Seven Questions with Tara Zechini

Published Wed, Sep 19, 2012 09:40 AM
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Tara Zechini from Eschelon Hospitality. Photo by Beth Mandel

Submitted by Melissa Howsam — Correspondent

Meet Tara Zechini. As the marketing brains behind the Raleigh restaurant machine that is Eschelon Hospitality — dolin' out delish dish spots, in a bum economy no less, and keepin' them packed (Mura, Sono, The Oxford, Cameron Bar and Grill, and now the newly opened Zinda) — we had to get the 411 on what makes this hip, young, marketing maven tick.

What'd we find? There's much more to her than foodie fodder. With a dream of continuing to give Haiti hope, a deep-seated patriotism ("America is bad ass!" she says in her discussion of relief efforts), a love of running Raleigh ("Raleigh is so fun, I keep spending my money here, and then, I don't have the funds to travel to Italy!"), and an affinity for Florence + The Machine and shoe-shopping, this wildly successful marketing director of arguably the most successful restaurant conglomerate in the area is a veritable jack of all trades. And while it may seem like she's hit the top of her game, something tells us things are only on the upswing. And that future of hers is looking so bright ... she might want to add shades to that shoe budget.

Here are my seven questions with Tara Zechini.

Q: They say it's rude, but since we're all friends here, and you're such a successful young professional, we have to know. How many years are you, exactly?

I am 29. [Are you really?!] Yes! I know. I look 22, right? [Yes! So wait, what's your beauty secret?] Red wine (laughs).

Q: And you're the director of marketing and events for a hugely successful hospitality firm ... what gives?

I used to work for zspotlight.com, and G [G Patel, founder of Eschelon Hospitality] was one of my biggest clients, and, so, I guess you could say he stole me away from ZSpotlight, eventually. I was with them for five years, and G and I used to really enjoy having lunch and dinner together, and business meetings, and we really just found that we were like-minded. He was looking for a full-time marketing director, and we just seemed like a good fit. They bribed we me with a signing bonus to Hawaii, which I never got. ... I thought the job offer was a joke because it came with a Hawaii signing bonus. And they were like, no, the job offer's real; Hawaii's not. (laughing)

Q: Give us the run-down of a day in the life of an Eschelon marketing director. What does the duty it entail?

I think at Eschelon it's very different than maybe it would be somewhere else. I'll start off editing and designing menus; and then I'll have a marketing meeting about social media, and dig into some Facebook and Twitter items; and then I'll meet with a local advertising entity, like, perhaps Independent Weekly or The News and Observer and triangle.com and negotiate contracts and advertising spots for all the different restaurants; then I'll have a meeting with our website guy, and we'll be talking about ways to build up the websites — make them better, make them interactive, and make sure the content's fresh; then I'll meet with a local blogger and we'll go over a contest giveaway; and then maybe we'll sit down at the end of the day and have an event-planning meeting for a big event like Guy Fawkes, and talk about the ins and outs of how to make it a really fun event for downtown.

Q: You were a communication (media studies) major at N.C. State (with minors in journalism and spanish). Was this the dream? And what's next?

You know, I think this turned out even better than I could have thought. Originally, I thought I wanted to work for the newspapers and be a journalist, and maybe do documentary-type work with either photography or journalism, and do long-term projects, but I think that I really enjoy this way more than I ever could've imagined. It's fast-paced; it's ever-changing; there's always a new challenge; it's really exciting. And I think doing this in the restaurant industry is what keeps it so awesome. For my energy level and my enthusiasm, I don't think I could've found a better match. And I get to use my communications skills. What I really like is that I'm helping create a communication flow throughout the company, as well, and G allows me to do that. I get to do more than I ever thought I could, and I love that ... that intimate impact on the company. I have a bad-ass job. I do. You can quote me on that.

Q: You are, in a word, ambitious. You put yourself through school; you're wildly successful; and you're always working. Where does that initiative and self-motivation stem from? Learned or self-taught?

I can definitely thank my parents for that. They put me in charge of my brothers at a young age, and I've got three really young, rambunctious brothers. I didn't obviously do it solo — that's ridiculous — but I helped to manage my brothers growing up. And my mom has a lot of energy. She started her own company. My dad's always been a hard-worker, too. So, it's just always been the expectation. Or the standard. And, I was like, alright, that's what you do. You do lots of different things, and you don't stop, and you have 10 things going on simultaneously, and that's life.

Q: Beyond your job, of course, you're really passionate about and personally committed to Haiti relief efforts (via the Hope for Haiti Foundation), which is also reflected in Eschelon events. How did you develop this passion?

My family has been going to Haiti for more than 10 years now, and they kept asking me to give my talents with marketing and communications to the organization, but I just didn't feel connected to it. I speak Spanish, so I naturally thought I should go somewhere that speaks Spanish. But they convinced me to go on a trip to Haiti, and I thought, maybe if I see it, I'll connect. So I went on a trip, not committing to anything — but once you get down there, you can't help but want to give everything you have to come alongside them. They're such a beautiful people, and the nation is beautiful, and I realized that even with doing a little I could make so much of a difference.

I went probably about a year before the earthquake, and so then my passion and my dedication escalated, of course, after the tragedy. Haiti has been the poorest nation in the Western Hemisphere for a long time, and so their need has been going on far longer than since the earthquake. The earthquake just kind of exacerbated a preexisting issue. But I really love the foundation because they're not an aid organization that just dumps aid on tragedy. They really are about empowering Haiti to help itself: What can we do to help you help yourself? So I really like that mentality. We give them the tools they need so that they can run their own schools and run their own medical clinics. We don't just show up with a bunch of American doctors; we train Haitian nurses, so that they can, every day, help their community.

Q: Beyond Hope for Haiti, word is Tara's trifecta is comprised of music, Duke basketball and fine wines. Give us the skinny on your fave beat, ball player and bottle:

OK! My favorite beat right now is Delta Rae; I'm close friends with a few of them, and I love their music. So for beat, we'll just say "Bottom of the River" (because it ends with a B!). My favorite Duke basketball player begins with a B as well, and would be Shane Battier. [Did you know this question in advance?] No! But I just want to stick with the B's! So, Battier, but technically No. 1 in my heart always is Steve Wojciechowski. He's the assistant coach now; so he's more coach to me than he is player, but I've always loved him and the way he slaps the floor. He's amazing. Favorite bottle ... anything that's open?! Anything that's red! If it's red and it's at my house, I'm going to drink it.

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