In many ways, Jesse Kupina’s career in the hospitality industry has come full circle. As an operating partner for Two12 Social Company, he’s come a long way from working at venues to owning them. “I really find a lot of joy in creating the party,” Kupina muses, seated at his company’s venue, Central Social Hall.
After his eyes were opened to the club scene in college, he finished school and opened a pub in Leduc at age 21. While the venture wasn’t successful, Kupina looks back on it as a learning opportunity. Through the contacts he made, he was encouraged to learn the business from the ground up on his way to accomplishing his goal of owning a place of his own.
After getting hired as the head bartender of the Union Hall nightclub in 2004, he worked his way up to be the venue’s general manager, and then the parent company’s director of nightclubs. The head of that parent company, Mike Yasinski of Gateway Entertainment, gave Kupina the opportunity to buy a percentage of a new nightclub that was going to open—later to become The Ranch.
“The Ranch name was my name, but of course the concept was a collective concept,” explains Kupina. “I was kind of on a good path, things were going well.” Kupina’s situation changed when The Ranch was bought by an outside party, giving him the biggest paycheque he’d ever seen but leaving him without a job. Yasinski sat Kupina down and confided that the company’s Hudson’s chains were going to be the main focus for the future, telling him to “spread your wings and fly.”
Together with his current partners, Kupina bought the Union Hall nightclub and was even allowed to keep The Ranch name—with the partners eventually leasing and re-opening The Ranch themselves. Two12’s brand was born in 2009. “Two12 signifies how water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit, so at 211 it’s still and 212 it boils,” he says, pointing out the connection to the ‘degree above’ tagline and the service they look to offer. “I wanted to find a name that was all encompassing.”
By this time, the group was looking to open a pub to complete their set of businesses. Given the opportunity to open in what he feels is part of the city’s downtown epicentre, Central Social Hall came to be in late 2012 on Jasper Avenue and 109th Street. Things had more or less come full circle.
One thing Kupina and his partners do that he’s proud to boast of, is take an active hand in their venue’s goings-on. “We’re working the rooms; we’re here on the weekends. We’re really hands-on,” he states. That aspect of creating the party is something they try to keep going day to day between the tasks of operating the business. “Obviously making money is important to me,” Kupina elaborates. “But I love the business, I love the people. Just being allowed to do this as my career, and provide a living for myself, and be a part of it is what motivates me. I never want to leave this.”
Kupina disagrees with people who don’t give Edmonton’s nightlife credit. He points out that it’s rare to find a place like Edmonton where any night of the week you can find somewhere that’s really hopping.
There’s a quality to the people that start up here as well. “Everybody from Edmonton seems to mop-up, because it’s so competitive here, and everybody has such a good job that they go somewhere else and they’re on their heels,” Kupina explains. “People don’t get just how hungry we are.” He sees concepts from Edmonton moving to other cities and provinces and doing much better than you’d expect.
The vision for Two12 echoes this belief. “Once I think we’ve maximized the Edmonton reach, then we might start looking at other markets to take a nightclub and our pub,” Kupina says. “I don’t want to spread our wings outside of Edmonton too early.”