Over the past decade, I have had the pleasure of getting to know local entrepreneur Ethan Bondelid. He and his wife, Susan, have a lust for life that is contagious.
Ethan’s passion for experiences has brought about the existence of his company, Maven Social. If you’ve never met Ethan, he embodies an amazing combination of child and businessman. I mean “child” in the absolute best way – his sense of wonder and curiosity spark imaginative concepts, which ultimately become places where you want to hang out. Take his new tiki bar, for example. If you’re still recovering from the winter doldrums, I guarantee that one drink at Laka Lono will fix what’s ailing you.
I recently had the opportunity to sit down with him and discuss these projects and what’s in store for the future!
Me: You have owned salons, dance clubs, cocktail lounges and a restaurant. What is the connecting thread?
Ethan: Experiences. I look at Maven Social as a “lifestyle” company more than a company that owns and operates businesses. I usually start with the experience I’m hoping to create, and then work backwards from there.
Me: I always found it interesting that you owned salons. How did that happen? Was that your first foray into owning a business?
Ethan: My background is in graphic design, which led to creating event flyers, which led to creating events, which led to marketing, which led to running a marketing department, which led to marketing salons, which led to owning salons. That’s pretty much how the bars and dance clubs happened as well. I tend to spread out. It’s like when I bought a condo – I became an HOA board member, then board president and then started remodeling the whole building.
Me: Having been a patron at all of your businesses, I always take notice of the high level of service. How much of this is just “finding the right people” versus creating a culture?
Ethan: Creating and fostering the right culture is such an ongoing process. It is a key element to our success. We have almost 100 people working in Maven businesses, all which have different cultures. We strive to define our culture to our leadership team, and do our best to make sure everyone, including new hires, understand what our culture is and why it is so important to us.
Me: Last year, your wife, Susan, stopped working as a nurse and started working for Maven Social. What has that meant to you, the business and your family?
Ethan: It certainly means we spend a WHOLE lotta time together! It’s been great. I wouldn’t be the man I am, and our company wouldn’t be anywhere close to where it is today, without her. She was also doing this work while she was still a nurse. Maven Social just grew so very fast last year… three businesses in 12 months… that we needed Susan’s talents full-time.
Me: The Old Market seems like a “no brainer” for a business location. Your locations for Wicked Rabbit and Via Farina are a bit off the beaten path. How do you know when to pull the trigger on a new location? Do you rely on location analytics or feasibility studies?
Ethan: Many of our triggers have come from opportunity. We have not sought them out. In fact, several times when I have pursued locations, they have not worked out. The Wicked Rabbit project was approached as a way to revive a defunct space that hadn’t been used for over 10 years. Everyone said I was crazy… it was too small, off the traffic path… all of which turned out not to matter. With Via Farina, we took a gamble that people would be interested in the area. We invested before all of the major announcements were made. We followed Nancy Mammal and Susan Clement’s vision for the Bluebarn Theatre and the area, and it is paying off. We haven’t utilized analytics or studies at this point, but it’s something we will start focusing on as we look towards future growth.
Me: Any chance West Omaha will see a Maven Social concept? Any other locations on your radar?
Ethan: I’d say that it would be inevitable… so long as the community wants it!
Me: Over the years, I’ve heard a lot of people say, “I’d like to open a bar.” What would you caution people about before opening a drinking establishment?
Ethan: Determine if you want your hobby to become a full-time job and potential nightmare. If the answer is yes, then you have a starting point for all the other challenges headed your way!
Me: Via Farina was your first restaurant. Statistically, around 60% of restaurants fail in the first year. How do you account for Via’s success?
Ethan: We just try to apply the same ingredients: passion, talented people, working to create the best product we can, in a culture and environment that we love. Then, we hope for the best!
We just try to apply the same ingredients: passion, talented people, working to create the best product we can, in a culture and environment that we love.
Me: At what point do you concentrate more on operations and less on growth?
Ethan: THIS YEAR! Next year will be another growth year for us.
Me: Care to give us a hint on any new concepts/ideas in the works?
Ethan: YES! I have two I can discuss. We are partnering on a restaurant opening at Hotel Deco where our bar, Wicked Rabbit, is located. It’s a new concept in a new space of the hotel. It’s going to be killer!
Maven Social is also launching a retail division that will create gift and subscription cocktail boxes, and home bar curation. We call it our “Spirit Guide”. Follow us on Facebook for more info as it becomes available.
Me: What is the question you want to be asked…but have yet to be asked?
Ethan: Nothing, really. I tend to talk too much as it is!
If you have yet to visit one of Maven Social’s establishments, do yourself a favor and drop in soon!
- For delicious, pre-Prohibition-era cocktails made with precision, head to The Berry & Rye at 1105 Howard Street.
- Looking for ambiance and tasty libations? Try the Wicked Rabbit at 1508 Harney Street. Please note that the secret is out on this little speakeasy, so you may have to wait awhile for a seat. But trust me, you will be grateful you did!
- Need some tiki bar culture in your life? Escape to Laka Lono Rum Club at 1204 Howard Street.
- If freshly made pasta and pizza from an Italian wood-fired oven sounds intriguing, head to Via Farina at 1108 S. 10th Street. The interior is gorgeous and one Omaha’s most talented chefs, Paul Kulik, created the menu.
- From haircuts, to blowouts, to massages, to mani-pedis… Victor Victoria has got you covered. They’re at 1105 Howard Street (above The Berry & Rye).
Let us know which Maven Social business has your whole heart in the comments below!