Intimate Gatherings

Summer Salon Venue Spotlight: Firehouse Chicago by Natalie Pavela

Our summer salon took place at the gorgeous and historic Firehouse Chicago. It was truly as dreamy as it looks in photos; the perfect spot for an intimate gathering. We recently sat down with the space manager and summer salon attendee Michelle Marchisotta to learn more about the history of the space, what she loves most about her job, and what she envisions for this charming venue's future.

Firehouse Chicago
Tell us a bit about the history of Firehouse Chicago. Are there components of the space you have preserved to show the heritage of the space?
The firehouse was built in 1906 and was an active firehouse until fall of 2008.  It was bought by the current owners in the Spring of 2010.  Much thought and care went into planning, and preserving its integrity was at the top on the list. The glistening white subway tiled walls are original, the original wooden lockers are upstairs, and the original metal/spiral staircase still stands. 

Firehouse Chicago
Firehouse Chicago
Clients and guests get most excited about the one remaining fire pole - one of the three original fire poles is in the main event space - allowing brides and/or grooms to slide down the pole to greet who they are marrying at the altar.  My favorite history tidbit is that the catering kitchen used to be the stable where the horses lived that pulled the first horse-drawn firetruck. I also love letting people know that the original fire doors were replaced with the new ones by the owner. He made them up at his farm out of reclaimed cow barn floors. 

Firehouse Chicago

What can you do to customize the space? The space is simply gorgeous as is but can be treated as a blank canvas.  We house many unique vintage/rustic farm/rummage sale finds to create lounge areas and nooks of interest.  We've had the side yard filled with colorful Moroccan-style tents and pillows, hang fabric from the 2nd floor balcony to billow in the wind, dress the interior windows with curtains.

Firehouse-Chicago
My favorite DIY element is the 48 outlets on the ceiling grid.  We’ve had people hang vintage bulbs from them.  An upcoming couple is making homemade mason jar lanterns at different lengths to hang  and light up to make the room sparkle.
We had a reclaimed wood artist friend make a custom bar for the space.  It’s a showpiece as a bar, but my favorite is when it is used as a furniture piece against the wall and dressed up like Forth did for the Summer Salon with the adorable colorful pom garland, question cards and berry bar.
Firehouse-Chicago-Berry-Bar

Why do you think people are excited about the space? Firehouse Chicago is an alarmingly charming venue tucked in a north side neighborhood.  It’s off the beaten path, is comfortably elegant, has a gorgeous-private garden, and is filled with rich history.

Firehouse Chicago

Firehouse-Chicago

Can you share a bit about the range of celebrations individuals use your venue for?
From corporate networking mixers, to ideation sessions, book signings, music release parties, holiday parties, team building meetings, birthdays, bar mitzvahs, anniversary parties, family reunions, commitment ceremonies and weddings - we can host it all! The venue has that “it just feels good" vibe, allowing for corporate events to be that much more inspiring and private events to be that much more intimate.

Firehouse-Chicago
Firehouse Chicago
What is the most unusual rental request you've had to date? 
We recently had a death metal band film their upcoming music video in the space.  I think that one definitely wins.

Firehouse-Chicago-Michelle
Firehouse-Chicago-MichelleHow did you get into event/space management? Luckily my open passion for cooking from scratch and corporate sales/event planning background led me to a friend who pointed me in the direction of an open position with FIG Catering.  FIG partnered with the owners of the firehouse to manage events and they offered me the opportunity to spearhead the events and venue management.  It’s the best of all the worlds I love!  A great balance of being practical, creative, and  creatively practical all at the same time.

Firehouse-Chicago
What are the greatest joys you experience from managing an event venue such as Firehouse? Hands-down, my greatest joy is the execution of a wedding day.  I am lucky to share the happiest time in people’s lives with them. I love working at the Firehouse because all of my clients connect with the space the same way I do.  I can see it in their eyes before they tell me they want to book.

Summer-Salon-Michelle
The focus of our summer salon was social media, and how we use it personally and for the businesses we manage. How does Firehouse use and engage in social media? How do people tend to find out about the space? I was both personally and professionally excited about the focus of the Summer Salon.  Being a newer operation, it was perfect timing to get insight and knowledge from others that have been doing this for much longer than I have.  It’s was easiest to adapt personal social media habits when focusing on Firehouse Chicago.  The summer salon ultimately made me feel I should put effort into every avenue and to find out what is right for the venue.  Since the web and social media are huge influences in leads, it is something I will continually stay up on and learn about.  However, I am old fashioned and am happy many of our inquires come from people in the neighborhood, community involvement or by or by word of mouth.

Firehouse-Chicago
What do you you see for the future of Firehouse? Is there a dream type of event you'd love to host? I see our calendar filled with a mix of corporate and social events.  I see an endless amount of memories.  I’m going to be selfish and say my dream event would be to have my anniversary party or vow renewal in the space.  I would let my DIY dreams run wild!Thank you for your insight on this lovely venue Michelle! We're already dreaming of future events that would be perfect for this space!Find Firehouse Chicago on Facebook, TwitterInstagram, Pinterest and Yelp.

 

 

 

 

Summer Salon Spotlight: Molly Schemper of FIG Catering by Natalie Pavela

Yesterday we shared our amazing summer salon menu; today we're bringing you an interview with the wonderful Molly Schemper of FIG Catering. Get to know the woman behind this husband & wife run business and see why FIG Catering has us calling out for seconds (and thirds!). Forth-Summer-Salon-FIG-Catering-Food

Forth-Summer-Salon-FIG-Catering-Food

You and your (now) husband launched FIG 9 years ago. What has surprised you most about owning your own company? About the catering world? About working with your partner?

I knew it would be hard work and long hours. I didn't really think about the long-term as far as having employees and being more of a manager than in the kitchen and at every event. When we first started Justin and I always worked side-by-side (in the kitchen, at events); now we are more often in different areas so it's actually a bit more normal (we don't see each other 24/7).

I'm continually surprised by our hourly employees (wait staff and bartenders) – that they care so much and take so much pride in their work. I'm surprised by other caterers' approaches to the same problems and how we deal with everything a bit differently.

Forth-Summer-Salon-FIG-Catering-Food

FIG has a strong commitment to local farmers, green practices and partnering with other vendors that share an interest in sustainability. Have you found Chicago to be a good market for partnering with like-minded farmers and businesses? Is this something that serves as a major point of differentiation vs. other catering companies for clients? Since we started FIG we have grown with the local food economy. When we first started we had time to go to farmer's markets to buy ingredients, but now farmers deliver directly to us. Also there are more distributors sourcing from local farms so being able to buy things in bundles is becoming easier. We hooked up with many like-minded people when we first started and were original members of the Green Chicago Restaurant Coalition (new Co-op) and the Chicago Green Wedding Alliance, so we've developed those relationships and learned from our peers. Some clients are really in to the fact that we're "green" and practice these things and others just like us because of our great food and service. Regardless, they're all eating the same locally grown food so we're happy!

Forth-Summer-Salon-FIG-Catering-Food

FIG caters for special events up to 150. How does limiting the guest size impact the food/complexity of offerings you're able to provide each event's guests?

 

It means we're able to produce the food fresh rather than having a lot of items prepared and just heating them up. Because most of the spaces we work in do not have commercial kitchens our capacity is limited so by limiting the guest count we give the clients fresher, better food. We are also able to order from smaller farms that may not have the capacity to provide beef for 1000 guests per week but are able to serve our needs.

Firehouse Chicago

You served a custom cocktail at our summer salon - The Front Porch, featuring spiced New Orleans rum, chamomile sweet tea & homemade bitters. This is part of a soon-to-launch extension of your business - FIG Drinks. Tell us a bit about how Fig Drinks came to be and what you envision for the future of this business.

We hope to officially launch FIG Drinks soon. Basically, we think of it as a bar catering service. We noticed that most catered events had very boring beer, wine, and liquor selections (even though bars and restaurants in Chicago are far ahead of the game, it is like catering is stuck in the 90s). We wanted to create a catering bar service that offered the kind of things we would want to drink while making it very simple for the client (not a huge warehouse of inventory, licensed and trained bartenders, a one-stop shop). Our selection would range from locally brewed beer, environmentally friendly wines, small batch spirits and seasonal hand-crafted cocktails. The goal is to have your event feel more like hanging at your favorite bar than the hotel lobby.

This sounds fantastic! We'll be keeping our eyes peeled for the official launch of FIG Drinks!

Forth-Summer-Salon-FIG-Catering-Food

Do friends ever hesitate to cook for you because of your awesome skills?

Our friends are often intimidated to cook for us, but we'll be the first to admit that if anyone cooks for us it's automatically going to taste good because someone else cooked it! We're really not very judgmental – we love good food, but prefer simple stuff. So, I guess what I'm saying is – we're available on Monday evenings to be party guests.

Forth-Summer-Salon-FIG-Catering-Food

Do you like to cook for small intimate gatherings you host for friends and family outside of FIG, or are you tuckered out from doing it all day?

I like to, but rarely have time or energy anymore. Maybe once I retire.

 

Forth-Summer-Salon-FIG-Catering-Food

What do you love most about your job?

Seeing the event come to fruition and the smiles on the guests (and clients) faces.

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Describe your perfect meal.

That is so tough. For me, location plays a huge role - I don't think I'd like anything more than eating it on a beach somewhere or on a crowded city sidewalk café/patio. Freshly shucked oysters, cheese and bread, perfect nectarines, BLT sandwiches, and ice cream.

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Thanks for sharing Molly! Friends, be sure to follow along with Molly on twitter and instagram.