Looking Back on Our 20 Year Legacy
Legacy –that which is part of our history or remains from an earlier time. On a daily basis, we are all creating our own legacies. I have cherished the time watching and participating in my parents’ legacy that is Oak Lodge, and this sacred piece of Baton Rouge history has just celebrated 20 years in business.
I’m estimating (and I’m pretty sure I’m close), that big, old, beautiful building has hosted over 3,000 weddings during that time – and even more corporate events and parties. The sheer number of vows and promises confessed in front of friends that resulted in baby showers, graduation celebrations, and parties are astounding. What an honor to be able to say that I got to participate in the organization that started all of those families and partnerships.
As we approach our 20-year anniversary, I’ve been reflecting on all the milestones, challenges (hello, worldwide pandemic!), successes, and most importantly – lessons learned.
In 2001, my parents purchased the building where Oak Lodge is housed out of foreclosure. Back in its heyday, it was probably already starting lots of couples on their way to future nuptials as the Common Point Lounge. At least once a week, we have someone walk in for an appointment or as a guest at an event that reminisces on the stories of the old Common Point.
When they first purchased the building, I only saw the black paint on the walls, dirty floors, and broken windows that needed to be renovated and repaired. But my dad saw the future of this sacred space all very clearly. The work began, and the copper bar was renovated, the wood was shined, and the brick pavers were waxed. My Mom blessed the building with her talent of décor, and the brides couldn’t wait to make it theirs for a day.
My parents’ transformation was almost as exciting as the building’s. It was fascinating to watch their fear, their faith, and finally their celebration when things started to click. Their love (and patience) for each other began to shine as bright as that beautiful copper bar.
My Mom made a huge decision and decided to retire from her full-time teaching and administration position where she’d been for 33 years. She stepped into Oak Lodge with my dad full-time – and then some.
Her skills were décor and sales and marketing, and she helped to make Dad’s vision happen. Things connected from the beginning, but they weren’t without their challenges.
Opening day was August 15, 2001, with a Robinson Brothers Automotive steak dinner for 100 guests. The banquet chairs were late on the freight truck but arrived two hours before the salads were served. The event went great. Sadly, less than 30 days later, our country would be attacked, the twin towers would fall, and our economy would come to a standstill.
They pushed through, as did the rest of us. Faith and resilience – that’s what I learned from my mom and dad. Faith that things will get better and the resilience to “make hay” when they do! My dad always had this little green vase on his desk that said “faith.” Even though he never showed weakness, I know that he needed to be reminded of it, too.
Over the last 20 years, I have watched a business be built. I’ve witnessed my parents struggle to make ends meet and then take the leap of faith to grow when the demand was begging for it. They expanded by strategically adding the Orleans Room and the Bienville Room (and a whole other location that is Parc 73 in Prairieville).
Then I watched them survive and persevere during the times when there was no demand at all.
Their perseverance almost ALWAYS paid off. I learned from watching them that no matter what you do, just do something. Move forward. Take a step. That step always leads to the next one…and the next one…and so on. Before you realize it, the survival mode has turned to thriving and coasting. Momentum is your friend. But wait, be careful not to coast too long, or you’re back to survival mode. There were so many lessons in these last 20 years.
Their success has also hinged on the blessings of the people that we’ve worked with. I would be remiss if we didn’t mention Dianne Evans. Dianne was the partner of my parents when they started the business until around 2007. Dianne is an amazing caterer. She brought her recipes and work ethic and helped to bring it all to life.
Gary Babin has been with Oak Lodge for over 16 years now as our Executive Chef. His Sous Chef, Leonard Simmons, just had his 14-year anniversary with us. To say their food is always delicious and consistent is an understatement. They are a powerful pair, generally amazing men, and they both mean so much to me and my family.
Several other individuals have made a huge impact on our business as well. Meghan Morin, Meghann Simms Chenevert, Elette Peterson, and Andi Bodin were all influential in moving our sales forward and in building our reputation. They cared about our clients and fulfilled promises that were made. They are family to us. There are so many others over a 20-year span that include the service staff that fulfills the events. Unfortunately, it’s impossible to name them all. We are beyond thankful.
We are grateful for those that work with us now. The future with these folks is bright. Kendall Denney, Bella Corona, Larry Moskau, and so many other teammates are raising the bar in the service industry.
I realize that we are not only starting families and hosting corporate celebrations, but we are also starting careers. Careers that will lead to my legacy – THAT, I take very seriously.
My parents have blessed me with an amazing business. The foundation is strong, and the future is still to be told. Expansion, growth, perseverance, and joy are all the things I envision. 20 years from now, I can only hope my daughter, Ava, is writing about my legacy. My parents have left big shoes.
Oak Lodge is a blessing. Thank you, Baton Rouge. We look forward to continuing to provide the sacred space for whatever you envision – the best is yet to come!