If not for a musical, Mark Steiner would be in food.
Steiner had planned on pursuing culinary arts after high school, until he appeared in a production of “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.” Steiner dropped fancy food for acting, eventually combining both to co-found GigSalad.
The New Jersey native moved to New York City to chase his dream. But he had no interest in playing the starving artist, and he interviewed for an au pair job on New York’s tony Upper East Side. He didn’t get it, but his mother worked in movies and got Steiner his first gig.
Then the guy in charge of craft food service on “When Harry Met Sally” got fired, and Steiner took over. The “pizzazz” he showed led to more work, and he formed Steiner Craft Service.
The big break, however, eluded him. In hindsight, Steiner says he should have worked the waiter circuit while auditioning.
“I was looking to be discovered, because I was such a dashing young man with such great talent. None of those is true,” he says. “I did not become the Brad Pitt of New Jersey.”
Facing burn out, the now-married Steiner moved in 1994 with wife Allison, a Springfield native, to plant a church in Milford, Conn. eventually.
Steiner needed work. A friend with an agency offered him a job booking the Glenn Miller Orchestra. He stayed six years before launching his own outfit, Steiner Talent. In 2004, Steiner and his family relocated to the Ozarks.
Over the years, many performers called looking for help, and Steiner always offered free advice, because he remembered what it was like seeking the next gig. Eventually, event planners were contacting him, too.
“I just had years of relationships established,” Steiner says. “I was spending a whole lot of time trying to help people, and I was not monetizing it. I thought, there’s got to be a way to bring these two things together.”
Working with longtime friend and graphic designer Steve Tetrault, the duo dreamed up GigSalad, an online marketplace where service providers from actors to florists to limo drivers meet up with event planners across 600 categories. GigSalad officially launched in 2007 with its headquarters in Springfield and another office in Wilmington, N.C. Each month, 2,500 new members join.
Steiner is happy GigSalad has made the Inc. 5000 list twice, but he’d be happier with an Inc. 500 spot. His goal: a $100 million company.
“I’m the dreamer,” he says. “I’m the footloose, fancy-free guy. That’s where I live.”
It hasn’t been an easy place to inhabit. Steiner admits to a lifelong search for acceptance, one reason becoming rich and famous held so much appeal. Decades later, he now realizes he’s rich in ways that have nothing to do with money.
“I could die today and be really satisfied. And I haven’t made millions. I’m still not rich,” he says. “But how much better does it get?”
Even so, the performer lingers somewhere.
“I’m still very much a showman. I’m still a bigger-than-life kind of guy. I couldn’t shake that,” he says.
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