How a former St. Charles statuary became a venue for intimate weddings
In the summer of 2020, Karen and Lance Ramella had a good idea of what they wanted to do with the Johnson's Statuary property they had purchased in downtown St. Charles.
The Ramellas' intention was the creation of a wedding reception facility, one that would carry the charm of the 1855 historic stone house with some modern twists. But mostly, they wanted the perfect place for smaller, more intimate wedding ceremonies and receptions.
Even though they were in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, they still had a target in mind when saying they wanted to be open for weddings "in the summer of 2021."
Unlike many new business owners, the Ramellas hit their target, hosting their first wedding at Cedar Fox Weddings & Events two months ago. They have a few more booked through the end of this year and are already filling slots for 2022 and getting inquiries about 2023.
"COVID throughout 2020 gave us the opportunity to take our time through the building process and think things through," Karen said. "We had originally planned to maybe do weddings in June, but when (COVID) numbers got bad again last fall, we pushed that opening to August, rather than possibly facing more mandates. And it worked out well for us."
Folks familiar with the property at 316 Cedar St. may notice that Ron "RJ" Johnson lives next door to Cedar Fox and still sells statues as part of the family business, and he does it mostly online or through special orders these days.
Cedar Fox has about 3,000 square feet for events, another 1,500 square feet under a covered veranda in the backyard of the building and about 1,200 square feet on the ground floor for the kitchen used by caterers, and a bridal suite area.
"What makes us different -- and it takes a while to figure out your niche -- is that we are focusing on weddings that are a little more intimate," Karen said. "That would be those with 140 or fewer guests, as we want this space to be for smaller weddings."
It is not unusual to hear about couples with 125 to 140 guests settling on venues that could accommodate 200 to 300 people, and "the smaller group gets kind of lost in that space," she added. "A few years ago, weddings got really big, and I blame a lot of that on Pinterest," Karen noted. "Our couples are young couples not looking for such a huge crowd because it is too expensive. The easiest way to lower costs is to lower the guest list."
Karen believes St. Charles is pushing the concept that the city is a wedding destination, with Hotel Baker and numerous restaurants all within walking distance.
The Ramellas, who live in Geneva, fell in love with downtown St. Charles when looking for a location to complement a venue they already operated on the other side of the Fox River.
"A couple could have a wedding in downtown St. Charles and walk to a restaurant for the rehearsal dinner or for breakfast the following morning," she said. "Many of our couples are booking rehearsal dinners right in downtown."
Karen said it all clicks well when a couple is married "just two doors down from us" at St. Patrick Catholic Church.
"Overall, it's a lot of work for us," she said. "But it's a lot of fun."
A new twist for Barth
With the coronavirus pandemic still making it difficult to organize indoor banquets, TriCity Family Services took a different -- and well-targeted -- approach to its annual Barth Award ceremony this year.
Traditionally, the Barth Award is presented to the community's top volunteer and philanthropist during an evening dinner event.
Instead, the agency decided to give the award in recognition of the clinical leadership and commitment of the front-line health care workers at Northwestern Medicine Delnor Hospital in Geneva. A presentation at the hospital's south entrance is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Friday, Oct. 22.
It's a recognition that the past 18 months have been extremely difficult for our healthcare workers. As TCFS development director Michelle Rollins put it, it's important to recognize those efforts and honor these heroes.
It really is Heaven
A few weeks ago, we mentioned that Heaven, a mixed breed rescue dog originally from the Starfish Animal Rescue shelter in Batavia, was in the running for the "World's Cutest Rescue Dog" contest through People Magazine.
Apparently, we flooded the voting booth for this one and Heaven, now living with her owner Jackie Rakers in St. Charles, reached the final three of the contest.
That turned it over to a group of celebrity judges who also fell in love with Heaven's infectious smile and her story -- and named her the official winner of the contest.
Heaven, who needed eye surgery and a lot of help when she first came to the Batavia shelter, has since appeared in all sorts of media outlets, including a story in the Daily Herald last week.
"We can't thank everyone who supported her enough," Rakers said in her Facebook post about the victory. "The past six weeks have been so much fun, and Heaven has enjoyed every minute of it."
The book connection
Social media certainly keeps us in touch with family and friends who don't live near us, but there are other ways to "connect." Seeing their name when you walk into a bookstore isn't a bad alternative.
Margaret Filek of St. Charles was able to connect with her brother from the east coast, James Breeden, this past summer because Breeden authored a book that was on sale at Town House Books in St. Charles.
It makes you realize how exciting it is for a family to see one of its members have a book displayed on local store shelves.
"Although he now lives in North Carolina, he grew up in St. Charles," Filek said of her brother, who attended St. Patrick School before graduating from Marmion High School in 1968.
She's also not a bad promoter for the book titled "Painting Angela."
"It's a mystery, and it's very good," Filek said.
Plus, we lost Fay's
With all of the illness and death we've endured during the pandemic, the other collateral damage of longtime businesses closing has always been sad.
Whether COVID was a key factor in canceling events or diminishing work crews, or it was just time for manager Bob Dempsey to retire, the popular Fay's Pork Chop Bar-B-Que business closed earlier this year.
Fay's cited 58½ years of business, accounting for 5 million meals at thousands of events. My first encounter with these tasty pork chops unfolded at the Sandwich Fair in the early 1970s, likely when the Waterman-based operation was completing its first decade of business and making a solid brand for itself.
In fact, when Wilder and Martha Fay began the small business in 1962, its popularity encouraged the couple to expand and become a regular feature of the Sandwich Fair.
Since then, the company has catered numerous events in the Tri-Cities area and across the region over the years -- and it never disappointed.
A cookie haven
In writing about the new Masterpiece Bread bakery opening in Geneva nearly two months ago, I may have mentioned I was anxious for this place to open for a couple of reasons.
First, located at 1441 S. Randall Road, it's within walking distance of my house.
Second, the cookies that owner Mike Scorzo was touting before opening were tempting beyond description.
In finally getting a couple of these huge cookies -- a S'Mores Cookie and a German Chocolate cookie -- I can safely say it was worth the wait.
Yes, the bread at this place deserves top billing in the store's name, but these cookies definitely hold their own.