Off the Cuff with Claiborne: Amit Dhawan
While in medical school, Amit Dhawan discovered a love of business and marketing, which eventually evolved into an interest in events. Around the same time, he noticed that St. Louis’ cultural impact was growing—from the success of the Cardinals to the popularity of stars like Nelly and Cedric the Entertainer. Dhawan was motivated to create Synergy Productions, a marketing and brand development company that connects celebrities, corporations, charities and communities.
What was your first event?
It was a charity event with a D.J. from New York at Velvet Lounge on Washington Avenue. I had to convince them to give me a night because I’d never done anything before. Now, most of our events aren’t even in St. Louis. We do the Super Bowl Music Fest, and we recently did a surprise performance with Machine Gun Kelly at Lollapalooza. The biggest local event we do is Whiskey in Winter, which is the largest whiskey festival in the country.
Tell me about the Black and White Ball with Nelly.
That was an amazing event we did for 10 years. The beginning was kind of a funny story. Jermaine Dupri and Janet Jackson were coming into town around the Fourth of July, but for some reason the fair wasn’t happening that year. We worked with the Contemporary Art Museum and organized an awesome party, and it evolved into a gala that supported organizations like Make-A-Wish and funded scholarships. Everyone asks when the ball will come back.
You’ve met a lot of cool people. Who surprised you?
There are a lot of people with celebrity star power, but very few who have an otherworldly feel—I call it the alien aura. One I’d say definitely has it is Lady Gaga. Just the way she is as a human being is incredible.
What’s the one thing you have to have to throw a successful event?
Spectacle. No matter what you do, you’ve got to create a sense of wonder. That’s something we’ve always taken pride in, even starting out and doing small events. You have to figure out how you can put your own twist on it.
What’s the downside of invite-only event?
There is not an eclectic mix of attendees. Variety is what makes an event great, so you need a vast cast of characters.
What’s the most challenging element you and your team have to deal with?
Uncertainty and the number of variables that go into planning. With the pandemic, things have been more up and down than ever. You’ve got to adapt.
Outside of business, how has the pandemic affected you personally?
Before last year, I spent the majority of my time outside of St. Louis, and it’s been absolutely incredible working from home. I have a seven-year-old daughter, and I’ve gotten to interact with her on a daily basis. I went out of town for four days for Lollapalooza, and it was hard. Before, it would have been a no-brainer. I love St. Louis, and being here more also has made me engage with the city. I’ve discovered I want to do more things here.
What’s in your closet that few people have?
Formal Indian attire.
Do you consider yourself stylish or trendy?
I consider myself Amit. Snoop Dogg once commented that no matter what we’re doing, I’m always going to dress Amit. My style is just me. It’s individualistic.
What’s your go-to drink before or after a drink?
You’ll always see me with a Diet Coke, but my cocktail of choice is Grey Goose and tonic.
How about your favorite late-night snack?
Mochi ice cream.
Four restaurants in St. Louis you love.
House of India, Cinder House, Mai Lee and the new Ruth’s Chris.
What’s your favorite place to travel?
We’ve never done an event in Asia, but I love to travel there whether its Japan, Southeast Asia or India. For events, we tend to go to the places where spectacular big events happen: New York, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Miami.
Other than St. Louis, what’s the most underrated city?
What’s the next big event St. Louis is ready for?
The return of a musical festival. We’re one of the biggest metros without one. Luckily, we’re blessed with a number of great music venues.