By CATHI AYCOCK
If you want your wedding reception food to be average fare, you may not want to check out McConnell House.
That’s because this historic venue is all about offering exceptional food. Since Red Pony Catering was born from three thriving restaurants, the catering arm of this venue is anything but average.
We sat down with Sharon Davis with McConnell House and Red Pony Catering to talk food, history, entertaining trends and more food.
This is such an amazing venue. To be able to have your event or reception in a historic space is incredible. What is the story behind the space and how did you all land here?
McConnell House was built in 1905. To Franklin natives it has been called “The Old, Old, Old Jail.”
In 2012 McConnell Hospitality Group was in search of a catering kitchen- as you can imagine, operating Red Pony Catering out of our already very busy restaurants had become very challenging. We came across this building and thought, “How perfect! We can make this the home of Red Pony Catering and use it as a home-base for the events we cater around Middle Tennessee and we can host our own private events in the gorgeous building. While we knew we’d still host large parties at the restaurants, we thought offering our clients a unique and private space with the well-known Red Pony Catering cuisine and service at MH was a win-win.
Fast-forward to almost 5 years down the road and we are bustling with weddings, rehearsal dinners, and corporate events. We love our home on Bridge Street.
Red Pony and 55South are two of my favorite Franklin restaurants. How do the food geniuses behind the restaurants translate food into wedding reception offerings?
One of the most common reviews we get is, “That wasn’t wedding food!” To be honest, we came to the wedding industry in a non-traditional fashion — after having 3 established restaurants — so this was the most bizarre thing to hear. The reality, though, is that wedding food has historically been overpriced and expected to be average. Anyone that knows MHG knows that mediocrity isn’t a standard we are comfortable with. Instead, we think food should be the highlight of events. It is, after all, what brings people together and, better than anything else, allows people to connect and make memories. We always tell clients, “They ALWAYS remember the food.”
Whether it be a sit-down plated dinner or a Southern menu from the smoker out back, food can always be exceptional and the quality of service in which it is offered is paramount. That is why we make everything from scratch and why we don’t use staffing agencies. Our staff is passionate about offering the best and representing our brand.
McConnell House hosts everything- plated, family style, buffet, and stations. Because our building is so architecturally interesting, guests do love to move throughout and explore. For that reason, weddings are most often offering a stations-style reception. For these receptions, we do a couple of passed hors d’oeuvres at cocktail hour and 2-3 stations of food for dinner. Stations offer the same amount of food as a plated dinner but offer less “labor intensive” fare. Items can be eaten with a max of 1 utensil. This allows clients to host a more social event where guests are eating, drinking, dancing and socializing when and where they want. These events are so fun!
Rehearsal dinners and corporate events tend to lean more towards the buffet or plated dinner where everyone comes in, sits, eats, and leaves at the same time.
As far as menu options, we are chef owned and operated. There isn’t a menu we can’t do and hardly an allergy we can’t easily accommodate. This is a service we are happy to offer. Most commonly we are featuring the sophisticated Southern cuisine that Red Pony Restaurant is so well known for but we’ve been known to do Caribbean, Cuban, and a variety of other menus.
How many folks can McConnell House hold?
McConnell House can accommodate wedding ceremonies for up to 125. These groups most often are offering stations.
For rehearsal and corporate dinners, we often seat guests in the largest dining room, which accommodates up to 72 guests.
For standing room only with no dance floor, we can accommodate up to 200- though 175 is most comfortable.
What trends to you see now in wedding receptions? I know we are past punch and mints, but what do brides and grooms want today?
Stations have definitely taken a huge force in weddings- primarily because couples want to offer a real celebration. The “stuffy” wedding is out. Brides and grooms want to look around and see their guests having a great time.
Southern cuisine is big … in weddings and in the restaurants. We laugh that people love our biscuit and cornbread so much that you would have thought we reinvented the wheel. But how can we blame them?? Homemade biscuits, jams, jellies… what’s not to love?
What if you want Red Pony Catering, but your reception is going to be held somewhere other than McConnell House?
There isn’t much Red Pony Catering can’t do offsite but it’s really important to consider the facilities when choosing your location. If you want a plated meal for 200 that includes scallops and filet, an onsite commercial kitchen is more valuable than you may originally realize. What we generally do is find out what the client is envisioning and then do a site visit to tour the facilities to be sure we can execute what the bride and groom are dreaming of. If we don’t think it can be well executed, we will collaborate to design a menu that can be 100% with a mobile kitchen.
Barns and other alternatives are very popular but ensuring you’re premium dollars are being spent on a place that can provide a seamless event are valuable when making your venue decisions.
What else do we need to know about McConnell House?
Our couples automatically get an Event Manager- no additional charge. This person isn’t attending cake tastings and picking flowers with you but they are providing digital layouts with measurements, scheduling your tasting, etc. Most of our clients do not need an additional wedding planner.
We do setup and breakdown. Most couples and their families don’t do a thing other than show up and have a great time.
What you do have to budget for (outside our costs): DJ, flowers, officiant, cake, photography
Our pricing is upfront and straightforward. We don’t have any additional, sneaky fees.