Even though he grew up in Atlanta, Ryan Wilson never imagined that he would live in the city again after attending Georgetown University. While in college, Wilson was singularly focused on becoming a lawyer and likely having a career in Washington D.C.. That all changed in the summer of 2013 when he was back in Atlanta interning at a law firm in Buckhead. He, like many people, was glued to the coverage of the Trayvon Martin case. When George Zimmerman was found not guilty, the stunning verdict prompted Wilson to take his life in another direction.
Shortly after the verdict, Wilson received an email from a group of friends. The subject of the email was “What are we going to do?”. Wilson’s response to the email was a few paragraphs long and essentially outlined his ideas for what would become The Gathering Spot less than three years later.
“From that minute forward, I worked day in and day out to make the club a reality,” Wilson said.
Wilson’s idea behind The Gathering Spot was to have a private club where creative thinkers in all industries and from all backgrounds can gather to discuss bold ideas, grow their business and expand personal relationships. Wilson says that in the history of private clubs, the two groups that have not been overly represented are black people and women. The Gathering Spot has a diverse membership of all ethnic backgrounds ranging in age from 21 to 88.
Getting the club from an idea to the 25,000 square foot location in Atlanta was no small challenge. Initial estimates of a million dollars in capital quickly escalated to nearly $3 million. Ryan said he and his business partner and college roommate, TK Peterson, were denied investment 97 times before someone agreed with their vision for the club. Surprisingly, Wilson said his confidence grew with each negative response. He knew in his heart that the plan was sound, and he also knew it was unique because nobody else was willing to take the risk to help it get off the ground.
Looking back on it at 30-years-old and married with a child, Wilson says he does not know if he would have the stomach right now for taking a $3 million dollar gamble like he did in his mid 20s. He credits his parents for giving him the entrepreneurial spirit he needed at the time. They built a large company from the ground up when he was a child. He also recognizes the many other successful black businesspeople and community leaders who set a great example for him growing up in Atlanta. Being so young and hungry, Wilson and Peterson worked around the clock when the club first opened, and membership steadily grew.
The Gathering Spot played host to thousands of events from 2015-2020. The events featured many popular musical artists, plus appearances by President Biden and Vice President Harris. Everything came to a screeching halt in early 2020 when the Coronavirus pandemic hit and the club was forced to shut down for a couple of months. Wilson admits that his confidence was briefly shook when his life’s work was called “The Gathering Spot” and the message from government and health officials was “you cannot gather.”
He and his team quickly pivoted to ways to engage members without physically meeting as they had done for the first five years the club was open. Members appreciated those efforts and the many others they took to safely reopen the club last summer. The idea that the club could survive a pandemic and flourish is a testament to the fact that the business is about so much more than the huge physical space featuring a bar and restaurant, meeting rooms, workspace, and a large area for events. At it’s core, Wilson believes that The Gathering Spot is about community above all else.
‘We’re in the community business more than anything else and while there would have to be a setting change (during the pandemic) and we were going to have to go home and do things differently, the purpose of what we came here to do is connect people and that couldn’t be cancelled,” Wilson said.
The Gathering Spot became even more firmly entrenched in the Atlanta community during the turbulent summer of 2020. The club opened its doors to organizers looking to make positive societal changes amid civil unrest. Even as the pandemic drags on, membership continues to grow, and Wilson and Peterson are expanding into the Washington D.C. and Los Angeles markets with new clubs opening soon.