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Farm Fresh

The Blue Heron

The Blue Heron offers a striking setting inside Sunderland’s 148-year-old former Town Hall.

The menu at the Blue Heron Restaurant & Catering lists more than 25 farms in Western Mass. that supply the Sunderland restaurant with fresh meat, produce, and dairy products. Co-owner Deborah Snow says that’s just an extension of what she learned as a child growing up on a farm in Ohio.

“I came from a food family — today they would be called foodies,” she said. “They were from agricultural backgrounds. I lived on a farm until I was 2; my parents were farmers who loved to eat good food. They had experimental tastes for that time, even though we didn’t have access to a lot of global cuisine back then. They were great cooks; my mother was a pastry chef.”

Though the phrase ‘farm to table’ hadn’t yet been coined, “that was the roots of my family; you ate what was fresh,” Snow went on. “It was all oriented to seasons. I don’t remember having tomatoes in the house if it wasn’t tomato season. My family wouldn’t eat corn if it wasn’t picked that morning. It’s just how I grew up.”

As a child, Snow fantasized about owning a restaurant, but chose instead to study art history and photography in college, aiming for a career in art and, in the early ’80s, landing a photography exhibition for the United Nations.

“But I’ve worked in the restaurant industry since I was 14,” she added, with an aunt and uncle who ran a diner and another aunt and uncle with a catering business. Years later, that experience led her to shift her career focus. “When you’re a struggling artist, you need to get money somewhere, and one day I said, ‘I can actually make more money in the food business.’”

Still, she found that the food world was no hindrance to her goal of being an artist — it simply represented a different kind of art.

“I found a great deal of creativity in being a chef,” she told BusinessWest, but she didn’t want to own her own business at first, working instead for a large catering company in Boston. “That’s where I feel I really grew in knowledge. The best teacher is just getting in and doing it.”

Her many different forays into the culinary world convinced her that her passion truly lay there, she explained, adding that passion is a must to succeed in such a challenging industry. “Everyone wants to be a chef until they understand how grueling it is. And the financial rewards are not like being an IT person. It’s not like creating code.”

After running a small restaurant in Boston, she moved to Western Mass. and worked as the prepared food manager at Bread and Circus, then took catering jobs with Amherst College and Northfield Mount Hermon School, where she met her eventual partner in business and in life, Barbara White.

Taking the Leap

White took a similarly circuitous route into food service. She began her career as an elementary-school teacher, worked in an alternative school in the 1970s for a few years, moved to Massachusetts, and ran community-based mental-health programs for teenagers. At Northfield Mount Hermon School, where she worked first as a campus dean and later as director of parent programs, she decided to launch a catering business with Snow, which led to the Blue Heron.

“She was an educator and administrator, but she always had this desire to be in the hospitality business, so that’s what we did,” Snow said, adding that the restaurant initially opened on the banks of the Sawmill River in Montague in 1997 and quickly caught on with the dining public.

Deborah Snow

Deborah Snow says the Blue Heron was focused on locally sourced food long before it became an industry buzzword.

“People thought we were crazy,” she went on. “There’s a bookstore there whose motto is ‘books you don’t need in a place you can’t find.’ And we were not easily found — but we were successful. As one baker who was interested in doing business with us said, ‘if you’re successful here, you could really be successful anywhere.’”

With the customer base growing, Snow and White went looking for a new, larger location, and found an ideal spot in the Old Town Hall in Sunderland, which had fallen into disuse for almost a decade. After purchasing the property from the city for $1 and undertaking an extensive remodeling job, the Blue Heron reopened in 2004.

“It’s a great thing that towns are willing to do that with buildings that are burdensome to them,” Snow said. “It’s an old public building, and we found a way to reuse it. It was getting damaged, and there were leaks, and it was obvious the town didn’t want to keep it. We fit the profile of what they wanted to see — something that would increase their tax base and also bring people to the area, which we do.”

Built in 1867 to house the Sunderland town offices and grammar school, the building has served myriad municipal functions over the years. The first floor and basement were remodeled in the 1940s, but the second floor retains its original construction, including the Great Room’s pressed-tin walls and ceilings.

To White and Snow, the building was a satisfying challenge, since they already shared a love for old structures. “Barbara and I live in a house built in the late 1820s, early 1830s, and we’re in the process of working on that,” Snow said. “We love the character of an old building; we love the reuse.”

She talked with BusinessWest in the bar area, which used to be a small basketball court that doubled as a function area for various town activities. “Customers say, ‘I used to play ball here, and my daughter did ballet upstairs.’ We hear wonderful stories.”

Now, the partners are hoping to create new memories for diners through fresh, eclectic food in a striking, historic setting.

“Our motto is ‘globally inspired, locally sourced.’ I traveled a lot as a photographer, as did Barbara.” Her experience with the UN led Snow to the Middle East and Far East, where she always sought out local cuisine, not fare aimed at American tourists. “They really opened their hearts. I wanted to create food from the tastes I had around the world.”

When the Blue Heron first opened, however, exotic ingredients were harder to find than they are in 2015, when even the most Americanized grocery stores carry a wide range of Asian, Indian, and Middle Eastern sauces and spices. However, while the ‘globally inspired’ aspect of their philosophy has evolved with the greater choices available today, the ‘locally sourced’ aspect was strong from the start.

“The meat for our burgers comes from Foxbard Farm, 20 miles away; it’s all grass-fed,” Snow said. “We go that extra mile and spend more money on all our meats than many restaurants. We’re not only doing that now; we were the only ones doing that when we opened. That’s our commitment, and for us, that never changes.”

It also provides incentive to change the menu seasonally; rather than tomatoes and corn and berry-centric desserts, the fall and winter will see increased usage of potatoes, carrots, parsnips, turnips, and kale.

Moving On Up

While she no longer cooks on a nightly basis, Snow remains active in designing the menu, and she relishes the challenge of party bookers who request traditional ethnic dishes, from Indian to Mexican to Chinese.

“I love all those foods,” she said. “For one wedding, the groom was from India, and the bride was from around here. They wanted me to do a lamb biryani. I hadn’t made it before, but I studied, went out and tasted some, and made it for their wedding. They said it was the best they’d ever had.”

That kind of response, Snow said, is gratifying, and begins with a philosophy that fresh, local food beats freezers and powders — and it has helped her and White carve out one of Franklin County’s tastiest success stories.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Holiday Party Planner Sections
Restaurants, Banquet Facilities Anticipate Busy Holiday Season

Ruby Meng

Ruby Meng says many companies pulled back on holiday parties during the recession, but they’re coming back now.

It was clear to Erin Corriveau that the corporate holiday party was back when a past client called to book a December get-together — in April.

“The days fly off — there are only so many Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights” between Thanksgiving and the New Year, considered prime holiday-party season, said Corriveau, catering and events manager at Lattitude in West Springfield. “We had a few people book very early — but you can never actually book a date too early. They do run out quickly.”

In fact, Corriveau said, Lattitude’s new banquet room — which opened last November and allowed the restaurant to handle much larger parties than before — was completely booked two months ago for every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evening in December.

“A lot of companies have been with us for many years — well over 10 years — and they tend to book year after year,” added Ruby Meng, director of sales at the Hotel Northampton, which has also experienced robust holiday-season reservations this year.

“We’re booked pretty solid on weekends, and weekdays are starting to get close. People are looking to do gatherings and holiday parties, and they’ve also inquired about holiday brunches, a little earlier in the daytime. It’s a creative way to capture more of their employees, who may be busy in the evening or on weekends.

“We’re doing pretty well,” she added, noting that many businesses pulled back on entertainment budgets during the Great Recession, but most are returning. “Companies are bouncing back. A few years back was tough, but we are seeing more companies opening up and being more generous, doing giveaways, raffles, things like that for their employees.”

Robin Ann Brown, director of sales at the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst, said holiday gatherings are popular, but not always under that moniker. “A lot of companies are calling them ‘annual events’ or ‘awards banquets,’ versus an actual holiday party.”

She said the industry hasn’t completely recovered from the drop in sales during the recession, simply because many companies that cut parties from the budget haven’t put them back in, even though times are better.

Still, according to Jennifer Marion, assistant director of events for the Willits-Hallowell Center at Mount Holyoke College, business has picked up this year, and companies are starting to spend more money.

“One party with a menu already confirmed for December is doing clams on the half shell, baked stuffed lobster … they’re definitely choosing more elaborate menus that, in the past, their budgets wouldn’t have allowed them to do.”

What’s also changing is what style of party companies are seeking out. For this issue’s focus on holiday party planning, BusinessWest looks into the current trends, and why this season has so many restaurants and banquet facilities feeling merry indeed.

Stand or Sit?

Most area facilities are reporting a definite shift away from sit-down dinners in favor of cocktail parties, food stations, and passed hors d’ouevres, which encourage people to mingle and interact.

“One of the trends we’ve been seeing is stations instead of a true-sit down — chef carvings, high-end hors d’ouevres, passed wine, passed hot cocoa with peppermint Schnapps,” Brown said. “And a lot of people are doing more chamber music or jazz bands than dancing music.”

“We’re getting both,” Meng said. “More people are starting to inquire about station packages, moving toward a cocktail style. People are getting a little more creative, too, maybe bringing in a comedian or activities to keep people entertained. And, of course, bands and dancing, those are a given.”

Added Marion, “we can do either a long cocktail party with a lot of hand-passed hors d’ouevres or stations, or do a bigger, full sit-down meal. Buffets are most popular right now; they give people more choices. But, if it’s a more formal group, they tend to go more with a served meal.”

Corriveau said it’s important to be flexible because of all the different party preferences in the business world — and at Lattitude, that flexibility extends to the site of the party.

“A lot of business parties are held on site, but we also do off-site deliveries and catering,” she noted, adding that the day and location of business parties often depends on the size of the company. “Monday through Wednesday, the crowd tends to be smaller businesses, versus the larger companies that tend to take up the weekend dates. Or, if businesses want a typical potluck lunch but don’t feel like getting dressed up and going somewhere, we can bring a holiday party to them on company premises.”

Like others we spoke with, Corriveau has seen a shift away from formal, seated dinners. “We used to do more sit-down affairs, and businesses can certainly do that, but more companies that are booking parties want their employees to enjoy themselves, to mix and mingle and socialize. We do a lot more of the social, passed-appetizer type of party. When you’re home having a Christmas party, everyone is moving around, and that’s the feel they’re going for. We’re still doing sit-down parties, but people seem to be moving away from that.”

Companies are also increasingly moving away from Saturday nights and asking for Thursday and Friday reservations, Brown said. “Family time is limited, so a lot of companies choose not to do it on weekend nights, so people can spend time with their families at home.”

Creating Traditions

With many of these trends consistent across the industry, how do the area’s many banquet facilities set themselves apart among fierce competition? In the Lord Jeff’s case, it’s emphasizing the facility’s embrace of the holiday season and its traditions.

“People gravitate toward the Lord Jeffery Inn because we’re an historic inn, and holidays have that historic tradition about it. The Lord Jeff speaks tradition,” Brown said, citing, as examples, a Sunday brunch with Santa, high tea on Saturdays, and carolers on Friday nights.

“Those are the traditions the inn has put in place since we renovated, and people have been very receptive. During the holidays, we’re extremely busy.”

The inn can accommodate both large and small gatherings, she added. “A lot of companies don’t have large holiday parties, so for parties of, say, six to 12, we’ll do smaller events in our beautiful greenhouse room, where you can see it snowing right on the roof, and fireplaces all around. When companies don’t want to spend money on large events, the greenhouse room holds up to 18.”

She said the nostalgic holiday appeal of the facility is reflected even in its twinkling seasonal lights, which are visible from the Commons in downtown Amherst, making the Lord Jeffery Inn an attractive option for parties of all sizes.

“Even if companies are not going to do a full dinner, they might take out the board of directors or top employees for a dinner for 20,” she explained. “They like the carolers on Friday, and the high tea. People drive over an hour to come to high tea; again, it’s a holiday tradition.”

Lattitude believes its new banquet facility is fast becoming a regional tradition.

“Prior to the banquet room, we had a smaller room, and we’d certainly get smaller holiday-party requests,” Corriveau said. “But since adding the banquet room last year, we’ve had our share of larger parties. We were full every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday in December two months ago. People were calling early. We even had somebody book a holiday party this past April.”

The new space boasts a private bar, sandblasted brick walls, and steel beams, and is “very much a reflection of the restaurant,” she said, adding that it holds about 120 seated and up top 150 standing.

“A lot of people are just learning about it. It’s literally where Memo’s used to be in this building,” Corriveau said. “Unless they’re walking in it, they don’t realize it’s there. All of a sudden, they walk in and ask, ‘what is this?’ We do a lot of business parties, weddings, bridal showers, rehearsal dinners, bereavements, a lot of events. It’s warm and inviting. That’s the number-one thing people say when they walk into that room.”

Easy Pickings

Jen Marion

Jen Marion says the Willits-Hallowell Center can provide any type of party setup, but buffets are most popular right now.

Inviting is certainly a trait banquet facilities are aiming for, but so is convenience.

“We’ve done parties for a church group, insurance companies … parties ranging in size from 30 people to as many as 100,” Marion said of her facility on the scenic Mount Holyoke campus. “We have holiday packages, including hors d’ouevres, dinner, dessert, and coffee, and we’re happy to customize that for people with select menus and décor. You pick a menu and let the guests know, and we do the rest. It makes it easy in terms of planning. Usually one consultation appointment with me, and it’s over.”

Well, except for the actual party, that is. The season for celebrating is only beginning.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Holiday Party Planner Sections
‘The Castle’ Focuses on Details That Make a Difference

David Sarrasin

David Sarrasin says he aims to meet the dietary needs of vegans, vegetarians, gluten-free diners, and guests with food allergies.

People who aren’t familiar with Chicopee might be surprised to learn the city, and specifically Memorial Drive, is home to a large castle, complete with two towers and parapets that line the edge of its roof.

Large lanterns on the building cast light into a parking lot with enough space for 400 vehicles, and massive doors open into a 10,000-square-foot Grand Ballroom illuminated by sparkling chandeliers and an enormous stone fireplace that burns brightly throughout every season of the year.

This building, owned by the Fairview Knights of Columbus Council No. 4044, has an interesting history, said the group’s treasurer, Ronald Belair. He noted that what is now known as the Castle of Knights Meeting & Banquet House, which hosts hundreds of functions each year, was once a strip mall that was home to a number of small, but well-known businesses.

But over the past three decades, it has been completely transformed, and today events staged there include chamber of commerce functions, banquets, weddings, bridal showers, baby showers, 16th-birthday parties, quinceañeras, anniversaries, and church functions.

Businesses also use it for meetings that run from a few hours to three or four days. “Our facility has wi-fi connectivity and state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment,” said Belair. “The entire building is on one level and is handicapped-accessible.”

It has become a tradition for many groups to hold their holiday parties there, and they are often booked a year in advance by companies and social-service agencies alike.

“People come back year after year, and we also have five companies that wait until January to hold their Christmas parties,” said Sales Manager Sandi LaFleche, citing a growing trend. She added that Chicopee Savings, the Arbors, Shriners Hospital for Children, and Hulmes Transportation number among the firms that choose the Castle for their annual holiday gatherings.

The Fairview Knights of Columbus established the Castle as a separate corporation 25 years ago, said Belair, and went about creating something that would be unique.

“When it was formed, we wanted it to stand out, so we changed the entire façade of the building — we put turrets at each end of the banquet hall to give it the look of a real castle, and had the roof designed to look like a moat,” he said. “It is a very unique, elegant facility that is lavishly decorated, and we do our best to treat our guests like kings and queens.”

In addition to this unusual setting, he stressed that the castle emphasizes attention to detail and a willingness to go the extra mile to meet client requests.

For example, it’s not unusual for Executive Chef David Sarrasin to prepare gluten-free meals, along with dishes for vegans, vegetarians, and people with celiac disease at a function in which the other guests are all eating the same food.

“Over the past five years, a growing number of people have been diagnosed with food allergies or put on strict diets,” he said. “We are very conscious of taking care of the needs of our guests, and we want people to be able to come to the Castle, enjoy a meal, and not worry about getting sick, so our menu has evolved considerably over the years.”

Moat Point

What visitors to the Castle see today is the result of a long and slow process of evolution, said Belair.

It began when the Fairview K of C purchased the strip mall at 1599 Memorial Dr. 35 years ago. At that time, a large storefront, which had housed a Big Y, was vacant, but the mall contained many other tenants who had leases that had to be honored. They included Giovanni’s Pizza, Dress Barn, Ray’s Hardware, Lewis & Clark Drugstore, Ray’s Barber Shop, and Rip’s Lounge, which was a popular watering hole frequented by those stationed at nearby Westover Air Force Base.

“The K of C purchased the mall to be its home — we moved from a very small facility on Montcalm Street into the space that had been occupied by Big Y, and over time we slowly renovated it to accommodate our own functions,” Belair said, noting that it was the organization’s third move, and after the former supermarket was gutted, two halls and a large kitchen were created in the space.

As the leases expired for neighboring tenants, the K of C slowly took over the empty storefronts, and Lewis & Clark and Rip’s Lounge were converted into a members’ lounge and meeting facility. As more space continued to open, again due to expired leases, the K of C allowed charitable organizations, ranging from its own youth association to Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops, to use it free of charge.

“But as time went on, a growing number of organizations began to contact us because they wanted to host functions in our hall,” he went on. “So the K of C formed a for-profit corporation that we called the Castle. It allowed us to provide services to the general public.”

At that point, the K of C hall was typical of what people would expect to find at a similar organization. “It had been used for our functions, and featured a wagon-wheel chandelier and red carpeting, which were popular at the time. Although it was attractive, we needed to bring it to another level,” said Belair, adding that the Knights wanted to provide an atmosphere that could compete with other banquet facilities.

Ronald Belair, with Sandi LaFleche

Ronald Belair, with Sandi LaFleche, says the building’s castle design was intended to make it stand out.

So, in addition to changing the façade of the building, an elegant interior with a more formal ambience was designed, which included large, crystal-style chandeliers. Space was also designated and used for offices, bathrooms, and storage and stock areas.

Eight years ago, a second major renovation was completed, which included new carpeting, dance floors, soundproof walls, drapes, and tastefully decorated restrooms that can accommodate up to a dozen people.

The Castle, which leases the space from the K of C, can accommodate groups of 40 to 700 people, and two functions can be held at the same time, thanks to soundproof room dividers.

“We have some of the largest dance floors in Western Mass., and each hall has its own bridal suite, which can also be rented separately for small, corporate meetings,” Belair told BusinessWest. “The rooms are large enough to accommodate live bands, and each hall also has its own stage for entertainers. We also have three large, full-service bars, and groups can choose a cash bar or from a variety of open-bar options.”

Belair said the Castle also boasts its own in-house florist, Flowers by Rebecca. “She is always available to create special items or honor special requests for weddings or wedding parties,” he said. “But our hall is decorated for every season, and we have floral displays on the walls as well as the mantel of the fireplace, which allows clients to save money if they don’t want something custom-tailored for their event.

“We also have a vast array of linen colors and chair covers,” he continued, adding that a full-time sales team, banquet manager, executive chef, and four additional cooks, as well as kitchen staff, make it possible to please every guest.

Focus on Food

Sarrasin is known for his artistic creations, which include ice sculptures of swans, enormous baskets, and even a Waterford crystal egg. They take hours to complete, but an equal amount of time is spent preparing unusual international cheese platters and fruit and vegetable crudités, as well as antipastos that are up to 4 ½ feet long.

“We also create rustic displays with different types of bread, cheese, and antipastos in baskets and on platters,” he said. “The presentation of food is very important to us, and people often tell us they have never seen anything like our food displays anywhere except on cruise ships. It’s what I wanted to do — create something to set us apart from everyone else. I wanted to create a ‘wow’ factor because it’s needed in this industry.”

The menu features a vast array of choices, although the main fare is French nouveau cuisine. “We offer buffets with carving and pasta stations as well as sit-down dinners and luncheons, with entrees that range from chicken dishes to beef Wellington, prime rib, and filet mignon, as well as our popular Castle cordon bleu and scrod,” Sarrasin said.

There is also a vegetarian menu, and it is not unusual for the kitchen staff to accommodate special requests, whether it is an ethnic food or a dish normally not on the menu. Ethnic dishes that have been requested and prepared include paella, kapasta, pierogies, and galumpkis.

Generations of people have worked at the Castle, and many started in the kitchen in their teens. Sarrasin said he creates a learning environment that allows his entire staff to work in any aspect of food preparation. “I try to share everything I know, and many employees have taken their experience and the knowledge they have gained here and gone on to become chefs or managers at other facilities.”

Events held there range from joyous to somber, but it is a popular setting for weddings, and LaFleche said about half of the brides who hold their wedding receptions there get married on the premises. “They often set up arches with flowers and have their guests seated in aisles or at tables,” she noted. Other affairs include beer and wine tastings as well as a variety of fund-raisers.

“The South Hadley Police Assoc. holds an annual comedy night here, and the Chicopee Chamber of Commerce and Holyoke Catholic High School host a lot of functions at the Castle,” said Belair. “The FBI recently held an awards banquet here, and J. Polep Distribution stages frequent seminars in the meeting hall.

“Because we’re not owned by an individual, we can offer the community a lot at a reasonable cost,” he went on. “We keep our prices modest while providing a superior product, and all of our profits are channeled back into the facility.”

Successful Venture

Although the Castle offers many amenities, one thing that makes it different from many other area banquet facilities is that it is governed by a board of directors who are all members of Fairview Knights of Columbus Council #4044.

They generously donate their time to serve on committees connected with the Castle, and the K of C uses it to host its own events, such a Valentine’s Day party and New Year’s Eve celebration, which are open to the public, along with monthly spaghetti suppers. The facility also hosts a free, annual Thanksgiving dinner that provides meals to more than 3,800 needy or lonely people, which earned it the International Family Service Award from the Supreme K of C in San Antonio, Texas last year.

Overall, the venture created more than two decades ago has been heralded as a success, earning recognition and praise from businesses, social groups, and families who return time and time again.

“The combination of a diversity of options, our location, and the consistent, high quality of our food are keys to the Castle,” Belair said.

Holiday Party Planner Sections
Holiday Business Looking Up for Restaurants, Banquet Halls

The wine-cellar room

The wine-cellar room is just one of several intriguing and festive settings at Chandler’s.

December is a cheerful time at Storrowton Tavern.
“The entire tavern is pretty much decorated from the day after Thanksgiving,” said Vinny Calvanese, executive chef of the restaurant on the grounds of the Eastern States Exposition in West Springfield. “And we have carolers — the same people we’ve had every year since we’ve been here. They go through the entire tavern and sing, room to room, which seems to be a big hit.
But, more importantly, the holiday season is an important time — not just at Storrowton, but across the dining and banquet industry, as companies of all sizes take a breather from the stresses of the year and set aside a night to celebrate with their employees.
“When the recession was in full swing back in December 2008, companies across the board were scaling back on holiday events in light of economic constraints, or cancelling them altogether, deeming the celebrations either needlessly extravagant or highly inappropriate in the wake of layoffs,” notes Lauren Matthews, a writer for event-planning website BizBash. “But last year, it seemed that the corporate holiday party scene was returning to normal.”
She cites a study conducted by executive search firm Battalia Winston, which reported that 91% of companies polled had a Christmas party last year, the highest percentage in the past six years, while a poll by the Society for Human Resource Management found that 72% of respondents attended a company celebration last year, up from 68% in 2011 and 61% in 2010 and 2009.
“For us, it’s always a busy time,” Calvanese said. “We have five function rooms, including one, the Carriage House, which can hold two functions at one time. The holiday season is basically always busy. We still have room, but it seems like a lot of people are booking more ahead than usual this year.”
Ralph Santaniello, general manager and proprietor of the Federal in Agawam, reports the same robust outlook. “We’re working on our 12th year here, so we have a lot of repeat business,” he said. “A lot of parties were booked the minute after last year’s party ended. We’re right on par with where we were last year.”
For this issue and it’s focus on holiday party planning, BusinessWest checked in with several area restaurants and banquet halls to get a feel for how holiday bookings are coming along. For the most part — at least compared to the peak recession years — companies are looking to celebrate the season, and in a wide variety of ways.

Ups and Downs
Not every facility is reporting the same level of sales. For example, “two years ago, we were fine, and everyone else was struggling,” said Sandra LaFleche, sales manager at the Castle of Knights in Chicopee. “Well, I’ve been here 21 years, and this year is the quietest year we’ve seen.”
Bookings remains solid for December weekends, however. “Right now, we have most of our Saturdays and Sundays booked around the holidays,” she noted, adding that weekday bookings have been somewhat more discouraging.
Amy Bombard, sales manager for Max’s Catering, which handles events at the Basketball Hall of Fame, paints a similar picture. “I think [business] is going to be a little less than it has been,” she said. “Last year was a good year, previous years were not so great, and this year it’s looking like a little less as well.”
Other facilities thrive off the holidays every year. “It’s a high-volume time for us,” said Kristin Henry, assistant general manager at Chandler’s Restaurant at Yankee Candle — a retail destination well-known for celebrating the Christmas season. “People are looking to book parties from November into January.”
January has, in fact, become an increasingly popular time for holiday parties, particularly for companies that are very busy around the holidays — the restaurant industry, for instance. “We have our own holiday party in February; it makes sense,” Santaniello said. “So we do see some of that, but the most important dates are always the weekends in December. The Fridays and Saturdays for the first three weeks of December are always the first to fill up.”
He noted that years when Christmas falls midweek (it’s a Wednesday this year) add an additional weekend to those much-desired dates, since companies tend to avoid throwing parties too close to the holiday itself.
As for the type of party customers are asking for, the sky’s the limit.
“We offer banquet-style dinners with plated entrees, and then we do dinner stations or a buffet, for lack of a better word,” Santaniello said. “We’re also doing a lot more cocktail-type parties; people want circulating hors d’oeuvres or stationary hors d’oeuvres. They want to have people moving around and mingling — that’s always fun. People want a less formal atmosphere, and a cocktail party gives you that.”
Calvanese said Storrowton offers a similar variety. “We have sit-downs, we have buffets … a lot of people, for the holidays, actually prefer to go the sit-down route, rather than the buffets. But we also do a cocktail menu, and hors d’oeuvres parties as well. Plus we do a lot of lunches for older groups, like church groups, people who like to come in during the day.”
Whether it’s large banquets or smaller dinners, “we’re pretty busy during December,” he noted, adding that repeat customers are a big part of the facility’s success. “One business, they actually booked with us the first year, and they rebooked 10 years ahead. They’re a rather large group, and they like a specific date, so they get the same Saturday every year.”

Festive Fun
Bombard is among those seeing a gravitation toward more casual events. “I think people are moving more toward cocktail receptions. We’re trying to make it a more social event as opposed to formal dinners.”
LaFleche said customers’ preferences at the Castle of Knights have been running about 50-50 between plated meals and buffets. “It’s a good mix across the board.”
Henry noted that Chandler’s boasts a number of different rooms to accommodate different sizes and styles of parties. “We have private rooms Thursday through Sunday, and we do section off parties in the main dining room, or sell out the entire dining room, for larger parties. And we have three smaller rooms in back of the restaurant: the wine-cellar room and two smaller rooms, the vineyard rooms, for people looking for private spaces.”
She said the restaurant has revamped all of its banquet menus and is offering new menus for the holidays as well. “We do cocktail parties, and we have stationary setups for food. Some [companies] do formal sit-down dinners, but have an open or cash bar for an hour or two prior so people can mingle.”
One of Chandler’s most prominent draws is the Christmas theming that Yankee Candle sets up year-round, but especially highlights during the actual holiday season. That includes Christmas trees in the main dining room and some of the smaller party spaces, as well as ribbons on the wall sconces and a host of other decorations.
“When you’re coming through the door, everything is candlelit, which really does set the stage,” Henry said. “At Yankee Candle, once October ends, everything is lit up at night. Santa is a huge presence here, and they expand the store hours so it’s open later.”
As for Chandler’s, “we also do a dinner with Santa here, where kids can come and eat with Santa. That has always been fun.” Meanwhile, “we’d like to showcase our patio this year in the evening, too, which we really haven’t been doing in the past,” she said, noting that the area is also decorated with holiday lights, while a chiminea provides some heat.
Calvanese said the holiday décor at Storrowton is something customers enjoy, and this year, it seems they’re getting in the mood early. “Normally people will wait, but this year, people want to make sure they get their space, so we’ve been getting calls for Christmas parties, even in the summer. It’s first come, first served with us — you book the date, you’ve got it — and some people who are waiting might not have an ideal night left.”

Scaling Back

A holiday party survey conducted last December by BizBash and food delivery website Seamless indicated that, as the economy slowly recovers, companies increasingly see year-end festivities as an important part of employee productivity and morale.
Of the 1,500 event-planning professionals who took the survey, 67% reported improved team dynamics as a direct result of office holiday parties, and 75% said such events help improve office friendships. “Still,” writes Matthews, “while many companies are hosting holiday gatherings again, the recession has effected a lasting change in what those events now look like, with hosts valuing smart spending over freewheeling excess and designing more thoughtful affairs.”
Santaniello can vouch for that. “I wouldn’t say people are going crazy with their budgets,” he said. “We took a huge hit in 2008 and 2009, but we’re seeing it come back a little bit now. Companies are coming back.”
Sounds like yet another reason to celebrate.

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Holiday Party Planner Sections
Explosive Growth Fuels a Building Boom at Lattitude

Jeff Daigneau

Jeff Daigneau says creativity and hard work have helped Lattitude grow, to the point where the restaurant thrives even during the challenging Big E weeks.

Jeff Daigneau doesn’t know how many times he’s told the story. But he does know that it never gets old.
He was referring to what has become local culinary legend of sorts, the saga of how the most unlikely, but now the most popular, item on the menu at his restaurant, Lattitude, came to be.
“I messed up during the Big E in 2008 and dropped a bunch of brussels sprouts in the frialator,” said Daigneau, owner and chef at the establishment on Memorial Avenue in West Springfield, directly across from the fairgrounds. He put what came out of the frialator on the bar for consumption — and they didn’t last long.
“Now, they’re the hottest thing going — everybody’s serving them,” he told BusinessWest, adding that the vegetable that so many people love to hate has become his eatery’s signature appetizer — and an unofficial logo of sorts.
Indeed, the vegetable now adorns the back of his business card and the company’s letterhead, and it will soon be on T-shirts to be worn by the staff.
No one calls Lattitude the ‘house that Brussels sprouts built,’ but they might as well — it’s not much of an exaggeration. But the house was actually built by creativity, patience, and perseverance, and because all three have been exhibited in abundance, the house is getting bigger.
Much bigger.
The restaurant, which sits in the middle of what was a large, multi-tenant building that Daigneau now owns, is expanding in several directions within that complex. An outdoor patio bar featuring live music was added this summer on the west side of the property. Meanwhile, an 80-seat banquet facility will open in formerly vacant space on the east side of building in mid-November, and a new, much larger bar area, to be created in space formerly occupied by Memo’s restaurant on the west side of the building, is in the design phase. In the original restaurant, space is being reconfigured, and private meeting rooms are being expanded.
The ambitious series of undertakings, highlighted by the recent installation of a new ‘Lattitude’ sign made of brushed copper, could be called a testimony to the power of fried brussels sprouts. But it’s more of an indication of how the restaurant has become a fixture only a few years after barely surviving its first fall in the shadow of the Big E (more on that later).
“It’s really flattering that people think that much of us,” he said, noting that his experiences to date have been a giant learning curve. “I’ve been doing this since I was 13 years old; I’m 36 now, and every single day I learn something new.”
For this issue and its focus on holiday party planning, BusinessWest looks at what Daigneau’s learned, and how he’s applied those lessons effectively enough to make Lattitude one of the region’s more intriguing business success stories.

Keep the Party Going

Lattitude added an outdoor patio bar this year

Lattitude added an outdoor patio bar this year, where patrons can enjoy live music.

Retelling another story he’s related often, Daigneau said that, during his first fall on Memorial Avenue, he decided to stay open during the 17-day Big E when most all other restaurants in that area shut things down.
They close because the exposition has a tendency to drain traffic from such establishments rather than create it. Many long-time patrons of those eateries also decide they’re not going to fight Big E traffic and dine elsewhere instead.
Daigneau’s decision nearly put him out of business, by his calculation, but the experience provided an important lesson. Today, instead of trying to compete with, or simply survive, the Big E, he is effectively partnering with it. At least that’s the term he uses.
Elaborating, he said he’s learned how to cater his menu and his entertainment to the two primary constituencies at the Big E — visitors to the show and the vendors who often arrive days before it opens and are still packing up long after it ends.
The key to mastering the Big E, said Daigneau, has been a combination of offering a more relaxed atmosphere during fair weeks, especially for vendors, and offering a variety of live bands, food and drink specials, and promo nights, as an extension of what’s already going on over at the Big E.
“I’m not going to get everybody, so I put posters in the windows for events we’re going to have,” he explained. “I try to do things that would bring people in the door.
“I’m not stepping on anybody’s toes,” he went on. “The vendors just want a place to get out and get something to eat, because otherwise, they’re cooking in their campers.”
This imaginative approach to navigating through late September is just one element in Daigneau’s success quotient. And it’s part of a larger operating philosophy of listening to customers and potential customers and giving them want they want — even if, in the case of those Brussels sprouts, they didn’t know they wanted it.
And in recent years, what he consistently heard from patrons is that they want more — as in more space, more options, and more venues for different types of events.
The elaborate renovations and new building initiatives are designed to meet all those needs.
As a lessee, Daigneau had to look at the unattractive yellow stucco plaster on the outside of the building, but now the contemporary-style improvements have made the choppy architecture look like a cohesive city block, he said, which matches the elegance and creative quality of what’s happening inside.
The entire east side of the building is being renovated for banquets; the bathrooms are moving to the west side, the dining room will be expanded to accommodate 120 people, and two new rooms, for up to 12 and 30 patrons, respectively, are ready, or will be, for the holidays. The small, cramped kitchen was expanded recently, and a new catering kitchen is under construction.
“Our off-site catering is going to explode with that new kitchen,” said Daigneau, noting that what started as a few scattered requests for Lattitude menu items has morphed into a solid business opportunity with enormous potential.
The same could be said for banquet, or large-party, business, said Jamie Cardoza, Daigneau’s event specialist. “People were asking for larger venues, and we had to essentially turn business away,” she said.
Daigneau said there were enough of these requests to inspire the new banquet facility. “We had guest requests for parties of 50, 80, or 100,” he noted. “And it just grew into, ‘well, I own the building now; what do we want to do?’”
Plans for the rest of the building, specifically the old Memo’s area, are in the process of being designed. Daigneau said the second floor of the building will remain his office area and won’t be leased out.
While Daigneau’s original plan was to do all the work at once, he ultimately opted to phase it in, a decision that, in retrospect, has worked out well because disruption has been controlled and the impact on the overall business has been minimized.
And in a way, the new look and feel of Lattitude is consistent with Daigneau’s philosophy of continuously changing and reinventing to keep things fresh.
Indeed, while other restaurant owners and managers are loath to remove an item from the menu, Daigneau is fearful of letting his menu get stale.
He said the typical response from his staff when he changes up the menu is, ‘are you out of your mind?’
“But if you’re not moving and shaking and you’re not changing things up, people are going to get bored, and things are going to get stale,” he explained. “The menu has to change, and the staff has to stay fresh, or there are a million opportunities for our customers to go somewhere else.”
One dish that has to make a seasonal appearance every year is his pumpkin ravioli with seared scallops and walnut sage cream sauce.
“It’s the most popular dish we’ve ever done, and it’s one of those things I just can’t take off, and if I do, I get threatened,” he said with a sardonic smile.
It’s the same look he gives his staff when he tells them what he has in mind for his popular dinner series on the third Monday of every month, an event that offers a five-course dinner, with a different cocktail paired with each course.

Room For Dessert
Late last month, Daigneau served as the ‘celebrity professional judge’ for a Big E bread and dessert contest featuring creations fashioned from Fleischmann’s yeast.
That assignment speaks not only to his new outlook on the Big E as partner, not competitor, but also to just how far he has come in five years — from a chef with a dream to an entrepreneur with a dining destination in the midst of exploding growth.
The brussels sprouts on his business card have become a symbol of that success, and so has the new sign over his door.
“It’s finally gotten to the point where I can look up to that sign and say, ‘you know what? I did OK.’”
Actually, much better than OK.

Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]

Holiday Party Planner Sections
Sláinte Draws Restaurant Patrons — and Parties — to Holyoke

Debra Flynn, right, and Jake Perkins

Debra Flynn, right, and Jake Perkins say Sláinte’s party business has taken off beyond their initial expectations.

Debra Flynn owns two successful restaurants and knows her way around a wide variety of food. So what does she like to order when she eats out?
“My favorite food on the entire planet, when I go out, is Caesar salad and nachos. That defines a fun restaurant, and if they don’t have it, we’re not going back,” said Flynn, the owner of Eastside Grill in Northampton and part-owner, with Jake Perkins, of Sláinte in Holyoke.
“When we started,” she said of opening Sláinte earlier this year, “I told Jake we have to have the best nachos in the world — and they are.”
If those nachos —  loaded with toppings and also available ‘cowboy style’ with barbecued brisket — don’t sound like something Eastside would serve, that’s intentional.
“We’re not trying to be something we’re not,” Flynn said. “We’re not a high-end restaurant, and even though we’re attached to Eastside, we didn’t want Eastside food here. To have two restaurants within 10 minutes of each other serving the same food serves no purpose. I wanted this place to have its own identity, but people realize we believe in concepts like quality and service at both places.”
Sláinte (pronounced ‘slahn-cha,’ an Irish greeting meaning ‘your good health’) opened on the site of the former Eighty Jarvis restaurant, which used to be O’Meara’s, which used to be Broadview — which is where our story begins.
Flynn was in her early 20s when she first discovered Broadview on her first date with her future husband, Kevin. Perhaps because of that emotional connection, she had long had her eyes on the property, and when Eighty Jarvis closed, she felt the time was right to make a move.
“I was approached because someone knew how much I really wanted this property,” she said, but she wasn’t prepared to go it alone, so she turned to Perkins, her executive chef at Eastside Grill. “I knew how much Jake wanted to go on to the next level. And I felt comfortable with him; he has the same values I do when it comes to work.”
“We do work well together,” Perkins added. “We have slightly different styles, but they mesh well.
“We wanted a fun, comfortable place,” he continued, “and I really liked the idea of having a banquet room upstairs for parties. We don’t have the space for it at Eastside, but here we have a huge room up there.”
Downstairs, he added, “we keep it comfortable for everybody. It’s a lot of fun, and we want the food to be approachable and the atmosphere to be comfortable. It’s a good spot.”
Despite the name, Sláinte is not an Irish restaurant, he noted. Rather, “it’s an homage to the Irish heritage of Holyoke.”
Flynn laughed when the pronunciation issue arises. “Some of my friends call it Slanty — ‘hey, we’re going to Slanty tonight,’” she said. “But I don’t care, as long as people come.”

American Style
So, what is the menu like? Favorites range from appetizers like fried pickles and cod fritters to entrees like fried chicken, lamb shank, filet mignon, with a selection of burgers, sandwiches, and salads thrown in for good measure.
“Everything is made from scratch here,” Perkins said, from appetizers to desserts, salad dressings to pastrami.
“We use pork belly for bacon — everything is cured from scratch. There are no processed foods here,” Flynn added. “You’re not going to get processed pastrami or turkey here.”
Besides the fresh food, Flynn and Perkins are aiming for a certain casual vibe, not unlike that of the old Broadview. “It was fun — great wings, great sandwiches … it was a great place to go, a place where everyone went in Holyoke, where everyone knew everyone,” Flynn said.
With that in mind, “we were going for a warm, inviting feeling. We added more TVs so people can watch sports, any type of sports. And we have a 60-inch TV outside so they can be outside and watch TV, too.”
Flynn said the outdoor patio and bar is “to die for,” and bands play there on Wednesday and Sunday evenings during the warmer months.
But she and Perkins are equally proud of the upstairs banquet facility, which holds up to 100 people for cocktail parties and sit-down dinners. Sláinte has hosted baby showers, rehearsal dinners, and a host of other parties, including one wedding reception. The space is also ideal for breakfast meetings, and is equipped with audio-visual equipment for business functions.
“We’ve had surprisingly brisk business upstairs,” Perkins said. Flynn added that her connections in Northampton and Springfield — where she was general manager of Café Manhattan and the Colony Club earlier in her career — certainly haven’t hurt.
“It has been overwhelmingly successful. I was not expecting it to be as successful as it is this soon — it’s only been six months,” she said. “People remember me from the Colony Club and Café Manhattan.”
A location that effectively straddles Hampden and Hampshire Counties, just two minutes from I-91, doesn’t hurt, she added. “And the Northampton business community has been extremely positive in this new venture. A lot of people were like, ‘are you sure you want to do this? Why take on so much more work?’ But they come out and support me by coming here — I’ve had a few events from Northampton here.”

City on the Rise
Perkins said the goal has been to create an inclusive environment that draws customers back again and again. Flynn said she’s happy with business so far.
“I want to say it’s because of our quality and the service we provide and the friendly atmosphere,” she told BusinessWest. “That’s my philosophy. That’s the way you keep them coming back.
“This business is not about us; it’s about the customer,” she added. “You can never think it’s about yourself; you have to listen. It might pain you, but you have to listen and do whatever you can to make people happy, because if they’re not, they won’t be back.”
She and Perkins both live within a half-mile of Sláinte, and they believe they’ve opened a restaurant and banquet hall in a city that’s clearly on the rise.
“I’m proud to be in Holyoke. I believe Holyoke can come back,” she said. “It has a lot of the same qualities as Northampton, and the architecture is gorgeous.”
Added Perkins, “as businesses move into town, that’ll bring even more businesses in, and it kind of builds on itself.”
“We want to help set the tone,” Flynn continued, “so people say, ‘if they can do it, we can,’ and people will start to say, ‘wow, Holyoke has a lot to offer.’ Look at Northampton in the late ’70s and early ’80s, and look at it today. It can happen. You’ve got to believe it — and work hard.”
She said Eastside benefits from the walkability of its downtown Northampton location, where the streets teem with pedestrians. But Sláinte has its own advantages. “We’re right off the highway, and the people of Holyoke have been very supportive of us,” Perkins said. “It’s been fantastic.”
Flynn agreed. “We’re part of two really great towns. How lucky are we?”

Joseph Bednar can be reached at [email protected]

Holiday Party Planner Sections
And for Banquet Managers, that Means Creating Opportunities

Rachel Voci, banquet manager at Tekoa Country Club

Rachel Voci, banquet manager at Tekoa Country Club

Andrew Calvanese, partner with his sons Vinny and Donald at the Storrowton Tavern in West Springfield, can remember a time when the holiday party season was literally booming.

“The ’80s were just incredible,” recalled Calvanese, who was then managing Suffield Country Club, noting that money was seemingly no object, and budgets were nonexistent.

To say that the times have changed would be a huge understatement.

“Today, we deal with some pretty big companies, and they are really watching how they spend their money; they are definitely budgeting,” said Calvanese, who fully expects that trend to continue this year, although he remains optimistic that more companies will be in a mood to party.”

Peter Rosskothen, president and CEO of the Log Cabin and Delaney House, takes a similar outlook. He said 2008 and 2009, the height of the Great Recession, were the worst years he’s seen in terms of holiday-party spending. Things have improved a little each year since, and he’s hoping that trend will continue.

Summing things up, he said he’s not wasting time pining for a return for those free-spending days in the ’80s; he’ll settle for what he called stability.

“It’s my hope that this year will get us close to where we were before the ’08 and ’09 disaster,” he told BusinessWest, “but I’m not so sure we’ll get there.”

Peter Rosskothen

Peter Rosskothen says 2008 and 2009 were bad years for holiday-party spending, but things have improved steadily since.

His guarded optimism is reflected in the results from the latest annual survey of corporate America’s holiday party plans conducted by Amrop Battalia Winston, a leading global executive-search firm, which conducted the survey among a cross-section of 120 companies.

In 2011, 26% of U.S. companies did not hold a holiday party, up 5% from the year prior, and nearly half cited budgetary issues as the reason why. Analyzing those numbers, Dale Winston, Amrop Battalia Winston’s chairwoman and CEO, said, “there was uncertainty about the speed of the recovery in 2010; that has been replaced by the certainty that the recovery has a long way to go.”

For this issue and its focus on holiday party planning, BusinessWest talked with area banquet-facility owners and managers about their expectations for the season ahead and the factors that will determine just how wonderful this time of the year will be for them.

Sign of the Times

Overall, the facility managers we spoke with say they’re enjoying a steady year thus far, and, in some cases, better than steady.

“Right through January, right up to now (post-Big E), to the end of the year, our banquet business is excellent,” said Andy Calvanese, noting that the family has noted consistent growth since they acquired the landmark nine years ago.

Offering a total of six room options, the largest being the Carriage House for 350 and the smallest, the Tavern, seating 35, Storrowton is one of the oldest establishments in the area; portions of the buildings date back more than 200 years.

Meanwhile Patrick Gottschlicht, owner of Munich Haus in Chicopee, has battled back from the Great Recession and a devastating fire in a neighboring apartment complex to record a few solid years.

And at Tekoa Country Club, banquet manager Rachel Voci, starting from what amounted to scratch after the facility changed hands in 2009, has amassed a solid book of business. She’s built her corporate and wedding business to 98 bookings this year (not counting golf outings) in her 400-seat Berkshire Room and 200-seat Westfield Room, and with recent interior renovations, she aims to establish a new reputation, and is looking forward to improving her numbers this holiday season.

But as the leaves start to turn, there is still a huge dose of uncertainty about will happen during what has historically been a very important — and lucrative — time for banquet-facility owners.

Much of that uncertainty has to do with employers, their appetite for spending at a time when the economy could go either way, and the level of importance they attach to employee morale.

According to the 2011 Amrop Battalia Winston survey, for more than half (53%) of all companies that were still planning on holding a get-together, employee morale was the reason.

In this environment, said Voci, banquet facilities have to work with employers and become partners in staging their events, providing value for the dollar and, in some cases, some imaginative ideas on how to make the event meaningful and memorable.

At the same time, the pressure is on banquet managers to help all kinds of potential customers with limited budgets — and increasingly, that means groups of employees.

“Over the last few years, companies have cut back on corporate parties, and I see more people planning their own little gatherings,” Rosskothen told BusinessWest. “So a group within a company goes out and has dinner.”

Envision the sales team or the IT division of a company having its own special get-together, and everyone pitches in to pay their way. Both Calvanese and Gottschlicht see the same trend and will work with budgets for even the smallest of groups.

Voci added that some of those small parties will join what is now an increasingly common event, the small-group holiday get-together, which enables small companies or departments within bigger entities to enjoy the look and feel of a full ballroom.

Group Effort

Another challenge and opportunity for banquet managers, said those we spoke with, is the need to move quickly and help those last-minute event organizers, and there are many of them.

“Across the board, last-minute planning is much more common than ever,” said Rosskothen. “Information technology allows us to be last-minute, we can communicate with our employees last-minute, and I would not think anything of somebody calling two weeks before and planning a party.”

But another trend that Rosskothen would like to see more of is the use of the holiday party as morale builder and vehicle for saying ‘thank you’ to employees, many of whom have suffered in various ways because of the economic downturn.

“I’ll speak as an employer,” said Rosskothen. “I think finding ways for us to acknowledge our co-workers is always going to be normal, and the holidays are one of those times, and if financial means allow, we should do something for our employees.”

What that ‘something’ is depends on each decision maker, and that individual should put some time and attention into their work, he continued.

“They have to put effort into it … don’t just make it a two-minute phone call,” said Rosskothen. “Think it through, plan it well, and make it worthwhile, especially since resources are tight.”

Voci says she works with clients to brainstorm, and even the smallest touches, such as a signature drink for the night in lieu of a costly open bar, will help to personalize the event and show effort on the employer’s part.

Gottschlicht will offer employers his new authentic German Biergarten, which seats 160, an addition to the 200 for the second-floor banquet hall. After the apartment-house fire next door last year that nearly consumed the Munich Haus, Gottschlicht purchased the cleared lot and created a unique Biergarten with long benches, a bandstand, and large tents and a large bar that he’s not yet sure will be year-round; he’s still working out the kinks.

“But if anyone wants to do an Oktoberfest-themed holiday party, we have heaters, and we’ll try it, and we have accordion players we can provide as well,” he laughed. “It really depends on the weather.”


Decking the Halls

Andy Calvanese has had a successful year at Storrowton Tavern

Andy Calvanese has had a successful year at Storrowton Tavern and is hopeful for more of the same come this holiday season.

“I see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Calvanese. “I think the economy is starting to turn, and I always remain open-minded; after 50 years, I’m still learning. I also think companies are going to be wiser; it’s OK to spend, we all spend, we all get extravagant once in a while, but not all the time. I think that trend is gone.”

Rosskothen agreed. “Holidays will be tough for a long time until we forget about these times,” he said, noting that hope for the future is still something to celebrate. “You have to find a balance.”

With the memories of the over-the-top ’80s and visions of sugarplums (sort of) dancing in their heads, owners and managers of area banquet facilities have come to the realization that times have changed, and they’re likely to be this way for the foreseeable future. In this environment, they have to create their own opportunities and make the most of them.

If they can, this holiday season might become something approaching wonderful.


Elizabeth Taras can be reached at [email protected]