Living Large in Northeast Ohio
March 5, 2016
By: Mark G. Mangie
Mark: Hi Eric. Thanks for talking with us today.
When I first heard you were hired to operate the Covelli Centre I thought it would be a disaster. What would any local know about running a facility like this? I was wrong, and I will be the first to admit it. When you look at yourself running this facility today and think back to when you were younger…did you ever in your wildest imagination think this is what you would be doing at this stage in your life?
Eric: I don’t take it for granted at all. I love what I do. I enjoy what I do so much that I almost feel bad saying it to people at times!! I always loved the entertainment world and it's kind of what I always wanted to do. But running this facility and managing both this and Packard Music Hall and this company is kind of really a dream come true.
Mark: Give us some of your background and how you got started.
Eric: So I graduated from Struthers High School in 1992. My wife April and I still live in Struthers. We got married very young. I actually worked at Wheatland Tube in Wheatland PA. as a supervisor there for 13 years from the time I was 18 until 32. During that time I would always drive through downtown Struthers on my way to work. There was an empty building down there my neighbor owned. I have always loved 2 things: music and pool! So I had this idea to start a billiard room. My wife and I saved up some money and we started a billiard room in downtown Struthers in 1998. It went extremely well. It was a nice place we called Southbridge Billiards. Couples enjoyed going there. It was very clean…had a bar. And I ran it while still working at Wheatland Tube.
Mark: How old were you when you did that?
Mark: Oh my gosh!
Eric: Yeah! We still laugh about it to this day. The loan that we had taken out to open the place looked like so much money back then. It wouldn’t cover the cost of a single production that we do now. That’s how we started. You could say that it was sort of the entertainment industry!! By 2002 it was doing well and I decided to buy the building. It had a dirt floor cellar. I thought that I would put a night club down there to do live music with some of the local bands. We installed a sprinkler system and a 50 foot bar and had bands in. We started with local shows…and local shows turned into regional shows…and regional shows turn into national concerts.
Mark: In Struthers!
Eric: In Struthers!!
Mark: How many could it hold?
Eric: 450 people
Mark: That’s a pretty good size.
Eric: We actually did a lot of concerts there. As a matter of fact the time that we were opened cellar we had over 150 some sell outs. That’s whatr of got me into the entertainment industry.
Mark: When you were running the billiard room, did you offer any food?
Eric: Well, we had beer and liquor. We built a bar. My mom worked for me at the time. We started with subs. Then I had this brilliant idea to take the 3rd floor and turn it into a restaurant. We called Fat E’s.
Eric: We put a lot of money into it. It was a very nice restaurant. We opened it in 2005. So we had that going on in addition to all of our other businesses…and I was still working at Wheatland Tube. Burning the candle at both ends. In 2007 the C-O of the company called the managers in for a meeting and said we are getting rid of a certain percentage of you guys. Here’s a package. Whoever wants to go can go.
I got in my car; called my wife and said I'm out of here…which was crazy at the time but I had so many things going on. By 2004 I was really doing a lot of national shows. I was talking to an agent and had a chance to bring in a band called 3 Doors Down. I went to YSU. We worked out a deal. We brought them in for the university’s homecoming at the Beeghly Center. Sold the place out. It was an incredible show. That’s when I started Eric Ryan Productions to do shows outside of the Cellar. That’s my production Company. So we promoted and produced 3 Doors Down. Sold it out…kept that going! We did a couple shows at the Struthers Field House and the Eastwood Expo Center. We started doing concerts throughout the Valley and PA. so those thing were going and growing by 2007. We were going to put a second restaurant at the Eastwood Mall. As we were opening it in October of 2007 I got a phone call from the City of Youngstown. I met with Mayor Jay Williams. Now I had already done a couple concerts here at the arena. He said they were getting rid of the then management company and would I be interested in taking over the operation. They needed someone to do it on a temporary basis while the City searched for a different national company. I said okay, but it was supposed to be temporary. I came in here with my producer and my assistant director Ken Bigley who is here now. We had to form a new company because the employees had to be ours. So we formed JAC Management a couple days before we took over.
Mark: What does that stand for?
Eric: Actually my kids…Jordan, Ashley, and Carson! I couldn’t use Eric Ryan Production Company because that was a production company. JAC Management is the management company.
Mark: Okay…and what did you know about a managing a facility?
Eric: Absolutely Nothing. (Laughter) I was a handy guy and my producer was an electrician and had been in the business a while. But we had was a great background on events. We had done our own events and produced our own events and at the end of the day that's what this is. Sure there are maintenance type of issues, but at the end of the day we put on single events. We put on 100 events a year. We certainly had the background with events and that certainly is what Mayor Williams saw in us. We really thought this was just temporary while they went out and searched for this other company. Funny story! The very first day we got the whole staff together and I told them we are here temporarily. But we are here to work. We want to make a difference…not to just come in here and collect a paycheck. After the meeting I go to my office with the two associates I brought with me. I sat down at the desk and looked at the phone and my computer for 15 minutes and didn't do a thing. I call the guys into the office and asked “What the hell do we now?”
Mark: But running a facility like this is more them putting on shows. You got maintenance. You have parking, snow removal, right on down the line.
Eric: Yes…so we met with every individual department head to get an idea about what they did. After 2 weeks and I said man we can make a difference. Because I knew…I have always had a knack as to know what would work whether ticket prices or anything else. That is my biggest strength. Not that there are no swings and misses…because there are. But for the most part I know the market and I understand what would work and won't work the majority of the time.
Mark: Okay…I want to recap
Mark: So you are 23 years old. You are married. You have a job. You decide you are going to go run a billiard parlor. What did you know about running billiard parlors?
Eric: Didn't know anything
ERIC RYAN: FROM POOL HALL TO ELTON JOHN