Meet Erica Kane, general manager of Reserve, a digital dining concierge that does everything from helping you find a place to eat and getting you a great table to taking care of payment at the end of your meal. While Erica proudly calls her current position her dream job, her background started in the Chicago theatre scene when she landed a job right out of college as company coordinator at the highly regarded Lookingglass Theater Company. Her time at Lookingglass reinforced her passion for writing and the arts and it wasn’t long before Erica took her career a step further and launched her own PR business, focusing her efforts on restaurant and theater clients.
In order to keep the stress of founding a new business at a minimum, Erica held a second job as a membership advisor at a high-end gym, which is where she got the idea for her next venture: CheekyChicago, a city-centric, female-focused guide to the city of Chicago. After seven years as the CEO and editor-in-chief of Cheeky, the unexpected happened when Erica came across a job listing for Reserve, a new dining app launched by the co-founder of Uber. Though she had no plans of leaving Cheeky, she knew the opportunity was too perfect to pass up. It wasn’t long before Erica introduced herself to the co-founder and began leading the Chicago team through cultivating positive restaurant relationships, growing their diner base, and overseeing day-to-day operations.
Erica’s advice to her 23-year-old self? “Believe in yourself, believe that the world works in mysterious ways, believe that life hands you lessons; whether you want to receive them or not—they’re for the best.” Keep reading for more on how Erica’s theater background shaped the career she has today, her advice for those just starting out, and how she measures success.
Name: Erica Kane (nee Erica Bethe Levin)
Current title: General Manager, Reserve
Education: BS, Northwestern University
What was your first job out of college and how did you land the position?
I felt like the luckiest girl in the world to have graduated Northwestern with a job already in place as the company coordinator for the Lookingglass Theatre Company, one of Chicago’s largest and most respected theatres. My senior year acting class had an unexpected change—the professor that had been with us since sophomore year ended up moving to LA, something we were all devastated about.
But David Catlin, artistic director and founding ensemble member for the Lookingglass, assumed the position. By the end of fall quarter, he had asked me to be his assistant on a new show he was creating called Lookingglass Alice. I jumped! This was a theatre major’s dream! The show has now toured all across the country and comes back to Chicago almost every year; I was lucky enough to attend their 10th anniversary show last December.
Being his assistant on that show turned into an internship and that internship turned into a job that ultimately led to my decision to stay in Chicago—a decision I am thankful for everyday as it has completely altered and dictated the course of my entire life.
Did you think about running your own business when you graduated? Describe your professional background.
Absolutely not! As a theatre major, I had every intention of moving to New York City and pounding the pavement auditioning until I made it. Thankfully, I got the awesome Lookingglass opportunity, which ended up teaching me so much about life and business.
While working at Lookingglass, I had an agent who got me plenty of Chicago auditions, but I didn’t love it. I continued to do that anyway, but developed a strong love for writing, which I was doing for magazines and online publications—I became a published writer by the age of 22. I also waited tables and worked at a boutique on Sundays, while holding the full-time Lookingglass job, a writing career and acting in a few shows and commercials. I needed to make ends meet!
I left Lookingglass to meld two of my loves: writing and the arts. I thought being a publicist for the arts and entertainment industry would be a great marriage for me. I did this at a boutique agency (again, all while waiting tables, writing, and acting) until I left and started my own little PR biz. I had quite a few clients (all from the theatre and restaurant industries—two of my favorite things).
At the same time, I began working as a membership advisor at a high-end gym in Chicago. The hours were great, allowing me to build my PR business stress free. It was there that the idea for CheekyChicago was hatched. I ran Cheeky as the CEO and Editor-in-Chief for seven years.
Tell us more about CheekyChicago! Where did the inspiration come from?
I loved Cheeky and still love everything it stands for. Cheeky was born because there was a void in the marketplace for a city-centric, female-focused guide to the city. There were plenty of female-focused publications and plenty of city guides, but nothing that melded the two.
There was also a strong need for a community that elevated and supported women—we’re all awesome and better together than we are apart, so why not celebrate that? Spreading that word was extremely important to me. I was co-founder, editor-in-chief and CEO. However, as an entrepreneur and business owner, I wholeheartedly believe that it is my job to be the janitor, the CEO, the intern, the head of sales and everything in between.
There was also a strong need for a community that elevated and supported women—we’re all awesome and better together than we are apart, so why not celebrate that?
What is it like to start and run your own company? Would you do it again?
Exhausting! Running and owning a company takes a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears. I should throw laughs in there, too. Sometimes there are more tears than laughter and sometimes there’s more laughter than tears, but I wouldn’t trade the wild circus ride for anything in the world. Although I never expected to be running my own company, or building businesses, I cannot see myself doing anything else ever again. I shouldn’t be that surprised though as I watched my parents grow and build their practice since I was a little girl. I would absolutely and wholeheartedly do it again.
So, tell us about Reserve. How does it work?
Reserve is a digital dining concierge that does everything from helping you find a place to eat and getting you a great table to taking care of payment at the end of your meal. We’re working hard to make every aspect of the dining experience better, for both our restaurant partners and our diners.
Reserve is live in some of the most dynamic, most visited food cities in the country (currently New York, Boston, San Francisco, LA and the newest city to join the family is Chicago), so Reserve is great for residents and visitors alike. Whether you’re planning a business lunch, a romantic dinner, or even just casual drinks with friends, we can help you have an unforgettable experience for every single occasion.
Tell us more about your position with Reserve (and how you landed it).
I’m the general manager for Reserve Chicago. As GM, I lead a team responsible for making sure Reserve is delivering on all we set out to do in Chicago—managing things like cultivating positive restaurant relationships, growing our diner base and overseeing day-to-day operations. I work closely with my team to develop strategic partnerships and identify marketing opportunities that will help bring Reserve to more restaurants and more diners across Chicago.
I should also add that while I do have plenty of business and operations responsibilities, I’m thrilled to be in a role that marries my analytical side with a passion for food and culture. It also doesn’t hurt that I love the dining scene here—Chicago is the best! I feel like the luckiest girl in the world for having landed this role. I had no intention of leaving Cheeky, but as fate would have it one day while working at 1871 (Chicago’s largest tech hub and start-up incubator), one of my food writer friends posted on Facebook “Co-Founder of Uber launches cool new restaurant app.”
As someone who runs a Chicago-based lifestyle business and as a food writer myself, I clicked on it and was mesmerized by what Reserve was doing. At very first sight, I believed that this was the future of dining. I looked at the “Careers” page because surely I knew someone who could run the Chicago market and help build the brand here! But, when I read the job description I knew that it was written for me.
It was an absolute dream job; if I could have written my own job description, this would have been it. Everything I had ever done led me to this job. So I reached out to my friend Max who launched Uber in Chicago, which was the role I was interested in filling for Reserve, and asked if he could introduce me to Garrett Camp (the co-founder of Uber). He asked why (obviously), so I told him; he agreed to send an e-introduction because he thought I’d be the perfect fit. Garrett wrote me back immediately, introduced me to Greg Hong, our awesome CEO, who introduced me to everyone else—lo and behold, I started the job less than a week later!
Do you have developer or coding experience? Do you need it on the job?
I don’t, but I wish I did. I am excited that the next generation will start learning how to code in school the same way I learned how to type 100+ words a minute and use the Internet! I don’t need it for my job, but it would surely be beneficial both for work and in life.
How do you balance your professional life and family life?
I’m not sure that I do balance my professional and family life! When you’re launching a new business and every minute counts, it’s important to be ready and on at all times. But when you love what you do, it doesn’t feel like work. It is my pleasure to work on the weekends or in the evenings for Reserve because I believe in this company and know that my hard work and the hard work of my team is going to help make this business succeed.
Like I said before, I truly believe this is the future of dining—it’s so cool to be a part of that! And because I’m so happy and excited and energized all the time, the people in my personal life (most specifically my awesome husband) all support it. They see the big picture, too.
What advice would you give women trying to start their own business but are not quite sure where or how to begin?
I cannot reiterate enough how important it is to ask for help. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, rather a sign of intelligence. When starting Cheeky, I sought advice from mentors, women entrepreneurs I hadn’t met, the Small Business Association, advisors, investors, my parents.
If you’re just starting out, these people will all have more experience than you since they’ve done it before; in 99% of the cases, they are honored that you thought of them. I am so lucky to have the same advisors and mentors today that I did eight years ago; I’ve also been lucky enough to meet many new ones along the way.
These amazing people (most of them women) have taught me so much, gifted me with such invaluable lessons, that I will forever be grateful. And the thing is, even eight years into my entrepreneurial career, I still have questions, I still don’t know things, and I still need help. Hold those relationships closely and treasure them.
What advice do you have for women who are just starting out?
A lot of people ask me about their college major and how that affects their career. I started as a Journalism major at Northwestern, but decided to switch into the theatre program in the middle of my freshman year. I am not doing theatre now – in fact, I am not doing anything close to it (although the theatre program taught me confidence and gave me the wherewithal to speak in front of people, which has proven to be an absolutely invaluable tool).
The point is: It doesn’t matter. Get yourself a good education and do what you want. Value the relationships you made in school with advisors and professors because they can help you get a job or introduce you to the right people when it comes to starting your business.
I also recommend starting a business by yourself if you can. You are married to the person you go into business with, so think long and hard about whether or not you’d share your finances, your creativity, and the majority of your waking hours with them. And only go into business with someone you trust. Not everyone is after the right things, not everyone has the same moral compass that you do, and not everyone conducts themselves in the professional way that you’d like. Follow your gut.
How do you measure success? How do you stay motivated?
Wow, this is a great question. Professional success to me means making a difference and really putting your stamp on a business or a position. Of course, we all have numbers we want to hit—more subscribers, more diners, more partnerships, more event attendees, and those are obvious performance indicators, but proving yourself invaluable within an organization is a huge sign of success. It’s also a sign of success if you can go to work everyday and feel truly happy to be there.
As for motivation, I’ve always been an innately motivated person; I’ve never required outside motivators to get me going. With Reserve, I’m motivated by the fact that in a couple of years, we could truly change the face of the dining industry. I mean, what could be more motivating than that?
It’s also motivating to just feel good and to take care of yourself. It’s important that I maintain some semblance of “normalcy” despite the long hours and working weekends. Yoga is a huge thing for me; I feel more prepared to take on the world after a hot yoga class at Om on the Range, or after a long bike ride, or Zumba class.
What advice would you give your 23-year-old self?
Believe in yourself, believe that the world works in mysterious ways, believe that life hands you lessons whether you want to receive them or not—they’re for the best. It doesn’t matter if you make a mistake; in fact, it’s a good thing. It teaches you what not to do the next time.
Maintain relationships; ultimately, nothing is more important than those you love and those that love you. Keep your long-term friends really close. Make time for the people that matter.
Never think you’re more important or that your job is more important than anyone else’s. Don’t trust everyone you meet, but don’t be suspicious of everyone either (although I’d err on the side of the latter). Time heals all wounds. You don’t always need to get the last word, although it sometimes feels really good.
Take time for you because if you’re not happy and healthy from the inside out, you’re not going to operate at your best for anyone else. Love is awesome: Find it, savor it, relish in it, trust in it, and never let it go.
Erica Kane is The Everygirl…
Go-to coffee order?
I stopped drinking caffeine about two years ago, but I love the taste of coffee. So every morning it’s a decaf black (preferably Dunkin’ Donuts!) coffee for me.
Best advice you’ve ever received?
“You can’t make a good deal with a bad person and you can’t make a bad deal with a good one.”
If you could have lunch with any woman who would it be and what would you order?
Liza Minelli. A martini.
Favorite vacation spot?
I’m from West Palm Beach, Florida and it will always have my heart. Going home to visit my family, have my mom’s home cooking, go to the beach every day, go to yoga and bike rides—there is no better place on earth.
I wish I knew how to…
speak another language. I minored in Italian in college, but never picked up the whole fluent speaking thing. Maybe one day!
TV show you wish was still on the air?