Tradition Maintains Business for Banquet Centers

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio  Tradition – whether it’s serving as a venue for family events such as weddings or offering longtime favorites on the menu – is a key component to the longevity of area banquet and meeting halls.

“It’s competitive,” acknowledges Tony Ciminero, owner of Ciminero’s Banquet Centre in Niles. “We’re seeing a lot of repeat business with families with weddings and so forth.”

Ciminero’s, which is approaching its 13th anniversary, is already 90% booked for next year, he reports.

“We are noted for certain dishes,” including chicken, homemade meatballs, “our family sauce,” cheese potatoes and carved meats, he says. “Those are a must on a lot of the event menus that people put together,” he adds.

Operating a banquet hall is “not as easy as one would think,” remarks Don Warg, assistant manager of Mr. Anthony’s Banquet Center in Boardman, which has been in business 34 years. “It takes a lot of time, a lot of hard work,” he adds. “I’ve seen a lot [of competitors] come and go.”

Tradition plays a “huge role” in the banquet hall business, Warg acknowledges. That’s particularly the case when it comes to receptions for weddings, including Greek and Italian weddings.

“Everything that’s involved, especially with food. It’s very traditional,” he says. In-demand dishes include the various pasta dishes and stuffed cabbage.

“The cookies are the main thing,” he adds. One recent wedding had more than six tables of just cookies, he points out.

Traditional family functions such as wedding receptions and graduation parties are anchors for the Saxon Club, its vice president, Barry Garhammer, says. Opening on Youngstown’s east side in 1901, the club has been at its current site on South Meridian Road since 1968.

“Almost every Friday, Saturday and Sunday in June is booked solid,” Garhammer says. Holiday parties fill the club’s schedule in December.

“Some of the weddings we’ve got have been phenomenal,” he says.

The size of the Saxon Club’s ballroom – it can accommodate more than 350 guests – helps bring events to the club, he says. In addition, a pavilion on the grounds can fit 125 guests. Staff members show customers photos to give them ideas how to set up for an event and take them around the hall and grounds.

“We want to make it as perfect as possible,” Garhammer says.

Garhammer also points to the versatility of the club’s menu – at a customer’s request, the club provided brisket for a wedding, an item not ordinarily on the menu.

The club recently added a new chef from Florida. “You can’t beat this guy on fish,” he says.

Even in a market that seems to have no shortage of venues, some see room for additional banquet and meeting space, but even those newly entering that market are keeping tradition in mind.

The Eastwood Conference Center at the Eastwood Mall Complex in Niles is targeting an opening in the second or third quarter of 2016, reports Joe Bell, spokesman for the Cafaro Co., the developer. Demolition of the Eastwood Expo Center is complete and the basic shell of the conference center is “ready to go,” he says.

Once completed, the 29,000-square-foot center will be able to comfortably accommodate up to 1,000 people for a sit-down dinner but will have the flexibility to be divided into smaller spaces, Bell says

“There is still a need for smaller meeting spaces, but even more so there are any number of organizations, groups or even private individuals that have approached us indicating the need for a large conference or banquet facility,” Bell remarks. “There aren’t a great many locations in Trumbull County that would fit that bill and I doubt there will be many that have all the size and all the amenities that will go into the Eastwood Conference Center.”

Even as modern as the new event center is, Bell recognizes tradition remains an important aspect.

“You absolutely have to keep that in mind. We know there are some really hard and fast traditions that people in our region cherish, especially when it’s a personal event and they want it to be a comfortable setting,” he says.

Opened in 2009 primarily to accommodate the needs of parishioners, the Holy Family Parish Center in Poland offers itself for public rental as well. It is open to “pretty much the gamut” of traditional events, including rehearsal dinners and anniversary parties, says Kathleen Meredith, parish center coordinator.

The one exception, notably, is wedding receptions. “It was just a decision that was made at the beginning by the pastor and the planning committee,” Meredith says.

Customers book the parish center because of its location and the quality of the venue itself, “how the facility looks and its beautiful state-of-the-art kitchen,” although the center dos not offer food service itself, she says. Clients can hire a caterer or bring their own food and prepare it there “so that’s a nice option,” she remarks.

Pictured: The Saxon Club’s Barry Garhammer.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.