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Kelli Eileen LaValle, Fresco Rooftop Restaurant/Food Fight Restaurant Group

IB’s Professional of the Week is the premier way to meet Dane County’s professionals. This week features Kelli Eileen LaValle, events manager and assistant general manager, Fresco Rooftop Restaurant/Food Fight Restaurant Group.

What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects of your job and why?

One aspect within my role that can be considered challenging is being able to think on my feet within seconds — things can change in the blink of an eye — and then being able to alter the plan of action and still execute, all while surpassing our guests’ expectations. Though some may think this is challenging, I think it is exciting because no event is ever alike. Another facet is to work within budgets, providing unique ideas, suggestions, and memorable qualities for every event. Every experience is important and deserves the utmost care, no matter what the budget may be. One of the most rewarding features of my role is simply working with people! Another rewarding characteristic is the ability to take a guest’s vision and bring it to conceptualization. I love taking an idea and soaring with it, creating lasting and cherished memories.

Who do you look up to or admire in business and why?

Prior to Madison, I had the honor to work for Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises, one of the most renowned restaurant groups in the United States. The thought and passion behind every idea, process, and outcome has nothing but the best interests of the guest in mind. The company is a collaboration of incredible leaders. Whether you’re looking at the founders, president, partners, general managers, managers, etc., it is evident the leaders fully embody and embrace the LEYE culture and demonstrate a genuine love for what they do — making their guests’ experiences nothing but the best. The culture is unlike anything I have ever seen and truly remarkable. I admire their brilliant ideas, the lack of fear for change, and their desire in always wanting to keep things fresh for their guests. The culture they have been able to build is something that no matter what your role is within the team, you are proud to represent the company. LEYE is an admirable force in the hospitality industry and its focus on every detail, even the most minute, is one of the many reasons they are one of the most admirable companies within the industry.

What has been the high point of your career so far?

This would be the ability to touch others and bringing their events to life. Knowing I have made an impact on my guests and their events means the world to me. Once the event date has arrived, there is no faking it — it’s show time and you’re either fully prepared for any hiccups that may arise, as well as those that may not have even come to mind yet, or you’re not. I can instantly read my guests, and their response to what I have spent months, weeks, days, and sometimes hours planning and executing for them is the moment I live for within this career path. There is an instant gratification associated with my job. Knowing I have “hit the nail on the head” or “hit a home run” is what I aim to achieve every single time. I’m not satisfied unless my guests have the best experience possible. I approach events as if they were for my family, friends, or my own. A simple smile, hug, overjoyed expression, or even “thank you” lets me know I have done my job and affirms for me why I do what I do.

Thinking back on your career, what advice would you give your 21-year-old self?

I would tell my 21-year-old self to embrace patience. I have been taught since I was younger how to cope with being patient and that carries into adulthood, not only in our professional lives but personal, as well. Many things in life are out of our control and being able to continue to work toward goals, which may sometimes have detours, can be a rewarding experience. Sometimes the scenic view is an overall better opportunity than a shortcut. I am a true believer in two quotes: “Things happen for a reason,” as well as, “This too shall pass.” Since my early 20s, I have been able to take any oncoming stress and shift my perspective on it to direct it toward determination and personal drive. A bonus piece of advice? Don’t sweat the little things. Enjoy life and take things day by day. Having a positive outlook goes a long way.

What would you say are the best things about living and working in Dane County?

Some of the best things, which I have noticed from my short time living here, include the fun balance of city/suburban life. My significant other and I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and then were living in downtown Chicago prior to relocating, so now, even living in downtown Madison, we still feel like there is a calming, relaxing, and sense of ease that one would find in the suburbs back home. We are also huge foodies, so we have really been enjoying the food scene — trying new establishments, seeing trends become familiar features, and, of course, the Dane County Farmers’ Market! We also love the gorgeous view of the Capitol that we have the pleasure of seeing every day. It’s definitely a fun, new landmark for us, coming from a city of skyscrapers — which offer a beautiful view, as well, but different from the distinct architecture of the Capitol. Among all of these qualities, we have really enjoyed being a part of a city that seems to really come together, whether to support or encourage one another. There is a strong sense of togetherness here in Madison, which is very endearing.

Do you have any secret talents or abilities that people would be surprised to discover?

A talent not many here know is that I have been performing professionally since I was 8 years old and am a proud member of the Actors’ Equity Association. Starting at 4, I began dancing, and ever since have had a love for the stage. I’ve had the honor of performing at the White House Easter Egg Roll, performed in a pre-Broadway musical (with Whoopi Goldberg as a producer), and traveled to NYC for auditions. It all started with a company you may know — American Girl. Performing for a total of eight years in Chicago, from the ages of 8 to 16, being a member of the original cast, performing in four of their musicals, being a part an original cast recording, singing the National Anthem and seventh inning stretch at Wrigley Field — the list of the opportunities I was granted through this experience could go on. American Girl is one my proudest accomplishments in my life and forever will be. I have met some of my very best friends through the experience and am forever grateful. You can imagine the feeling I get, walking past Overture’s stage door and imagining I were a part of the current tour in town!

What are your guilty pleasures?

Guilty pleasures, here we go: Those cringe-worthy episodes of reality TV (it’s just too hard to look away!); enjoying a relaxing pedi and mani; Halo Top ice cream (or really, anything sweet); Lou Malnati’s pizza (and anything with cheese); decorating for the holidays; hosting family and friends; the feeling of a clean house; scrolling through Zillow; cooking and dancing in the kitchen with my significant other; and, of course, spoiling my 6-month-old nephew.

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