By Jim Tarbox
Steven Eisenstein of Classic Tents & Events in Norcross, Ga., doesn’t mind clowning around a little. His phone’s answering message even says, “We deliver the magic!” But when it comes to business, he’s all in.
Trained in hospitality
A second-generation hospitality worker—and, like his dad, a hobbyist clown, juggler and magician for his own and his family’s enjoyment—the 40-year-old Eisenstein grew up in Atlanta, joining his father as the elder made calls on restaurants and hotels. He met a lot of people doing a lot of different jobs, and learned all aspects of the business. He dove in at the age of 12; his first job, not surprisingly, was in a restaurant. He worked in the kitchen, greeted guests as host, and while in high school worked at one of the area’s fancier digs.
So when it became time to consider colleges, acquaintances and workmates suggested Johnson & Wales University, a private, nonprofit school that specializes in career development. The Providence, R.I., campus features a pair of working hotels with restaurants, so Eisenstein headed north to hone his hospitality chops.
He returned to Atlanta just in time to get a job at the Cobb Galleria Centre convention complex during the 1996 Summer Olympics, while also working with his father, who owns a Mexican restaurant. Over time he made a reputation for starting and operating an off-site catering sales business, but when Cobb Galleria Centre officials decided to cap his salary and topple his commissions, he decided that it was time to look elsewhere.
He sold “kosher” events for Atlanta hotels for a while, then joined a friend and built an event-planning business before going to work with the Omni Hotel at the CNN Center. He also had a great opportunity at the Georgia Aquarium, which was looking for a director of catering and put him to work with renowned chef Wolfgang Puck.
“That was a great experience,” he said. “And then I got let go just before my third child was to be born.” (His daughter will soon turn 4, and he has 5-year-old twins.)
A logical next step
He landed at Classic Tents & Events, and made an offer to become a partner. His would-be employer said she was looking instead for an “exit strategy,” so they talked, Eisenstein did his due diligence, and in 2010 he bought the business. It has recently moved into a new home in Norcross, about 20 miles northeast of Atlanta, and tripled the workspace.
He also is a past president of the National Association of Catering Executives, and he serves on the board of the Georgia chapter of the American Rental Association.
Classic Tents & Events specializes in festivals, fairs, corporate and nonprofit events. Among his biggest jobs of the year is providing the tents for Christmas tree sales stands in 12 states. Other clients include music festivals, and film and TV production businesses.
Eisenstein was introduced to IFAI when he bought the current company; the previous owner had also been a member.
“I’ve enjoyed learning from other tent people,” he says. “The educational forums and networking have been very helpful for our business. It’s taken us to the next level.”