Management

Jim Bucko:
Managing Partner

I was born and raised in Merrillville Indiana and moved my family to Haddam Connecticut in 2006 to join my 3 partners to create and develop Riverhouse Properties LLC and The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station Inc. I am the managing partner for the business operations for The Riverhouse, The Society Room of Hartford and Riverhouse Catering.

For the past 27 years I have been involved in food service and hospitality. I am a graduate of Purdue University with a bachelor’s degree in restaurant, hospitality and institutional management.

I started in the foodservice business at age 15 cooking breakfast at Ma’s Diner before school. I have always had a passion for the hospitality business especially catering and specifically weddings!

My experience has been gathered from several positions in the hospitality business such as General Manager of Sails Cafe restaurant on the shore of Lake Michigan and one of Indiana’s oldest private Country Clubs, Innsbrook Country Club but the majority of my experience coming from my time with White Lodging Services. I held different positions such as Banquet Manager, Director of Catering, Director of Food and Beverage, Hotel General Manager and Director of Engineering. It is also important to note that I have also worked in nearly every food service position there is, dishwasher, line cook, busboy, waiter, bartender. This was extremely important as it taught me the inner workings of the business.

During my tenure with While Lodging Service I spent the majority of my time at a 347 room Presidential Star award winning Radisson Hotel which has 35,000 square feet of banquet space and an attached 3200 seat performance Theatre, The Star Plaza. I enjoyed catering to the performers…..Don Henley, BB King, Ted Nugent, Jerry Sienfeld, Christina Aguilera to name a few. We also hosted The Miss USA pageant where our catering operations were responsible for 90% of the events for the pageant and the contestants over the course of 2 weeks. I was fortunate enough to learn how to provide service to clients with extremely high expectations. I am able to use that knowledge and provide it to our clients in our company.

I feel my greatest talent is finding exceptional people to work with. The management staff in our company, I feel, is the finest in New England. We hold ourselves to extremely high standards and it shows…….just ask our clients!

Paula Bucko:
Corporate Sales Manager

“This is the best party ever!” “This is unbelievable!” I have heard this and more in my 15 years of planning events for friends and family. “I would have never thought of that.” Well I did, and I do. I thrive on taking an idea or theme to the extreme. Every detail, every element carefully planned from the invitation, the décor, food, music, attire, flow… right through to the thank-you notes. I absolutely love it!

In addition to parties, I have conceived of, organized and executed successful fundraising events at my children’s schools. Whether it be a soup luncheon bringing community and local restaurants together to dine on varieties of donated soups and breads, or a marketplace at which local crafters and artisans share their labors with eager buyers, I have been successful.

I worked within the hospitality and tourism industries for five years. I was fortunate to be part of the opening management team for a state-of-the-art, one-of-a-kind welcome center in Northwest Indiana. As Director of Visitor Services I was charged with “building” the gift shop including fixtures, stocking retail items and local artisans’ works for consignment sales, staffing and POS implementation. The welcome center staff and I organized sightseeing tours using the full-color, 48-page visitor’s guide for which I procured the advertising and aided in the content, layout and design.

I am thrilled at the opportunity to join the corporate sales team here at The Society Room where I will continue to apply my talents at organization, vision, and attention to detail. Let’s plan a party together!

Cecelia Han,
Director Of Operations

When I accepted the position as Director of Operations in 2009, at the Hartford Society Room I did so with the confidence that my extensive background in the food service industry would serve me well. As a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. I have the formal training necessary for the job. Equally valuable, in my mind, is the 36 plus years of on the job experience I bring with me. Not only have I owned and operated my own Catering company in Boston, S &S Fine Foods, I have also served in various assignments in restaurants, hotels, private schools, and other high–end catering companies.

Immediately preceding my tenure here at the Society Room, I served as Director of Operations for Jordan Caterers & Event Planners of Cheshire, CT. This involved the management of many corporate events & galas, among them the New Britain Museum Gala, the Amistad Center for Arts & Culture Gala, and the Juneteenth Wadsworth Athenaeum Gala.

Since my arrival here at the Society Room, I have overseen major corporate and fundraising events, large political gatherings, and at least 500 weddings to date.
My personal and professional philosophy is simple: To see that every event, be it a company breakfast for 20 people, a wedding for 250 people, or a gala for 1000, has the same positive outcome. Every guest that leaves the Society Room should feel that they have just received the very best that our facility has to offer.

Desmond Abdul,
Banquet Manager

With over 12 years of experience, Desmond Abdul has flourished within our company. His ability to work under pressure and still provide superb quality of service is remarkable. His passion for the food industry goes beyond business. He makes it his personal duty to execute each and every detail of the client’s request. He started working as a server and gradually worked his way up until he was given the opportunity to become the Assistant Banquet Manager. With that being said, Desmond has experienced all levels of operations. Desmond’s number one goal has always been to exceed the expectations of our clients. He has been an asset to the Society Room of Hartford because of his ability to make every event an experience of a lifetime. He adds his humorous, flamboyant and charming touch to make our clients experience memorable. We are honed to have Desmond as a member of our team and look forward to continue our endeavors with him.

Stefan Drago,
Corporate Executive Chef

I was born and raised in Granby, Connecticut, and have taken my career from Connecticut to Nashville, Tennessee and back again. I acquired my Bachelors Degree in Music at Belmont University while working the gamut of food service and operations in local Tennessee restaurants. With my music and culinary background tied together, I have not only musically performed with county music celebrities like Josh Turner, and Dean Sams of Lonestar, but also cooked my way into the CMT Video Awards After Party in 2002 and 2003 hosting country artists including Diamond Rio, Kenny Chesney and Brad Paisley.

With my natural ability to prepare food for guests from two to two thousand, I refined my culinary skills in some of the Nashville area’s finest restaurants including Chef’s Market Café and Criallo’s Bistro. My success continued back in Connecticut, where I consistently pleased guests as the Sous Chef at Trumbull Kitchen and soon after as the Catering Chef for The Bushnell Center for The Performing Arts with the Max Restaurant Group.

My culinary, organizational and production skills brought me to The Society Room of Hartford, where I continue to challenge myself to be a leader in culinary creativity & production at Hartford’s most beautiful catering facility. I pride myself in bringing restaurant quality food to a catering setting.

“I knew we had found a unique chef with Stefan” said General Manager Jim Bucko. “I knew Stefan was talented from a creation and large scale production stand point but I was even more impressed with Stefan when he was one of 6 Connecticut chefs to prepare and present a signature dish at the CPTV, Farm to Table event at The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station. Stefan was among the State’s top chefs and in the strong opinion of the 100 plus guests who attended the event, it was Stefan’s hors d oeuvres and entrée that topped the favorite list for the evening.”

After three years at The Society Room of Hartford, I was given the challenge of opening up Riverhouse Properties newest facility Belle Terrace at Avon at Avon Old Farms, which also houses the production for Riverhouse Catering. This was a great learning experience for me. In that time I was not only able to be a part of the beginnings of Riverhouse Catering’s partnerships with both Priam Vineyards, and The Palace Theatre in Waterbury, but also I was able to manage the Goodspeed Opera House 50th Anniversary Gala, one of the largest events of my career to date!

I am very excited after two years in Avon to be “back home” here at The Society Room of Hartford. I believe it is very important to use only the highest quality ingredients Connecticut has to offer, to prepare meals that not only would I be proud to serve to my family, but also to present to your guests for that special occasion.

Traci Pessina,
Corporate Sales Manager

I think I always knew I wanted to be in the hospitality industry as I started working in restaurants in high school and I just had an act for organizing plans and events with family and friends. Once it was time to really think about my career I just knew I needed to work with people while being able to showcase my love for planning and coordinating events. I graduated from Johnson & Wales University with a Bachelor Degree in Sports/Entertainment/Event Management. As I had many different types of classes I knew I needed to start my career in the wedding industry as I was very passionate about being there for couples on one of their most important days of their lives. I was fortunate enough to get right into my career right after college where I worked for 10 years selling, planning, and coordinating weddings.

As we know in the hospitality industry there are so many different types of events and career avenues you can take, so after some time I decided I wanted to venture into another aspect of event planning. With my passion for learning and using my experience I was fortunate again to get connected with The Society Room of Hartford and Riverhouse Hospitality. I have been in my current position as one of the Corporate Sales Managers for almost two years and I felt right away this was the right position for me. I am so proud to be part of an amazing team of professionals while working in a beautiful unique venue. Now I am able to take my experience and passion and help Corporate and Non for Profit Groups plan their events from meetings to receptions, galas, fundraisers and make them one to remember!

Melissa Vailette,
Wedding Sales Manager

Melissa’s on going relationship with Riverhouse Hospitality, LLC started in January 2012 as an intern than hired as a Wedding Assist in April 2012, and has accepted all opportunities of growth within the company since. However, Melissa’s career in the hospitality industry commenced at a young age helping her parent’s setup and clean a hall for rentals. As Melissa wanted to earn a paycheck of her own, she started bussing and answering phones at a local restaurant in her hometown. It wasn’t until Melissa begun working at a new restaurant that she fell in love with the industry. The laughter from the bar, chatter at dinner tables, and dishes in the kitchen were music to her ears.

After applying what she learned at the restaurants and graduating from Southern Connecticut State University with a Bachelors in Business Management; Melissa was prompted to one of two (2) Wedding Sales Managers at The Society Room at The Society Room of Hartford. Over the years, Melissa has been an asset in keeping couples calm, problem solving and making sure all those small details come alive. In her spare time, you can find her planning, executing and hosting her own dinner parties.

Jillian McCarthy,
Wedding Sales Manager

Jillian McCarthy is the Wedding Sales Manager at The Society Room of Hartford. Jillian has been with Riverhouse Hospitality full time since January 2016 and joins us from a background of experiences from across the company and the country. Jillian received her Bachelor of Arts in Communication and a Minor in Business Fundamentals from The University of Connecticut Storrs Campus in May 2015. Her event planning career began as a Wedding Sales Intern for the Mystic Marriott Hotel & Spa in the summer of 2013. It was here that Jillian learned the practice of long days and hectic business hours, splitting her time between both Sales and Operations. Jillian was introduced to the Riverhouse Hospitality team when she became the Wedding Sales Intern at The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in the summer of 2014. In the second semester of her senior year, Jillian then signed on as the Office Assistant at The Society Room of Hartford where she worked for 5 months. Jillian started full time as the Assistant Wedding Sales Manager & Social Sales Manager at The Society Room of Hartford for 14 months then at The Riverhouse for the last 7 months.

Throughout her undergraduate career Jillian planned events through the campus programming boards and community involvement. She learned to work with a diverse student body hosting events for 2,000 attendees to 20 attendees. Jillian also had the opportunity to work off-site catering events with PepsiCo throughout college. Hosting private parties for PepsiCo’s Top Sales Executives from around the world in The New York City Museum of Natural History and Manhattan’s Hard Rock Café, Jillian learned she was able to handle the chaos and rush of large and unique events, but loved the stationary venue side of the hospitality industry.

Post-graduation, Jillian moved to Chicago, IL for a full time Event Planning position with NOAH’S Event Venue where she worked for four months doing both Sales and Operations. In December of 2015 Jillian moved back to rejoin the Riverhouse Hospitality team.