A Lifetime of Happy Service31 August 2016 Written by By Theresa Bragg
Published in September 2016 Articles
I am a partner in Oakley’s 3 Generation Event Productions.
I’ve been in the industry all of my life. My children and grandchildren are working in the business. In particular, my second child, Reneé, inherited my passion, skills, and delight in planning and managing events. I had her folding napkins when she was seven years old, and she loved doing it, just like I did at that age.
After five decades of working in one way or another, I came into 3 Generations as a partner with Reneé. She and I get along well together; she listens thoughtfully to my plans but will then add embellishments and improvements with the result that the event will turn out to be much finer than I could ever have imagined. Three years ago, 3 Generations moved into Oakley’s Tuscan-style Villa Estate La Grande Wedding and Events. We handle the sales, service, operations, and management for the site. It is one of the most perfect wedding venues we have ever seen — with lovely accommodations and beautiful spaces, indoors and out, suitable for any kind of wedding
Weddings are Reneé’s consuming passion. Between the two of us we have done more than 3,000 of these events. I’m ordained and have officiated at hundreds of weddings. However, this never gets old for us; Reneé and I still often get tears at the sight of a bride coming down the aisle.
We never have a bridezilla because we remove any reasons for impatience or anxiety. Brides will sometimes call crying about some problem, but in a couple minutes we have them talked down and laughing.
Some clients come to us because we specialize in themed weddings. We have staged such memorable themes as Country Glam, Fairytale, Hoedown, and Bling. We are creative and can accommodate almost any theme — Star Wars, Finding Dory, you name it, and if anyone wanted to do a Tarzan-themed wedding, I would probably give them a discount.
Not long ago a client hired us to produce a Sweet 16 Party for her triplet daughters. When we first met, the woman and I looked at each other and experienced a moment of cognitive dissonance until we realized that I had staged her Cinderella-themed wedding at Oakhurst Country Club that involved a particularly memorable moment when her Prince Charming husband helped her down from the gilded, shining, and gaily bedecked carriage that she
had arrived in.
Our clients are starting to be multi-generational just like we are.
I was raised in Penns Grove, New Jersey, which is a little town that still has only 5,000 inhabitants and whose supreme claim to fame was that it was the birthplace of Bruce Willis. Penns Grove was a wonderful little community to grow up in with a friendly Cheers kind of atmosphere because everyone knew my name.
I was born into a third generation family business called Piane Caterers. Piane Caterers involved many more people than the members of our nuclear family. My grandparents had started it, and we were part of a large team of assorted uncles, aunts, and cousins. Mom was a cook, Dad was a coordinator, and my two brothers and I worked in the business. Each of us was set to folding cloth napkins as soon as we developed sufficient hand-eye coordination to manage the job. As we grew older, we were promoted to polishing silver and eventually engaged in all parts of the business.
Penns Grove was an Italian community, which meant that I grew up among people who knew how to throw a party, eat well, and have a good time. My parents took care of managing whatever Big Fat Italian Wedding or other events were taking place in Penns Grove, but a lot of our clients were in Wilmington, Delaware. Penns Grove would have been a Wilmington suburb if not for the fact that the Delaware River flowed between us, which not only meant that we would always be a separate municipality from Wilmington but, since the river was the state boundary, we were even in different states.
All of us enjoyed the business and embraced the cheerful buzz and the controlled confusion that surrounded us while putting pieces together for some large event.
In the 70s, my husband Don and I started DB Enterprises Special Events. We were supplying the catering and event production services I had spent my life perfecting. It was a great opportunity because the first casino was being built in Atlantic City, which was a 20-minute drive from us. Don had an inside track because he had spent decades working for the State and at the time was serving on a board, along with the state governor, that was pushing a referendum
The Atlantic City market for event production turned out to be as large as we hoped, and DB Enterprises played a pivotal role in producing such events as beauty pageants, mummers parades, and various nationally televised productions such as Battle of the NFL Cheerleaders.
I also began managing food and beverage services in casinos and served as the Public Relations Director at the first casino — Merv Griffin’s Resort International. I was also Executive Director of Food & Beverage at the Sands.
A GLORIOUS HOMECOMING
DB Enterprises Special Events staged our most rewarding event in 1981 celebrating the return of 52 American diplomats and citizens who had spent 444 days as hostages in an Iranian internment facility. We wanted to honor their sacrifice, so we staged the event ourselves. We enlisted the help of other organizations. Harrah’s comped the rooms, for example, and several airlines took care of flights. The big problem was that the hostages had been sheltered from a rapacious media and curious public so we had trouble locating them to extend our invitations. I called in some favors in order to secure contact information. We assured everyone that this would be a secret gathering; none of the media would learn of their presence. “Nobody will know you are here,” we told them.
Forty-five of the hostages and family members took advantage of our invitation. Upon their arrival, we gave each a card to cover all their expenses at the Harrah’s facility. For four days they were given 24-hour food service and the use of Harrah’s limos. As it turned out, they didn’t have a lot of demands. Most of them spent their time in such activities as sitting on the beach, watching the moon, and simply strolling around the casino and town.
We converted the penthouse into a hospitality center, and hung out there visiting with our guests and meeting their needs and desires. Something nearly magical happened. One hostage was describing how they had been kept separate from each other. None of them had any idea where the others were being held. One day, the man said he began tapping Morse code on the walls of his cell and was delighted when he got a response. During the long months of his confinement, he continued to communicate in code with his unknown fellow hostage. The man demonstrated how they communicated by tapping on his table. Suddenly there came a tapping from another table in the room. Not until that moment had the two men known each other’s identity. It was a joyful reunion marked by hugs and tears. That single event all by itself made worthwhile our outlay of money, resources, and time.
At the conclusion of the fourth day, the hostages agreed that we could host a press conference. The president of Harrah’s sent people to New York and Philadelphia to purchase as much yellow ribbon as possible. When the hostages came down in the morning for the press conference, they discovered that yellow ribbons were covering almost every square inch of furniture and decorations in the lobby.
I got to know the youngest hostage, who was only 18 years old when he was taken. They remained two extra nights because they wanted to see Joan Rivers. During the concert I got their permission to notify Joan of their presence. A stagehand gave her my note just as she was concluding her last set. She read it, cried out, “Turn up the lights,” and called them up on the stage. The crowd rose to their feet and cheered for 30 minutes. The memory still brings tears to my eyes.
Just as a footnote, that young man kept in regular contact with me, even after he had become a member of the U.S. Senate.
DOING 3 GENERATIONS
Things changed in 1996 when Reneé, her husband, and their six children moved to Clayton. She had some health issues and needed help. Don had retired and we were free to move about the country, so I decided to take a couple weeks off to help her. After two weeks, I extended it to a six-week leave of absence, but never went back. I got a position at the new Oakhurst Country Club as Food & Beverage Director, was also in charge of Catering & Sales. I hired Reneé as my Banquet Manager and Captain. We did that for ten years.
During that time, Reneé started an event and catering side business. I became her partner. Reneé named the business 3 Generations because, by that time, her kids were working with her, so there were three generations of us working together. We didn’t have trouble attracting clients because we had earned good reputations in the industry. Our clients referred to me as Mother T. and just dropping the name has gotten us a lot of business.
In 2004 I injured my back and had to have surgery. I took that as a sign that I should quit my 14-hour-a-day gig at Oakhurst and 3 Generations, so I retired. Don and I decided to live alone for the first time in our 44 years of marriage. We spent a couple of years in beautiful Laguna Niguel, which is 20 miles south of Newport Beach. The two of us enjoyed each other’s company. Things changed when Don had a debilitating stroke and the family insisted we move back to the Bay Area.
I couldn’t stay away from 3 Generations, of course. Family members kept coming from New Jersey. Just like me, they would come for a visit and end up staying permanently. As a result, just as Piane Caterers had been, 3 Generations turned into a family affair involving children, siblings, and parents ultimately including five generations of family members.
Three years ago my 99-year-old mom visited us. She loved the La Grande Wedding & Events site, and gave us her blessing. She didn’t want to be treated as a guest. “What can I do?” she asked. We gave her a job folding napkins. Reneé’s four-year-old grandchild Julian sat beside her. Everyone was folding napkins — five generations drawn together in a shared and happy task. Mom was teaching Julian and the rest of us the right way to do the job.
Folding those napkins was one of the last catering jobs my mother did on this earth. Folding napkins is the first job the young child gets to do in our business and, at least in Mom’s case, eight decades later it became the last.
God bless her memory and the wonderful profession that she inherited from her own parents and has now bequeathed to the generations that are following her.