If Melanie Phelan’s original career plan had held up, she’d be spending her days planning one corporate soiree after another. Instead, life led her down a curvy professional road that led to co-founding Evergreen Enterprises, a real estate development and restaurant management company, of which she is president.
Do What You Love
“The original plan was not to be doing what I’m doing now,” she said with a laugh. “I planned on being the event planner that could do, basically, fundraising events — where my true passion was. I focused on that quite a bit. Those were super fun.
“Really, the way that this worked out was essentially I was researching a potential wedding venue in a town outside of Omaha and that didn’t pan out. It was then I thought, well, why don’t we open up a brewery and then a restaurant and then another bar and then another bar. Creating and hosting could become an everyday experience, not a one-time thing.”
Phelan co-founded Evergreen Enterprises with three partners, each of whom brings a different strength to the table, and began developing stand-alone commercial projects including Sunnyside on Center, Site-1 Brewing and The Bull Moose. In each of these, Phelan handles design work as well as lends her trained eye for enhancing the customer experience, something honed by her time in the events business.
“As an event director, it’s your job to make sure that the client and everyone in the room is experiencing what you want them to experience and that they are not distracted, that they are being taken care of and being served,” she said. “It’s the same when we open doors to a new spot and I’m training the team. I stress that every detail matters.
“If the sound is too loud and you notice that a couple seems irritated by the sound, you turn it down or you say, ‘It’s pretty loud over here; there’s another table just three seats away that’s the quietest in the house. We’ll be happy to move you.’ When you approach things like that, it really is just every detail building into the experience.”
Besides the technical aspects — learned both on the job as well as during her time at Iowa State University where she studied event management — Phelan has also become adept in the art of managing people. This means the company’s 30 employees as well as the many vendors with whom she interacts on various projects.
“This might sound a little silly but on the Gallup top tech strengths, one of the five that I have is ‘woo,’” she said. “I had no idea that my woo would be so useful in the construction world. When I am on the phone or email or even in person with vendors or landlords or something and things were not going right, just being a decent human is pretty powerful and people take note.”
As the projects get bigger and more comprehensive, Phelan expects her people and project management skills to play an even more critical role in the company’s success.
“We started out as just one-offs; one empty building, how do we develop it? As we’ve grown, we see how important it is to be vertically integrated,” she said. “Over the next three years, I will be learning a lot more about land development and making sure first floor rental spaces work well together.”
“I don’t need to open 10 restaurants a year. That’s not the goal. One or two do really well. But owning the building from the very beginning, from the dirt, is really where we’re headed for the future.”