Make It Your Wedding. “You want your guests to be able to walk into your wedding venue and know right away it’s your wedding. Your signature drink, for example, should be something that reflects the two of you.”
Choose Your Wedding Date To Match Your Budget. “A wedding on a Saturday night in season, May through October, is over $225 a head, But have a Thursday evening wedding in season and it’s $120 per person. Choose a Saturday wedding out of season and it could be $150 per person.”
Nanina’s in the Park, 540 Mill Street, Belleville, NJ 07109
Photos: Milton Gil Photographers
Choose a Wedding Venue That Offers Your Best Value
An Elegant Grand Ballroom, Romantic Gardens, Budget-Conscious Planning
“Brides and grooms usually want to know how we can make their day special,” says Tom Casella, former general manager of Nanina’s in the Park and currently general manager of its sister property, Park Château Estate and Gardens.
“So I always ask them, ‘What are you looking for?’ We host one event at a time, and to make it special, it’s all about putting their personality into it. For example, I ask our wedding couples to bring their family photos to help make them feel comfortable. That’s the key: will they be comfortable? I want to alleviate any stress.”
Add Personal Touches
“You want your guests to be able to walk into your wedding venue and know right away it’s your wedding. Your signature drink, for example, should be something that reflects the two of you.”
Tom recently had a bride and groom who didn’t drink alcohol but who both loved Coke, so he got the old-fashioned Coke bottles and red and white straws and passed them out on silver trays. “Everyone knew that was their perfect signature drink. Everything should reflect the bride and groom’s personality.”
Designed For Your Budget
In working with each bridal couple, Tom keeps in mind that planning a wedding can be stressful. “They’re thinking, ‘Who will be coming? Can we do this financially? Will my personality be shown?’ If mom and dad aren’t paying for the wedding, they always worry about affording it.”
In terms of budgets, Tom has a special arrangement. He tells us that in creating Nanina’s, the owners wanted a property every bride and groom could afford. “For example, a wedding on a Saturday night in season, May through October, is over $225 a head, But have a Thursday evening wedding in season and it’s $120 per person. Choose a Saturday wedding out of season and it could be $150 per person.
“But no matter when you have your wedding at Nanina’s, with us, it’s always one event at a time. That’s one waiter per table, at least two maitre d’s coordinating everything, and bridal attendants. Everyone gets the same thing. Most facilities have an in-season menu, an out-of-season menu, or an afternoon menu, but not us.
“So my job as an event planner is to find the best value for each bride and groom. It’s not about the least or most expensive wedding, it’s finding the best value.” There are two event planners on staff at Nanina’s. “Often you have to hire an event planner, but we’re here for you.”
The Artist & The Musician ... Clubby Yet Traditional
“I just sat down with a bride who’s an artist and a groom who’s a musician.” Tom tells us that for her invitation, she’s sending a six-inch square piece of canvas on which their guests can paint their reply! She’s going to stitch all the pieces of canvas together into one large painting, and then the guests will be a part of their ceremony.
“They’re on a budget, so they’re doing a Saturday afternoon,” says Tom, “and she said, ‘We can’t afford centerpieces,’ so I said, ‘Why don’t we frame 15 of those pieces of canvas and put them on little tripods? They can be your centerpieces.’ She’s an artist so she loves the whole idea. I found a band that’s reasonable and the groom is a drummer so he’s going to do several songs with the band.
“They incorporated both their interests and personalities into their wedding so they’ll be very comfortable. If the bride and groom are comfortable, the guests are comfortable and everyone has a great time.”
Nanina’s just had a wedding where the bride wanted a club theme but her parents wanted a traditional theme. “Here I am in a Tuscan villa setting. How do I make it a club? So we combined what the bride and groom wanted and what the mom and dad wanted.”
Tom hired a decorator who hung crystals from their cathedral ceiling. “We have many LED intelligent lighting fixtures in the room, so I knew I could create a club atmosphere.” They also did the traditional early arrival champagne and the traditional ceremony.
“But we didn’t do a cocktail hour. Instead we did an open-seating cocktail-type reception with a lot of lounge seating. But to include the traditional element, we also had 10 tables with beautiful centerpieces.”
Recently, Nanina’s has been welcoming more and more multi-ethnic weddings. At one recent wedding, for example, the bride was Indian and the groom was Italian. “That can be hard on us, because as event planners, how do you incorporate both foods? At The Park Savoy, our sister property, we have a chef who went to school for Indian cuisine, sushi, as well as Italian cooking.
“So Chef George, who is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, created Indian dishes in one room for the cocktail hour and Vincenzo did all the Italian food in the upper room. We also did a mix, where we put some of the Italian food downstairs and some of the Indian food upstairs so people would be more likely to mingle. That’s more common now when the wedding is joining two cultures.”
They’ve also recently had several Korean and Italian weddings. “We set up a traditional tea ceremony where the elders come and we had all the pillows, the tea, and the teapots. So they had their traditional Catholic ceremony and then the tea ceremony. It was great watching the Italian grandmother and the Korean grandmother combine ceremonial traditions!”
Another bride has a mom who wants the traditional wedding, but the bride wants a beach wedding. They visited all the shore places and the mom wasn’t happy because she wanted more food and service. Most catering facilities at the shore do a minimalistic approach to the food, but these were Italian families and they wanted more dishes.”
Tom and his team brought in sand for the ceremony and put it on the grounds. “We also found little beach chairs for the place cards and we created a boardwalk theme during dessert. So we brought the shore into Nanina’s!”
In The Park
When they first purchased the property, it was in a park and a beautiful stream went around the building. “We brought in an hstoric bridge to put over the existing stream over the stream and also created a 20-foot double waterfall.” In designing their outdoor ceremony space, they had a choice between creating it wide or long. “We went wide so the 20-foot waterfall and koi pond could be seen by the wedding guests during the ceremony. We actually put microphones in the waterfall, which mute any external sound and amplify the sound of the waterfall’s cascading water.
“Since we are situated in historic Branch Brook Park, which was designed by the famous Olmstead brothers who also designed Central Park in New York City, a lot of weddings will incorporate Nanina's outdoor area during their cocktail hour. We have grills at Nanina’s and we also have cabanas at The Park Savoy, so the cocktail hour can be outside at either place.”
A Rich History
Over 60 years ago, the original family behind the venue had a restaurant in downtown Newark, and then Nanina bought the villa.
“She was one of the first ones to do weddings in a hall. This building has the largest wine cellar in New Jersey, so she had the à la carte blackboard special type of restaurant. She used the cocktail hour room as the banquet room and then extended it to make the ballroom as it is today.”
It went through several generations and then 14 years ago, the grandson decided he wanted a different career, so he sold it to the current owners and they soon brought me in. Before I was at Florentine Gardens.”
They also purchased The Park Savoy three years ago. “It had a rich history and there was an opportunity for some modernization. When they took it over, they began bringing to life the Great Gatsby vision they had for the venue.”
“Even though we are doing the same thing for our weddings, every wedding is different. Every day is like doing it for the first time, and that is exciting.
“When the bride and groom walk in on their wedding day, everything is set. They don’t have to do a thing. They see their pictures on the side table and vestibule. We have a bridal attendant to help her with her dress.”
They also just created a bride’s suite and a groom suite. “Both were designed by our decorator, Phyllis Taylor, and one of the owners, Vito Cucci. The bride’s suite has makeup tables, two baths, and a princess balcony overlooking the ceremony area. The groom’s suite is a man cave, with a fireplace, a TV, and leather couches. We always try to get the groom involved with the bar, so that when his friends walk up to the bar, we have everything there. We have all this in place so when you and your guests walk in, you know it’s your wedding.
"This is what makes you feel relaxed and at ease, and that’s the most exciting thing for me, being able to eliminate that stress factor.”
Nanina’s in the Park
540 Mill Street, Belleville, NJ 07109