THE VINDICATOR, YOUNGSTOWN
A Niles banquet and event center is doubling its size and adding a restaurant.
By CYNTHIA VINARSKY
VINDICATOR BUSINESS WRITER
NILES -- Making weddings memorable has been Dick and Sandy Leonard's No. 1 priority since 1991, but starting next month they'll be serving up their wedding dinner specialties to the general public as well.
The Leonards, founders of the family-owned McMenamy's multipurpose complex in Niles, said the business is completing an expansion and remodeling project and adding a full-service restaurant, nearly doubling the facility's size.
A new roadside sign featuring Las Vegas-style digital graphics will announce the facility's new name: McMenamy's Restaurant and Banquet Facility.
Leonard said the owners have invested more than $1 million on improvements, and the facility will be close to 30,000 square feet once the expansion is complete.
Wedding receptions have always been McMenamy's "bread and butter" and that's not about to change, Mrs. Leonard said. The Youngstown-Warren Road facility is booked with receptions for nearly every weekend through the end of 2002 and already is penciling events in for 2003.
Expansion: A window-lined addition to the banquet facility, part of the remodeling project, will allow McMenamy's to accommodate three receptions or events at one time or one very large event. The expanded banquet area can seat between 1,200 and 1,500 people.
A new, larger kitchen will serve both the restaurant and the banquet center and will make it possible to serve sit-down dinners as well as the more typical banquet-style food service line.
The owners also plan to remodel the former kitchen into a private dining room for smaller parties, such as wedding and baby showers, rehearsal dinners, club parties and business luncheons.
"In the past, we've had to turn away people who were planning smaller events, like a Communion party or a shower, because we were too big," Mrs. Leonard said.
"Now we can offer our brides full service -- they can have their shower, rehearsal dinner and reception here. And when the reception is over and some guests want to stay, we can suggest they go to our restaurant instead of sending them to down the street to somebody else."
Construction is still under way at the restaurant, which will feature large windows overlooking a wooded area and an outdoor patio. Plans are to have the eatery open for business by mid-October.
Familiar menu: The restaurant menu will include some of McMenamy's most requested wedding entrees -- items such as champagne chicken, white fish Francais, mostaciolli marinara and Farfalle primavera -- but in a more casual setting.
Chef Charles Marsh, who has coordinated special event cooking at McMenamy's for several years, also will be in charge of food preparation for the restaurant.
Owners plan to offer live entertainment at the restaurant, a feature that will help the business stand out among the many eating spots on the busy Youngstown-Warren Road commercial strip. Leonard said they'll try to vary the entertainment regularly and to offer a wide variety of musical styles.
"Our strip is always busy, and people like variety," Mrs. Leonard said. "I think we'll be busy."
Leonard was a Nationwide insurance agent who dabbled in real estate investments, and his wife was a teacher in the Austintown schools when they decided in 1989 to buy a former discount store building on Youngstown-Warren Road.
History of building: Once a Fairway department store, the structure had also housed a church and a haunted house and needed extensive remodeling. The property was in Weathersfield Township, but the new owners decided to annex into the city of Niles to get access to city sewers and other amenities.
Dick's brothers, Robert and Bill Leonard, and their wives, Karen and Mary Ann, are all shareholders. The brothers decided to give the business the Irish maiden name of their mother, Kathryn McMenamy, when they opened in the spring of 1991.
The Leonards said their center is probably best known for its wedding receptions, but once a year the family remembers its Irish roots by hosting one of the Mahoning Valley's largest St. Patrick's Day parties.
On average, they said, the 13-hour event attracts 5,000 to 6,000 people. "Once a year, we're a full-Irish hall," Mrs. Leonard said with a grin.
Now, with a larger building and expanded parking facilities to match, the owners are looking at new services and functions for the center.
McMenamy's has hosted several large all-day business seminars, providing meeting space and meals for employees attending.
Dick Leonard said the business also signed a contract recently with a Cleveland promoter who plans to offer a series of dinner concerts at the center, starting next year. Artists already scheduled to perform include The Supremes, Las Vegas entertainers The Legends, the Osmond Brothers and the Four Lads.
Mrs. Leonard said none of the owners had formal training in operating a multipurpose center like McMenamy's, but all of them have been in "people" occupations.
"This is a people business," she said. "You have to love people, and you have to be meticulous about detail."
The owners work side by side with their employees, decorating the hall, displaying the cookies and cleaning up at the end of the day, she said.
"We always stay for the end of the wedding reception to make sure everything is OK," she said. "And I always give the bride a hug. We're a close, family business, and we always want to keep it that way."