We had the good fortune of connecting with Jacob Thater and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jacob, how has your background shaped the person you are today?
I was raised in Vancouver, WA (Yes, Washington state, not Canada!). The small city sits on the banks of the Columbia River and is a quick 5-minute drive from better known Portland, OR. Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was lucky enough to have woods to explore, streams to play in, trees to climb, and mountains to hike, which explains my love for the outdoors and adventurous spirit to try new things. My parents have been separated for as long as I can remember, and my incredible Mom raised me and my sister on her own. When I was growing up, I never really thought about how difficult and terrifying that was for her to do, but reflecting back on my childhood, I know that her relentlessness to protect and provide for us as best as she could is what made me the hard worker that I am today. I felt like an only child most of the time growing up since my sister is 9 years older than me and was always with friends. Thankfully though, all of the time I spent playing and exploring on my own helped foster my creativity and love for planning. I remember constantly taking pieces from sets of K’NEX (think advanced Lincoln Logs or Legos, but way cooler and more versatile), throwing out the included directions and instead thinking of ways to build new designs that would be one-of-a-kind, and then planning how I could build it even better the next day… which was probably what sparked my perfectionism and constant desire to do/be better. We moved around a lot, so I was able to experience a variety of different communities and schools, which is one reason why I get bored easily and enjoy traveling to new places. It’s also why I love being at home now and decorating the heck out of it so that it feels like a place I’ll stay at. Changing schools, paired with my perfectionism, also led to my competitive nature and constant determination to be at the top of my class from elementary school all the way through college. When I was 15, my mom and I moved to Seattle, Washington. One summer morning, the house we were living in caught fire while we were home, burned down, and left us with nothing other than the clothes on our backs and a few items that were outside for a yard-sale we were preparing for later that day (including a box of K’NEX which I’m so thankful to still have today as a memory from my childhood). The next day we were on a train to San Diego to stay with my sister, who had moved down here a year earlier, and figure out how to move forward. I blocked out a lot the pain, anger, and sadness for years and just focused on school and work to help take the strain off of my mom and sister. I worked almost full time while finishing high school (and while training as a figure skater which is for another interview), saved everything I could, and paid my way through UCSD on my own. The fire was the most devastating and traumatic experience of my life, but it’s what brought me to San Diego and led me down the incredible path I’ve been on ever since. The fire also made me realize how resilient I can be in the face of adversity, taught me to always plan for the worst-case scenario, and helped me understand the importance of never taking anything for granted (like a simple box of K’NEX); and for all of those silver linings, I believe it was somehow meant to be.
Can you tell us how you got to where you are today professionally and more about what you do and projects you’ve worked on in the past?
Many people are surprised to find out that I started in the hospitality industry as a wedding planner only 2.5 years ago without any prior experience or training. I had planned simple events before as a Resident Advisor (“RA”) while going to school at UCSD, assisted at corporate events while working at FLUXX Nightclub throughout college, and my first job was actually hosting children’s birthday parties at a local ice rink, but I had never planned, designed, or coordinated something as complex and important as a wedding before. I had also just moved back from Dubai after working abroad as an international flight attendant, so there was a pretty large gap of event-related experience on my resume when I was first reaching out to planners for a job. Thankfully though, several people took a chance on me when I was first starting out. At first, I wanted to gain as much experience as possible, work at all of the venues, and meet as many vendors and creative partners as I could. I assisted a variety of planners almost every weekend, sometimes even working two or three weddings on a single weekend. At the same time, I worked with the planners in their offices throughout the week and soon began planning and coordinating my own weddings under their companies. I said yes to every networking event I could and started reaching out to people I didn’t know to build more connections within the industry here in San Diego. I also took a job with Aisle Planner, an online wedding planning and CRM platform, teaching others about the software and demonstrating their tools. I was going non-stop for the first year and a half, and there were definitely days when I wanted to call out “sick” and not get out of bed, but I stuck with it and powered through everything because I knew there was still so much more to learn. I neglected a lot of my friendships, hardly saw my family, and definitely didn’t make enough time for myself or my partner during that period, but I was happy with all of the experience and knowledge I was quickly gaining, as well as for my future in the industry that I was beginning to envision. Over the last year, I’ve taken a lot off of my plate and am currently the Director of Events at Thomas Bui Lifestyle and the Senior Planner and Designer at Lavish Weddings. Working with the owners, Thomas and Christine, has been such a rewarding experience and they’ve each taught me lessons and skills that would have otherwise taken me years to learn on my own. They have also been encouraging and supportive of me starting my own business, Thater Made Weddings & Events, which I’ve been working on throughout quarantine while events have slowed down. It’s a scary thing to launch a business during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially one that relies on large gatherings of people, but as the philosopher, Matshona Dhliwayo said, “stars are born out of dark moments,” so I just need to stay positive, focused, and prepare to shine when celebrations can happen once again. In addition to launching my own company, I recently partnered with Armando Cepeda of Encore Entertainment and Lizzy Liz of Lizzy Liz Events to launch a new podcast, The Wedding Remix (*shameless plug* available on YouTube and anywhere you stream your podcasts). The podcast, which is both video and audio, is aimed at educating, inspiring, and bringing awareness to the amazing creatives that make up the wedding industry. We launch weekly 1-hour long episodes with an eclectic mix of interviewees, each with a different background and specialty. Some of the recent exciting guests we’ve had the opportunity to speak with include Thai Nguyen, star of Netflix’s show ‘Say I Do,’ Julie Novack, CEO and co-founder of PartySlate, and Jackie Sorkin, the mastermind behind the world-famous Candytopia experience and Hollywood Candy Girls. One of the most memorable projects I’ve worked on was my room for The Special Event in January 2019. I was one of the lucky four planners in San Diego that was asked to plan and design a themed experience for the event. I was in charge of turning the Alhambra Room at the Prado into a Hillcrest-themed playground. With the support of a phenomenal vendor team, I transformed the space and created a one-of-a-kind experience with floor-to-ceiling draping, cascading rainbow floral chandeliers and backdrops, light shows inspired by Disney’s World of Color show, giant five-foot-tall gummy bears, mimosa and Bloody Mary carts, an oxygen bar, drag queen performances throughout the night, and of course, rainbows everywhere. I was so proud of what I created and am honored to be part of the history of both The Special Event and the Prado.
Let’s say your best friend was visiting the area and you wanted to show them the best time ever. Where would you take them? Give us a little itinerary – say it was a week long trip, where would you eat, drink, visit, hang out, etc. In your view what are some of the most fun, interesting, exciting people, places or things to check out?
It’s a good thing they are here for a week because there are just too many amazing options on the list!! My best friend and I love the outdoors, good food and drinks, and staying busy, so here’s how the week would go –
Saturday: Breakfast at Morning Glory in Little Italy, walk the Piazza della Famiglia and explore the Little Italy Farmers market, ice cream at Salt and Straw and enjoy it while walking the Waterfront Park and Seaport Village along the San Diego Bay, and then drinks at Kindred in South Park while we wait for a dinner table across the street at Buona Forchetta.
Sunday: Head out early and drive across the border to Valle de Guadalupe for a food and wine-filled adventure (not San Diego, but definitely a must-do on a week-long trip!): Breakfast at La Cocina de Doña Esthela, take in the ocean views and enjoy a drink at Bar Bura in Cuatro Cuatros, head back inland to indulge in champagne and oysters at Conchas de Piedra, open a map and pick from any of the nearby wineries to sample tastings at (because anywhere you choose is going to be great), dinner under a magical 200+ year old oak tree at Animalón, squeeze in a quick power nap in the car, then overeat yourself into a food coma with late-night tacos at Tacos El Franc in Tijuana before heading back across the border.
Monday: Breakfast at the Cottage in La Jolla, kayak around La Jolla Cove / Shores and watch the seals play in the water, walk the Children’s Pool Observation Walkway while trying to stay dry from the crashing waves, pass through Salk institute and watch the hang gliders at Glider Port, hike down Ho-Chi-Minh trail and stroll along Black’s Beach for sunset, dinner at Javier’s in the Westfield UTC mall, then head upstairs to have one too many cocktails at the speakeasy-style Raised by Wolves.
Tuesday: Breakfast at Snooze in Hillcrest, grab a coffee down the street at Better Buzz Coffee, walk around North Mission Hills to admire the cute houses I’ll live in one day, rollerblade down the Pacific Beach Boardwalk, make our own ice cream sandwiches at The Baked Bear, ride the Giant Dipper Roller Coaster at Belmont Park, dinner at OB Noodle House, and then grab some craft cocktails and late-night snacks downtown at The Lion’s Share.
Wednesday: Breakfast at Hash House a Go-Go, walk around Balboa Park and explore the museums, head to Hotel Del Coronado to walk the beach and enjoy a drink on the newly renovated pool-deck, watch the sunset at the Embarcadero / Coronado Ferry Landing, then binge eat the best tacos north of the border at Tacos El Gordo.
Thursday: Hike Cowles Mountain in Mission Trails Regional Park, grab acai bowls at Northside Surf Shack in Point Loma and eat them as we sit on the rocks at Shoreline Park on Shelter Island, explore Liberty Public Market (“Liberty Station”), drive up to Cabrillo National Monument for one of the best views of San Diego, catch the sunset at Sunset Cliffs Natural Park, and then head downtown for dinner and drinks at Rustic Root Rooftop.
Friday: Hike Cedar Creek Falls (“Devil’s Punchbowl”) or Mt. Woodson Trail (“Potato Chip Rock”) for a great workout and epic photo, lunch at L&L Hawaiian BBQ, head home for a well-deserved nap, order Ciros Pizza for d¬inner, then head out for drinks and dancing around Hillcrest (insideOUT -> Flicks -> Rich’s). Saturday: Grab a coffee and a bagel at Spill the Beans in downtown before heading to the airport!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Shoutout to everyone that believed in me and gave me the opportunity to learn and grow with them when I was first starting out in the hospitality industry not too long ago. I had no wedding experience, but you all saw that I was full of motivation and passion, trusted me, and taught me everything I know. I couldn’t be where I am today without you all! Thank you to Kelsey Schwarz, owner of Forever Enchanted Events, for being the first person to hire me to assist you while you were beginning to grow your business, preparing me with all of the fundamentals (especially to never forget to bustle a bride!), and for showing me what it really means to be kind and care for others. Thank you to Amy Ulkultekin, owner of First Comes Love San Diego, for taking me on as an assistant and then day-of coordinator; as well as for giving me the opportunity to explore, challenge, and embrace my creativity while designing an experience for The Special Event on my own. Thank you to Thomas Bui, owner of Thomas Bui Lifestyle, for showing me what class, elegance, and grace truly are; mentoring me with all of the best knowledge you’ve gained from 20+ years of being in the industry; connecting me with the most amazing professionals across the county; and for our fun weekly lunches at the most delicious spots around San Diego. Thank you to Christine Ong-Forsythe, owner of Lavish Weddings, for showing me what hard work and motivation can achieve in a short amount of time, trusting me with your clients and your business from day one, constantly challenging me with new projects, allowing me to grow and make mistakes along the way, valuing my input, encouraging my imagination and creativity to run-wild while designing, and for putting up with my overly-lengthy and in-depth emails. Thank you to my partner in life, Alex, for always supporting my dreams (no matter where they’ve taken me around the world… sorry, Babe!), putting up with my endless work hours and constant stress, listening to all of my crazy ideas and giving me your honest input, challenging me to continue growing, feeding me since you know I can only make toast, and for meeting me at the door to untie my shoes and rub my feet after a long wedding day. And finally, thank you to my mom, Kathy, for your lifetime of sacrifices to raise me on your own, always encouraging me to be my true self, instilling my obsession to clean and organize, and for teaching me to “just Google it” way before any of the other kids learned how to in school.
Sage Justice Photography, Bauman Photographers, Peter Nguyen Studio