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Vows with wows

By Joni Moths Mueller

Luckily KaMyia Leflore practiced her bridal catwalk yesterday because her stomach is in knots today. All she has to do is stand steady and stay upright. But all she can think about is the weight of her bouquet, the gown tangling her feet and the stairs she has to descend — gracefully — to reach groom Damone Turner.

Leflore sought the Beyonce-esque entrance devised by Milwaukee events planner David Caruso, Jr., Comm ’02. When he whispers “strike a pose with attitude,” she juts her hips, points to the stars and holds on for dear life.

It’s the type of high-tension wire Caruso likes to string. He built Dynamic Events by David Caruso on delivering drama. Elevating a bridal entrance to a bridal launch, with a hydraulic lift raising Leflore 25 feet through an opening from the parking garage to the first-floor Windhover Hall in the Santiago Calatrava addition of the Milwaukee Art Museum, is perfect theatre. “Ever since the addition was built, I thought about raising a bride through the floor,” Caruso says. He needed a diva to pull it off and met her last summer. The bride and groom still relish their guests’ gasps.

David Carouso

Ask Caruso and he’ll call gasps the only satisfactory outcome of well-conceived events. Brides and grooms, corporations, service organizations, and private clients deserve climactic statements punctuating their fundraisers, parties and meetings. Caruso and his staff of two seek nothing but exclamation points. Their business is now built 100 percent on referrals.

Caruso began formalizing his education in events in his penny loafers. He was a Marquette student when he auditioned for a job at the Ed Debevic’s retro diner that was opening in downtown Milwaukee. He was hired for the hospitality team that opened the ’50s-style restaurant catering to people who dine on burgers and shakes served by wait staff wearing poodle skirts and saddle shoes. “I loved it,” he says.

His enthusiasm and skill earned a promotion to marketing assistant, then marketing director for parent company Bravo Restaurants. He moved to Chicago and for five years managed branding, community exposure and store programs for the corporation’s three restaurants: Ed Debevic’s, the Original Gino’s East and Edwardo’s Natural Pizza.

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One day while riding the “L” train home from work, Caruso decided the time was ripe to break out on his own. Coincidentally, his breakout business concept already had a name. In fact, much of the business plan for Dynamic Events was written for his capstone project in a class at Marquette.

When he relayed the idea, his mom said it was “interesting.” His dad’s reaction was a little more about logistics: “How many parties do you have to plan to pay the rent?” Caruso wanted to find out.

He began building relationships with vendors who handle everything from invitations to signage to parking to venue to music to food and more. Word of Caruso’s touch began gaining notice, he says, after he produced the grand opening of the Milwaukee Youth Arts Center. His team created a series of rehearsal halls for the 800 guests to move from venues reminiscent of Broadway, Carnegie Hall and the streets of New York. He remembers a newspaper column reporting that “everyone was smiling ear to ear” at the décor. “I think it was an eye-opener for a lot of people who saw something different, innovative,” he says.

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Dynamic Events typically tackles projects with budgets starting at $75,000.  “It is a significant investment to create the types of events we do,” he admits. With his team of two associates, sister Kim Caruso and Monica Orr, Arts ’88, his company stages parties that top out at the margins for elegance, creativity and engagement with guests.

Caruso is a regular guest on local television show The Morning Blend and always delivers tips for building dramatic parties ranging from a Halloween spooktacle for kids to New Year’s Eve for adults. He was featured as the “stylish face of Milwaukee events” in the October 2014 issue of Milwaukee Magazine. Industry recognition has included Caruso’s win as Event Planner of the Year and Best Wedding of the Year — Budget $100,000 from the National Association for Catering and Events in 2014, as well as being named in Special Events Magazine’s 2013 “30 under 40” feature.

Caruso says event planning is storytelling. “I realize that what makes my presence in this industry so different from others is that everything I loved to do in my life from theatre to working on the school newspaper to studying broadcast journalism was about telling stories in a very creative and visual way,” he says. “Our events are truly experiences, stimulating and delicious from start to finish. The components are so strikingly different from what you expect, and that gets people extremely engaged.”

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Want to engage your guests? Event panner David Caruso, Jr., Comm ’02, provides his top tips for brides.

ONE

Set a budget

TWO

Hire an A-team of qualified vendors.

THREE

Select a location that represents your style. Caruso’s favorite is a tent at the bride’s home.

FOUR

Write the guest list based on budget. Choose the right number of guests to make sure their experience is delicious, warm and inviting.

FIVE

Set your top three priorities — food, dress, location, entertainment — and allocate resources accordingly.

SIX

Look everywhere for ideas, not just on wedding magazines. (The artwork on a Barney’s New York bag inspired by Caruso and will find its way into one of his events.)

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