Jim Bucko - Managing Partner of the Society Room of Hartford

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 - Sales Manager

Paula Bucko

Sales Manager

I joined the sales team at The Society Room in 2017 and I can honestly say this is the most enjoyable job I have ever had. I work with the most amazing group of dedicated, talented and proud hospitality professionals. We are like minded in our goal to provide not just a well-executed event but a memorable experience.

For my part, I bring years of personal event planning experience for my family and friends. Additionally, I envisioned and executed successful fundraising events for my children’s schools. Add to that my time with the Society Room during in which I have worked with hundreds of corporate clients to help orchestrate their ideal business meeting, fundraising gala, graduation event, anniversary celebration, holiday party and so on.

I have also had the pleasure of working with our wedding couples. I love to see the wedding plans transform from words on paper into something truly magical. To play a small part in one of life’s milestone moments is truly a privilege.

I am so proud that as a company, and as a management team, we navigated the pandemic with grace, consideration and honesty. We came back stronger and more eager than ever to continue doing what we love to do.

Desmond Abdul - Director of Operations

Desmond Abdul

Director of Operations

Des has been with The Society Room for more than 14 years and is one of the company’s greatest assets. He began his career as a server, experienced every level of operations and worked his way up to his present role as Director of Operations. Needless to say, Desmond has flourished. 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 approaches each event with a humorous and charming touch while making it his personal duty to execute each and every detail. His goal is to exceed expectations at every turn. We are honored to have Desmond as a Member of our team and look forward to continuing our endeavors with him.

Melissa Sundholm - Wedding Sales Manager

Melissa Sundholm

Wedding Sales Manager

Melissa’s ongoing relationship with Riverhouse Hospitality started in January 2012 as an intern. She was officially hired as a Wedding Assist in April 2012, and has accepted all opportunities of growth within the company since. Melissa’s career in the hospitality industry actually 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 began 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 bachelor’s in business management, Melissa was promoted to Wedding Sales Managers 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.

Kelley Smith - Corporate Sales Manager at the Society Room of Hartford

Kelley Smith

Corporate Sales Manager

Kelley Smith brings 35 years of experience in the hospitality, event and catering industry to her current position as corporate sales manager at The Society Room of Hartford.

Kelley’s career began in 1987 at Water’s Edge Resort and Spa as a sales manager in catering. In 2004 Kelley served Pfizer as a meeting consultant where she offered support to planners and participants alike for events at five-star resorts across the U.S.

In June of 2007, Riverhouse Hospitality opened its very first event venue, The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station. Just weeks after opening, the position of corporate sales manager was created for Kelley. Due to her very impressive background in corporate, wedding and social events, Kelley was an asset from the start. Kelley’s high standard of customer service, attention to detail and natural ability to build strong relationships helped her to smoothly transition into the position of general manager, where she continued the quality of service for which The Riverhouse had become well known.

After seeing two sons off to college, Kelley took a break from the hospitality industry. Just a short time later, however, Kelley was sought out to rejoin the Riverhouse Hospitality team, this time lending her talents to The Society Room of Hartford. Here, she offers a fresh perspective and an unparalleled work ethic. Kelley focuses on overseeing and expanding the corporate sales market. She also extends her talents to showcasing the venue to prospective couples for their weddings – this happens to be the favorite part of her job!

Melissa Sobireski

Assistant Banquet Manager

I started working as a server at The Society Room of Hartford while completing my undergraduate degree in social work at Western Connecticut State University. This position was my first in the hospitality industry. I continued working at The Society Room while completing my MSW at Fordham University.

Eventually, I filled in as bridal attendant when needed on the weekends. Over time, I would occasionally be a Banquet Captain for the larger events. I’ll never forget the day I was offered the Assistant Banquet Manager position at The Society Room. It was during a “mock wedding”, and I couldn’t have been more excited. I’d come a long way from my first day on the job, which just so happened to be a New Year’s Eve wedding. I also help when needed at our sister venue, The Riverhouse at Goodspeed Station in Haddam.

It’s a great feeling introducing myself to the Bride and Groom at their final meeting and knowing that I get to be a part of such a special day in their lives.

Tim Benzing - Executive Chef

Tim Benzing

Executive Chef

I was born and raised in Centerville Ohio and as a young child, I learned to appreciate quality fresh foods, cooking and eating the produce grown in our family garden. With many family vacations to the coast of New England, my love of fresh seafood was born ultimately landing me at New England Culinary Institute where I studied culinary arts.

My culinary Journey took me to New Orleans to work with Chef Roland Huet who is considered one of the great chefs of New Orleans. Foraging mushrooms, making homemade vinegars and smoking soft shell crabs were just a few of the skills that he passed onto me. I next moved to Boston to work under Chef Frank McClelland at L’espalier where I was exposed to the highest quality ingredients I had ever seen or worked with. I continued to move around the country working for exceptional chefs, refining my skills before landing in Vermont where I took my first position as executive chef at Tucker Hill in the small ski town of Fayston. I used the skills I learned to create fresh and exciting menus using local Vermont and New England farm to table ingredients before it was trendy.

I came full circle and returned to New England Culinary Institute to become a chef instructor where I remained for twelve years helping to train and instruct future chefs before taking a position with Reel Hospitality as the corporate chef.
I am very excited to bring my experience and passion for culinary arts to the Society Room where I hope to create many wonderful meals and memorable experiences for years to come.

Stan Lebby - Sous Chef

Stan Lebby

Sous Chef

I was born and raised in New Britain, Connecticut and my earliest memory is Christmas dinner at grandma’s house where she somehow served the whole family comforting fresh food completely from scratch. Early on, cooking has been my passion and destiny. Between my grandma’s Christmas feast every year and my older sister encouraging and sometimes tricking me to cook for her, I saw how food could bring everyone together. I got started in the industry when I was 19 at a local sports bar chain here in Connecticut and immediately fell in love with the chaos that is the restaurant buiness.

From a local sports bar chain to full-service restaurants, my knowledge and passion grew. By the age of 23, I was a kitchen supervisor and certified trainer. At 25 I took a position as Chef de cuisine under local and regional Chef Zach Shuman and never looked back. At 27, I become Sous Chef at a well-respected local establishment under Corporate Chef Tim Benzing. Tim’s extensive knowledge, experience and skill continued to help me grow as a chef.

In March of 2022 I accepted a position here at The Society Room of Hartford as the Sous Chef. I am excited to provide my experience and imaginative culinary skills to create wonderful experiences and memorable meals for the foreseeable future.