• Elise Hofer Shaw

Meet Joshua Yates, Creative Director for Chicago Loft Venues…

As a 15-year veteran of Chicago’s hospitality and special events industry, Joshua Yates has more than a few stories. Our personal favorite is that time he was working on the PAWS gala and a rescue pup peed on his shoe. But that’s what makes Yates such a bang-up creative director, he takes everything in stride. Throughout his career, Yates has worked alongside many of the city’s premier catering and events companies, planning and executing events for big-name brands including Rolex, Guess, Chicago 2016/IOC, Google, Chevrolet, State Farm, Microsoft and Accenture. (Yup. He’s kind of a big deal.) During his time managing Pure Kitchen Catering, and later as Director of Catering for the United Club at Soldier Field, Yates honed his skills in consultative sales, event planning, forecasting and enterprise sales—and learned how to handle events of every size. And after a stint as Senior Account Executive/Fundraising Specialist for Neon One, he’s now able to parlay his SaaS knowledge into automated marketing strategies and event solutions for Chicago Loft Venues. Day to day, Yates is putting his spin on all things event design, managing the sales and marketing teams, spearheading marketing events, and working directly with clients to make their wildest event dreams a reality. When he’s off the clock, Yates is an active member of his community, passionate about LGBTQ+ equality, women’s rights and the arts. He sits on the board of the Gene Siskel Film Center, and has served as a board member of the Green Wedding Alliance. Also, he cries at weddings. You can make fun of him. We do.

Our editor-at-large, Elise Hofer Shaw, sat down with Yates to ask him a few rapid-fire questions—Inside the Actors Studio-style—so you can get to know him better.

What is your favorite word?

‘Smorgasbord.’ I just like to say it. It makes me giggle.

What is your least favorite word?

‘Phlegm.’ It gives me the heebie-jeebies. It’s like you can feel it when you say it!

What turns you on?

Anything neat, tidy and hyper-organized. A nicely arranged spice rack really curls my toes.

What turns you off?

Chaos. At first it sends me into a spin, but then it flips and turns me on because I like to be in control—and figure out a way to contain it.

What sound or noise do you love?

The French siren because it reminds me of Paris. It’s a goofy sound. ‘Wee-ooh, wee-ooh…’

What sound or noise do you hate?

Nails on a chalkboard literally makes me want to cringe and hurl.

Share a life experience, professional or personal, that you would say defines you?

In 2015, my catering and events companies, Pure Kitchen Catering and City View Loft, were expanding at a rapid pace. Because we had so much interest from couples, we were on the hunt for a second venue because we desperately needed to grow into a new space. We found this space in West Town that we thought was perfect. The long and short of it is that the landlord turned out to be less than scrupulous. He made some significant promises, most of which were about the buildout and repairs of the space—repairs he had promised to fix over the course of six months and never did. He also hid the fact that the plumbing in the building was really bad—and by bad I mean it legit could not accommodate large groups. We came to find out that the entire building needed to be re-plumbed, and that it would cost $100s of thousands of dollars to get it done. He point-blank said he wasn’t going to fix it.

At this point we were locked into contracts for upcoming weddings, and we didn’t have the capital or investors to fix all of the problems ourselves even if we wanted to. So we went into crisis mode… Instead of cancelling on our couples, we worked tirelessly to reassign the weddings to our other venue location, which in a lot of instances worked. But there were 10 to 12 couples whose weddings wouldn’t work at City View Loft based on the capacity, date or logistics. So we started reaching out to every venue in town to accommodate them, happy to hand over the business to another vendor to ensure our couples got their dream weddings.

We single handedly found venues for all 20 of our clients—all but one couple. They were unwilling to work with us and went to the media. It was on every news channel overnight—and no one wanted our side of the story because it wasn’t sensational. Sadly, we weren’t in a position to give them a full refund. We were being flooded with new expenses associated with the relocating of all of the other couples—costs we never anticipated. And because of the negative news coverage, new business abruptly stopped coming in. I covered as much as I could out of my own pocket because I didn’t want to let even one couple down. But it wasn’t enough. I truly never wanted to destroy their day. I wanted to give them the wedding of their dreams. We tried. We really did.

What did you learn from this experience, and how did you grow into the event planner you are today?

I’ve spent the last five years reflecting, both in therapy and independently, on just that. I think lessons learned—and there are many—include the realization that growth sometimes isn’t sustainable at a super rapid pace. At the time, I was in my early thirties. My young ego was definitely a roadblock in this regard. I also take full responsibility for trusting our landlord instead of doing our due diligence to fully investigate the space. I have lived and I have learned—and I have found a surplus of humility along the way.

I’ve also learned to be grateful for all of my experiences, the good and the bad, because they make me the conscientious venue manager I am today. At Chicago Loft Venues, we conduct full and thorough inspections of our spaces on the front end with a team of professionals advising on the functionality and safety of each location—basically making sure things like plumbing won’t be an issue. Furthermore, our spaces are fully gutted by a licensed, bonded and insured professional who pulls permits and follows the Chicago Building Code to a T. In addition, we have backup funds, investors and resources available to us that I didn't have back then, ensuring we are financially prepared for crisis should it arise. Every day I’m looking 100 moves ahead—envisioning potential scenarios so we can be prepared.

What is your favorite curse word?

‘Fuck.’ My mom used to say it all the time when I was a kid. However, I don’t sexualize the word at all. It’s just an F bomb—and we drop it.

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

Therapy is a beautiful thing—and was a game changer for me when I needed it the most. I highly recommend it for everyone. I would love to be some kind of therapist or social worker so that I could help others navigate through troubling times.

What profession would you not like to do?

I definitely never want to work on septic tanks or with sewage! And as much as I loved being in catering, I don’t have the drive for that anymore. Cooking at home, however, has become a beloved passion.

What is it about weddings that give you all the feels?

There comes a moment, after a couple has walked down the aisle or made their toasts, when they’re giddy with joy. If I’m lucky, maybe our eyes meet, or maybe they catch me for a quick hi, and I get to see them beaming with happiness and gratitude. That’s the moment that gets me. To know that they trusted me enough to be a part of their special day. That’s the stuff right there.

Name an organization within your community whose work inspires you.

CASA of Cook County. They fill a need in a broken system that we have for foster children. When I was growing up in Southern Illinois, my mom was a foster parent. I grew up with a lot of foster kids, and saw firsthand what they went through. It gave me a true appreciation for my circumstance. What CASA does—standing up for children who have experienced abuse and neglect in an overwhelmed and extremely under-resourced foster care system—is absolutely amazing for children of all ages.

If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?

‘Welcome to the party, pal!’

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