Native Zimbabwean Brendan Evans discovered opportunities in the U.S. are unlimited and cups of coffee are endless.
Story by Steve Kaufman
Photos by Kathryn Harrington
Brendan Evans’ journey from a child playing in the bush country of Zimbabwe to a U.S. citizen and successful businessman in Louisville is a familiar “great American dream” story.
For so many immigrants, the day of naturalization is the fulfillment of a wish. They’ve fallen in love with the freedom, the opportunities and the aspirations here. It’s bottomless.
And it was all that for Evans. But his first taste of the unlimited American lifestyle occurred in a Waffle House across the street from the Red Roof Inn on Preston Highway.
“The waitress came to refill our coffee cups, and we told her we couldn’t afford a second cup,” Evans recalled. “She said, ‘It’s bottomless, honey!’ Four cups later, I was in love with this country.”
That was 1991. Evans was in Louisville on behalf of a British company, The Hospitality Group, to set up corporate hospitality tents at the Kentucky Derby. He fell in love not only with the U.S. but specifically with this city.
“Everyone was so genuinely friendly, giving us advice and directions and help, answering all our questions,” he said. “People here were so excited about the Derby, excited that we were in town for it and excited to tell us all about it.”
So, though his work took him all over the world – to the Beijing Olympics, the Indianapolis 500, major golf and tennis tournaments, European soccer matches, international horse races – Louisville is where he decided he wanted to establish his home.
“It’s a big city, like my hometown of Harare [the capital of Zimbabwe], but it also has open spaces on the outskirts, like the bush country where I spent so much of my youth.”
The African bush is an open land of mostly acacia trees, scrubby vegetation, grass and waterholes that attract the local wildlife. “I used to go out there just to watch the animals,” Evans recalled. “Everything from antelopes and zebras to rhinos and elephants, even lions and crocodiles.”
It was his escape when he was a boy. “When I took my wife back there, she began to understand me better. She saw what I saw and my heart for all these animals.”
So enamored was Evans with his new U.S. home, that when things got violent for the white Zimbabwean farmers under the Robert Mugabe regime, he sponsored his parents to come to the U.S. and join him in Louisville.
His father recently became ill. “If he had still been in Zimbabwe, he would have had no access to good medical care,” said Evans. “The care here is second to none. In Harare, they have trouble getting surgical gloves.”
Evans worked for The Hospitality Group until 2001 when he ventured out on his own, starting a company called Evans Events. He offered tents and other supplies, and managed the clients’ proceedings as a consultant to The Hospitality Group. But in 2008, the recession began to pull the bottom out of the corporate entertainment business. “The first thing big corporations stopped doing was spending money taking clients to sporting events,” he said. “We’d been doing six or seven large events a year. After the crash, it nearly all went away.”
But it had a positive side. “I had to cultivate local clients,” he said, “and start doing smaller affairs – corporate sales meetings and hospitality events, peoples’ Derby parties, birthdays, wedding receptions, banquets, Homearama and the auto shows.”
He began to woo and develop relationships with the big Louisville-based companies. “We have some major corporations here,” he said, “like Yum! Brands, Brown-Forman, Humana and Papa John’s.”
The tent business was good. Evans was able to provide all manner of structure, from 100-square-foot frame and pole tents to massive 30,000-square-foot enclosures with side walls, parquet floors, lighting, heating, air conditioning, chandeliers, doors, windows, silk liners, audio systems, screens and projectors. But Evans began to see the benefit of offering more than just the tents for these events. He wanted to be a one-stop, all-in-one shop.
Last year, he bought The Rental Depot on Produce Road, one of Louisville’s biggest providers of tables, chairs, linens, tableware and party supplies. Now he oversees a company of 15 employees and annual revenues of about $2 million. But he thinks the potential is much greater than that.
“The renovated convention center and the new downtown hotels will bring all kinds of meeting business to Louisville,” he said. “And all the new distillery spaces will be used to host events. There’s already a proliferation of event spaces downtown. Everyone will need tents and event-management or at least party supplies.”
In 2004, a mutual friend introduced Evans to Krista Williams, who was working as a hostess at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse. They were married in 2006 and have two children: nine-year-old son Sean and six-year-old daughter Morgan. They own six acres in Simpsonville so the children have room to roam and explore, much like Evans himself did as a boy.
“They wander all over the property, chasing butterflies,” he said. That’s not exactly elephants and antelopes. But neither is it Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.
For Evans, it’s the American dream fulfilled. VT