If you’ve ever wondered how to balance two careers and have a pretty amazing life all at once, look no further than Danielle Leeke. This influential juggler of careers owns San Francisco event planning and production company, On The Run Events, and is part-owner of The Brick Yard, an SF-based sports bar. Ink & Well has been lucky to call this lady a client, a friend, sometimes keeper of secrets, and ALWAYS an inspiration. This Q&A will motivate you to go for what you want. Even if what you want is everything.
Describe your background and education:
I grew up in a very rural area in California on my family’s cattle ranch. From a young age I learned the value of hard work, importance of taking care of things other than yourself, and learned skills that give you tangible measures of success (cooking, baking, sewing, welding, etc.). I had a very strict, ex-military father, who instilled in me that I had to be smart and self-sufficient in order to succeed, that I could not rely on my physical appearance or handouts from others in order to get by in life. We were not a “well off” family when I was young, and I spent lots of time being raised by my grandparents as well, so all of these factors greatly shaped my character and business sense.
School was always relatively easy for me, so I started working as soon as I could, at the county fairgrounds, when I was 15. Between school, work, and my 4H club, I was always busy. I went to college at the University of Arizona for part of my education, and finished up at San Francisco State, after the passing of my grandfather. All throughout college, I worked in hospitality, from luxury resorts to quick service food establishments, learning elements of good service and how to take care of others and anticipate needs.
What was your first job out of college?
My first job out of school was in HR for the W Hotel, in San Francisco, and at nights I cocktail waitressed at a champagne lounge, The Bubble Lounge. I remember going to the Manager at the time (of the champagne bar) when I had graduated, and asking to be considered for the manager position that was available, and he laughed in my face. I learned a lot about how not to manage people from that man, good lessons to learn early in your career.
What made you decide to go into business for yourself?
Necessity and circumstance made it happen for both businesses, really. I never set out to have my own events business, but I realized I no longer was a good employee working for someone else. I had all the skills I needed, I knew I would be okay regardless of what happened, and I just needed to pull my big girl pants up and jump..I wanted to do it my way, all the way.
With the bar, it was pure circumstance. You have to be a certain type of crazy to be in restaurants/bars, you don’t do it for the money, there is something you love from it. My partner had bought into the establishment, and it was something out of that tv show, Bar Rescue. At the time I was leaving a start-up creative firm doing their operations, and he knew my background in restaurants and bars, so he thought I would be the woman for the job. I came on board as the GM, scrubbed up, and dug in. Three years later, and a lot of fires extinguished, I now oversee operations and lead the management team. We do the best we can to have the best sports bar in the Bay Area.
Maintaining two businesses must be crazy. What does a typical day look like for you?
Every day is truly different, but it is a constant balancing act between event operations and the bar’s constant buzz. During production weeks, or when I am traveling for work, I try my best to let my bar team know I am always available (its 24-7 for sure), and do the best I can. When it is March Madness, or as we go into football season the bar lights up with slammed days, so I need to be able to jump in and bartend, solve conflicts, or clean toilets with the team.
The days are a mix of the casual and scrappy nature of the bar and the more refined, polished and organized side of me which is the events business, so I think I get the best (and worst) of both most days.
What is your favorite thing about being your own boss?
It gives me the flexibility to travel and explore places I have never been, as well as structure my days how I need to.
How do you maintain your sanity?
I think animals are the best therapy, and my little Annabelle (dog), is the best diversion from the craziness of my days. I also have to get out in nature at least once every few weeks, get sweaty and make sense of all the moving parts of my life. It is very cathartic for me. Otherwise, I am always open to suggestions as I am constantly seeking more sanity. 🙂
If you could go back and give yourself one piece of advice at the onset of your career, what would it be?
Take every opportunity, it will teach you regardless of good or bad, and only add tools to your tool belt.
Want to learn more about Danielle and check out her business? Hop on over to OTR.Today to view her portfolio, read her blog, and reach out to say, “Hello!”