.

Chef Tom, as frequent clients call him, was named Fort Worth’s 2012 Chef of the Year. It’s a fitting designation for someone who’s worked all over the map of the culinary world. From his position as executive chef of the World Trade Center to chef tournant with Culinaire International, he discovered a single commonality: adaptation. Today, this skill allows McGrath, and Ultimate Cuisine and Events, to adapt to any situation. No matter the size of the kitchen or the number of guests, McGrath serves delectable fare without a hiccup in execution.

“The small stuff doesn’t get to me,” says McGrath, who insists his company’s personal approach brings clients back again and again. “You won’t see us doing eight events at once. If we’re doing your event, that’s the event we are at.”

To put as much heart into a private dinner party for eight as an event for 5,000, McGrath calls on other vendors who are floral, light or rental experts. These longstanding relationships help Ultimate Cuisine focus on what it does best: food.

McGrath creates delicate tapas and hors d’oeuvres, but one of his most requested items is a quail lollipop, a half-quail basted in agave nectar and wrapped in bacon. For dessert, guests delight in deep-fried s’mores, with a homemade marshmallow fluff torched right in front of them. McGrath also recommends the liquid nitrogen ice cream sandwiches.

“I don’t like standard,” he says.

Laurie Sprouse Ultimate Ventures, DMC Network Company
Industry: Destination Management

(Photo: Ultimate Ventures)

Out-of-town planners heading to Dallas ought to keep Laurie Sprouse’s number handy. As president of Ultimate Ventures, Sprouse is an expert on experiencing the Dallas/Fort Worth area- and has the tools to help others have the best experience, too.

Sprouse and her staff are constantly checking out new events and locations in the neighborhood to create the best client experiences possible. In fact, Ultimate Ventures recently became the only Association of Destination Management Executives (ADME) Accredited DMC in North Texas. Sprouse calls the accreditation “due diligence” for her clients.

The accreditation program includes a 17-point list, ranging from having the proper insurance and financial systems in place to positive client surveys, and Ultimate Ventures must comply each year to retain the designation. It’s a lot of work to continually put best practices in place, says Sprouse, but one she’s willing to undertake because it allows the company to back up its reputation.

The recognition is deserving, considering Sprouse has nearly seen it all over the years, including the time a transportation services’ motor coach caught fire. Sprouse and her crew handled the disaster with such aplomb, the client swore she had the best experience she could have imagined- and is still a loyal client today. Sprouse says her team is always ready for Murphy’s Law to strike, which could be why they have such a high return rate.

Sprouse is riding a trend toward corporate responsibility in teambuilding programs. “They want to give back to the community, to locally leave an impact,” she says, adding that teams have built rocking chairs, donated books and packaged more than 90,000 meals at food banks.

Ultimate Ventures’ dine-around service is another rising star. It coordinates meals for groups of any size, dividing up large corporate meetings into sub-groups, so they can all eat a meal in a smaller setting.

“We make all of the arrangements,” Sprouse says. “We add and subtract people, and handle all of the billing and the drinks.” Sprouse says they have made reservations for up to 80 different groups, while she and her team coordinated the transportation and seating seamlessly.

It’s no wonder Sprouse is comfortable no matter what’s thrown her way, whether it’s a group of 30 or 2,500. Even a majority of her staffers are CPR-certified. Sprouse is determined to leave nothing to chance-a quality any event planner can appreciate.

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