WICKER PARK — Inside Wicker Park’s new Exchange 312 event venue, vibrant green garden walls clash against white-washed exposed brick. Dr. Seuss-esque flower arrangements top a 38-seat table.
Every detail inside has a purpose, said Matt Woodburn and Sarah Neukom, co-owners of the new spot at 1714 W. Division St. They’re also the duo behind ESP Presents — a boutique event planning firm with an expansive client list that includes Lululemon and the Alzheimer’s Association.
Their new project, Exchange 312, will open in late April in Wicker Park as a 2,550-square-foot customizable event venue equipped with a private boardroom, bar and more.
The couple envision it as a family-friendly spot for events ranging from corporate gatherings to bridal showers to neighborhood meetings. There’s also a white wall for everything from art installations to film screenings.
Woodburn and Neukom are also partners in real life; they live down the block in an apartment with their bull dog, Gracie.
During a preview event at Exchange 312, Neukom took a sip from a cocktail called “Rosy Outlook” — vodka, cherry blossom tea, rose syrup, aperol and lemon — and explained her mantra behind event planning.
“We do our job, so you can do yours,” she said.
Locals will likely recognize Woodburn and Neukom from their days at Chop Shop, a restaurant, bar and event venue Woodburn co-founded in 2013 at 2033 W. North Ave.
Chop Shop is known for its butcher shop as well as for an array of community-oriented events, from the indoor Wicker Park Farmer’s Market to the Wicker Park/Bucktown Wellness Days to local bocce ball league gatherings.
Neukom joined Woodburn’s staff as director of sales and events from 2013-2016. The two fell in love — both romantically, and in the professional sense.
Woodburn’s background in audio and visual production complemented her expertise in nonprofit event management, Neukom said.
“We are like yin and yang,” she said.
In 2014, the duo pursued a dream of opening their own event planning firm — one that would allow them to both “give back” while running a successful company, Neukom said.
They formed ESP Presents (ESP stands for Experience, Strategy, Purpose).
The company had humble origins; the couple ran it out of their North Avenue apartment and employed one full-time staffer, who worked at a card table.
That year, ESP Presents landed its first client in the Kennedy Forum, a group dedicated to improving Americans’ access to mental health resources.
What began as a Chicago-based symposium with a guest list of 300 quickly catapulted to a 1,000-person summit, Neukom said.
Today, ESP Presents employs six full-time staffers. “After Dark,” one of the firm’s largest regular events, invites more than 1,000 people to the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago to experience live art installations, large-scale video projections, craft cocktails, and listen to up-and-coming bands and musicians; alumni include, Dan Black, Gavin Turek, The Cool Kids and Twinsmith.
ESP Presents’ nonprofit client list has grown to include the Primo Center for Women and Children, a group helping vulnerable families on Chicago’s West Side. They’re also planning the 25th annual gala for LISC Chicago, a group that connects residents with resources on a neighborhood-by-neighborhood level.
With Exchange 312, Woodburn said the company can plan and host smaller, more intimate events.
“Opening a venue has been part of our growth vision since day one,” Woodburn said. “It’s the perfect opportunity to invite people into our world, treat them with the utmost level of hospitality and create an experience that they’ll want to share with friends and family for years to come.”
While Exchange 312 will play host to a variety of events and big-name clients, Neukom said it’s important to her that the space becomes a part of the Wicker Park community.
She said she hopes locals feel comfortable dropping in to chat or discuss events. Locals, she added, will have access to a “neighborhood discount” on the space.
“We want our neighbors to know who we are and what we’re about,” she said. “We’re just Matt and Sarah, entrepreneurs who live in Chicago.”