How I went from pig roast at abandoned convent to my wedding
You may notice a HUGE difference in this post than in all previous posts since I started this blog three years ago. I’ve been doing something wrong for basically my whole life, ever since taking typing classes on those slick Commodore 64s in Chairavalle Montessori’s “lab” [it was more of a broom closet at that point]. Who knew?! Sorry future leaders of America, I steered you wrong. Luckily, I’ve only taught hundreds of kids over the years.
Anyhoo, onto more important things than education. My wedding.
Back in July, I posted “Our Ridiculous Wedding Wish.” The summary?
Fiancé and I ARE –
- flip-flops and jeans
- backyard BBQ
- not rich, not poor
- creative and entrepreneurial
- laid-back professional
- independent, small-business
- three fake engagement rings and one real engagement Mac Book Air
- well-connected [in the “size of network of people” sense, not in the “We just had coffee with Barack” sense]
Fiancé and I ARE NOT –
- hotel ballroom
- swanky restaurant
- church/synagogue/any house of worship
- dry chicken breasts and limp green beans
- anyone dictating we must use this caterer, this florist, this photographer…
- this day has to be huge!, perfect!, a real spectacle!
We wanted a wedding that reflected our AREs and our ARE NOTs and that came nowhere near the average Chicago wedding price of $53,000. To be honest, a wedding that costs $10,000 is hard to swallow for us; the website design, the travel, the updated Quickbooks we could buy with that money!
So, we thought, a pretty house! A backyard wedding! Economical, little stress, comfy, us. We know a lot of folks, for sure we can find a pretty house backyard for free or a barter!
After the wedding wish post, amazingly generous offers of “I don’t have a house but I do have ______ which I’d love to offer you!” flowed in. And so did the pretty house. Two in fact. No strings. Just here, we like you, here’s our house.
But the more we discussed details and talked to people, the more it became apparent what we thought would be simple and frugal could actually turn into a ton of work and money. When you piecemeal, the time and money add up. Fast. Rent chairs from this place and plates from that place. Where do we put the caterers? Do we want people traipsing through someone’s home to use the bathroom? Do we need to rent a tent? An AV system? Get a special permit to serve alcohol? How do folks get to the house way out here in the ‘burbs? And on and on.
I curate events for a living. I did not want to clipboard, headset-mic, and armpit-sweat my wedding.
So we began to rethink our vision and investigate other venues. Too pricey. Too overdone. Too formal. Too inclusive. Too un-inclusive. The “Let’s just be done with it…” vibe began to reverberate.
And then, lo and behold, we got our Fairy Godmother wish. Just like that. It’s nothing like what we wanted and it’s exactly what we wanted.
An acquaintance of Fiancé told him months ago about a restaurant in Pilsen that had this cool outdoor space that wasn’t your typical ridiculously-priced wedding venue. When Fiancé described it to me, I didn’t go ga-ga. I had been to the restaurant – Honky Tonk BBQ – and while I had enjoyed the pork, coleslaw, and indoor ambiance, I couldn’t picture an affiliated outdoor space that fit our vision. So I told him to spreadsheet it and promptly forgot about it.
Sometime down the road, I recalled an event that I went to as part of my Solo Life, where I’d go to one thing a week by myself. The title of the event was what caught my eye – “Pig Roast at an Abandoned Convent.” Ohhh. That sounded intriguing. So I went. And blogged about it, in September 2009. Remembering the uniqueness, intimate yet large size, comfortable yet urban hipness, adventure-going obscurity, and fairytale white lights, I thought, hmmm, maybe. As a Plan G. And spreadsheeted it.
Fast forward four months. We were so ready to have an answer to “Where are you getting married?” “Have a venue yet?” “What’s the date?” I re-examined the now ridiculously long spreadsheet. “Uh Fiancé… I think that place your friend told you about and my pig roast place are the same. That’s small-world’y!” A few minutes later, on a Tuesday December night, we were driving down the highway to Pilsen. Dinner. View it through wedding-glasses. See what happens.
The waitress brought our check. Fiancé asked about the space, thinking she would just chat it up with us. A few minutes later, the event coordinator was sitting at our table. She was jeans, gym shoes, long brown pony-tail, ankle crossed over her knee as she leaned back in her chair. She oozed laid-back. As we started chatting details, she oozed laid-back professional. Fiancé and I started to fall a little bit in love.
Everything she mentioned was exactly what we wanted to hear —
- brisket, mac ‘n cheese, mashed potatoes
- easy parking
- come in to decorate whenever you want
- we’ve got vases, tubs, platters, lights, tables, chairs, AV you can use
- capacity 200
- we’ll handle all the food and service
- sweet-tea and lemonade
- feel free to bring in your own alcohol; we can serve it
- only thing you might want to rent are linens
- it’s never rained on any of our weddings
- whatever you guys want, let’s do it
A few minutes later, we were walking to the Abandoned Convent a block away from the restaurant. It was as I remembered it. Fiancé loved it immediately. I loved the idea of not having to rent stuff or worry about set up and tear down immediately.
We were surprised to learn there were only three weekends left in the whole year. Labor Day weekend, our weekend, someone had already booked. Sad face. But she just booked the catering not the space, and multiple catering can happen! Happy face. We thanked Event Coordinator and said we’d be in touch. As we drove home, we went over the pros and cons, likes and dislikes. Pros and likes went on for awhile. Cons and dislikes, we had none.
A few minutes later, after running in the house to grab the checkbook, we were driving back to Pilsen. Thirty-ish minutes after we told her goodbye, we presented our deposit check to Event Coordinator in the overflowing basement of a neighborhood BBQ joint filled with mismatched vintage dinnerware and vases. She added us to the bulletin board of couples and we said goodbye. Again.
We finally have an answer! September 1st. The Secret Garden.
For environmental reasons [and perhaps one or two other reasons], I hope that’s the only check we end up writing. The way things are going, it very well may be. In exchange for what Fiancé and I do well, from social media marketing to teaching improv to non-improvisers to referral-giving to curating events, we’ve got some of the best talent in Chicago a part of our wedding day for a whopping price tag of $0.
- custom-made invitations by Spilled Ink Press — holler Amanda! (See the invite!)
- wedding photography by Angela Garbot Photography — holler Angie!
- textual storytelling by Ruthie Kott — holler Ruthie!
- videography by Media for Social Change — holler Shuling!
- UPDATE > brunch venue by Enerspace — holler Jamie!* (*We ended up cancelling the brunch because the weekend was getting too packed, but want to acknowledge Jamie being on board since she and her space are so awesome, and she was so fantastic to work with!)
- UPDATE > rehearsal dinner catered by Ambiente Chicago — holler Danielle and Mallery!
- UPDATE > day of wedding coordination by Kate Buckner — holler Kate!
- UPDATE > wedding beer by Hail to the Ale — holler Kim!
- UPDATE > wedding childcare by Lindsay Muscato — holler Lindsay!
- UPDATE > wedding childcare by Ellen Lekostaj — holler Ellen!
- UPDATE > wedding decor by Adrienne Zeak Brust — holler Adrienne!
- UPDATE > rehearsal dinner dessert by The Cooking Chicks — holler Vanessa!
- UPDATE > wedding transportation by Uber — holler Nicole!
- UPDATE > wedding beer by Powell Brew House — holler Josh!
- UPDATE > rehearsal dinner beer by Circus Girl Beer — holler Jennifer and Renee!
- UPDATE > wedding hair and makeup by Kristine Lorenzo — holler Kristine!
- UPDATE > rehearsal dinner photography by Amy Boyle Photography — holler Amy!
- UPDATE > wedding childcare by Christina Muscato — holler Christina!
- UPDATE > engagement photography by OKRFOTO — holler Oriana!
- UPDATE > Four Seasons honeymoon upgrades by Vision2000! — holler Andrew!
- UPDATE > teeth-whitening by Sugar Fix Dental! — holler Amy and Jessica!
Wedding is shaping up to be a powerhouse of local, independent, creative, socially-conscious, passionate, mostly-female Chicagoans.
Can’t wait to continue adding to the arsenal [
Beer Brewer? Baker? Wedding Florist? Rehearsal Dinner Florist? Wine or Liquor Purveyor? Rehearsal Dinner Caterer? Day of Coordinator? We’d LOVE to chat!].
A fairytale wedding CAN be begotten without credit card debt, arguments, check one: chicken or steak, and constrictive under-garments.
A fairytale wedding CAN be low-key, non-wasteful, affordable, and fun.
A fairytale wedding CAN be nothing like what you envisioned and yet everything you envisioned.
Congratulations! Awesome story!
This is amazing! If we wouldn’t already have gotten married last year I would definitely be looking into this place! Hope your day is AMAZING!
Where did you get married?!?! I LOVE hearing everyone’s stories… any chance you blogged about it? Would love to read it.
And if you have any vendors who were rockstars, do tell! While I may already have lots of mine, I get asked about 15 times a minute for referrals.
We got married at River Forrest Country Club in Elmhurst, IL. Private club that hosts weddings, etc for anyone (don’t have to be or know a member) Outside ceremony and nice big ballroom inside and no worries about multiple parties a day. Hayes (their event manager/coordinator) is the most wonderful person to work with and I can’t say enough about ALL of the food! We loved our DJ, Paul from Admit One out of Naperville. Admit One lets you choose your DJ from their vast staff at Meet the DJ night and we loved him! The dance floor was rocking… Read more »
So fabulous. I’m planning a wedding out of state, but two of my favorite vendors/folks have been Chicago-based: Crafty Broads, who altered my dress (and who I believe also do day-of coordination etc), and Rebecca Zemans, who’s making our (very reasonably priced) wedding bands and who incidentally works in an awesome gem-of-a-space-with-a-pie-shop-beneath, Lillstreet Art Center. Not sure if you’ll need any of that, but just a heads up on a few more fab local ladies who actually take a genuine interest in realizing whatever vision you have, and fairly.
Rebecca has been recommended by a few folks. If we don’t exchange fruit loops, maybe we’ll contact her. Haven’t heard of Crafty Broads, good tip!
And I know where to come if I decide I need wedding dancers, am I right?
Love hearing how everything is coming together! The location looks amazing! Textual storytelling…I like! Congratulations again, Saya!
Thanks Laila! We’re excited. Funny how things work out, no?
I love, love this! You two are adorable and I love how you approached your wedding planning. It’s REAL. Real is often forgotten by couples as they get swept in the whirlwind of flowers, color schemes, how to make it fabulous…for everyone else. I can’t wait to hear more, your day is going to be super special for both of you and everyone there.<3
Thanks Lisa P!
Every time someone asks me about my “color scheme,” I stare back blankly. Same for dress, flowers, hair and makeup. Could care less!! We just want people to have fun, us to have fun, Fiancé People to smoosh with Saya People, and to not spend a ridiculous amount of money. And it not to rain.
PS – I met the gal from 10th and Blake (that’s what it’s called, right?) at Ignite, she’s awesome. I don’t like beer but she had me craving a pint.
Love this! It’s so important not to get wrapped up in what everyone else is doing. My husband and I got married in Galena Illinois for half the price of Chicago – on a farm with BBQ picnics and lawn games. No white dress, no cake, no first dance. My friend made the dress, a friend was the DJ, a friend was the photographer, a friend’s friend is the jeweler of our rings. It was perfectly us and so much more special because of it. Some people want the big white wedding, which is great, and some people choose a… Read more »
Great story Shayna, thanks for sharing! Solidifies my feeling that we’re heading down the right path.
Where in Galena did you get hitched? Had a family reunion at Eagle Ridge and went to a wedding at an adorable schoolhouse/tiny church place that I can’t remember the name of.
I’ll be dress shopping at the Old Navy clearance rack. Hello $8 sundress.
No first dance or cake for us either!
Yes, we got married at the same place with the school house and the chapel! (although our ceremony was outside) It’s called Oak Hill. All our families stayed at Eagle Ridge.
Yay! I feel the same way as a Community Manager. Why would I want to plan an event for free when I get paid to plan them because they are stressful?
Our plan is to have a “destination” wedding, which is a cop-out for not having any wedding at all, and just going on vacation.
What a great story!! looks like the perfect venue for you two totally original people! : ))
Thanks LM! 🙂 Just got blessed with another awesome female-entrepreneur offering up her services — wedding brunch catered by Ambiente Chicago, woot!
Saya, you should have a Mingler where we come over and help you make favors! It could even be wedding themed — your most scandalous wedding story (bride/groom point of view, guest POV), etc. I’d go….I’m sure people have good stories!
Wonderful! Honky Tonk is my favorite restaurant in the city and I love their outdoor space. Willie and his team will take very very good care of you for your wedding!
Good to hear Sean, thanks for sharing! We’re hoping we’re as cute a married-couple as you two.
I love love love this story. Yep dreams do come true. Thanks Saya for sharing. This is SOOOO you and Pete (can you see/feel me smiling?) And because I’ve experienced many of these talents, I’d agree you have got some of the best talent in Chicago as part of your wedding day.
I can, Althea! Your gorgeous radiant smile. Thanks for reading/sharing!
You are so lucky to get the hook-up from so many awesome vendors! Hope it’s a wonderful (and sunny, non-humid!) day!
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Thank you for posting this, I love the space and your story. I just came across this venue as I am beginning to search for a wedding space that is not “wedding-y” Hope your wedding is everything you want it to be!
When are you getting married? And what do you think your guest numbers will be?
Might have some suggestions.
We haven’t made any decisions yet as to when, where, etc. We are 60-40 at any given time if we even want a wedding. Lately I have been thinking that we should spend our money on an Icelandic honeymoon, which sounds much more appealing! Our guest list would be between 75-100 people. I love the idea of a simple celebration, because a wedding is something to be celebrated. I dislike all of the hooplah that goes along with the wedding industry though. I would welcome any suggestions! Also – I was checking out your site and I am thoroughly intrigued… Read more »
Here are some non-traditional options — Bang Bang Pie Shop is very similar to Honky Tonk. If you check it out, feel free to drop my name — Dave the owner is FAB! He’s always on twitter, @bangbangpie. I’m @sayahillman. http://www.bangbangpie.com/ http://www.stylemepretty.com/illinois-weddings/chidago-weddings/page/4/ Bridgeport Arts Center http://bridgeportart.com/ Lacuna Artist Loft http://lacuna2150.com/ And a friend I know married at City Hall, took a trip to Paris and then had a huge party at Chief O’Neills in their gorgeous outdoor space. She said is was the best idea ever. You should come to Dabble next week, always a good two-hours! (Biased of course… Read more »
We visited Honky Tonk and the garden a few weeks ago and immediately knew that this was the space for us! We are set for a solstice wedding next June. I hope your wedding is amazing, can’t wait to see pictures!
Yay, exciting! How’d you hear about it?
I admire your success in cobbling things together organically and getting the best of each element, rather than be suckered into the “convenance” of a package. No doubt it will be a delightful affair! Readers and writer alike, please do not overlook the fact that none of this is, as implied, actually “free.” While procured by barter, these treats are the result of thousands of hours of your professional labor and the products created therein. So for the rest of us, while our careers of, say, teaching physics, might not afford us a clamoring cadre of fierce, party-minded colleagues armed… Read more »
[…] recently, including her hair stylist! I then mentioned that someone I knew was in the process of bartering nearly 100% of her wedding this summer. What a great way to approach life: an exchange of passions and strengths with others […]
Awesome! Love that place and I was the mac and cheese person you ran into the first time around at that space. I always thought it would be a great space for a wedding. And my friends who you met who met that met on match.com got married last year and had BBQ picnic for their reception along the lake in Rogers Park. Congrats to you both!
Hi Amy, I remember you! That night seems sooooooo long ago. Love all the love going around! And the BBQ. Thanks for sharing.
[…] unique – an abandoned convent owned by a BBQ restaurant- that is nothing like we initially wanted but turns out to be exactly what we want […]