It would be easy to bestow pity upon Chris Pieters, not that he’d ever want it. He joined Cantigny as food and beverage director in May 2017, just as Project New Leaf was getting under way.

The project has made his job more challenging, to say the least. Imagine trying to convince a bride that Cantigny will look beautiful on her wedding day when the view out the window is one of earth movers, pallets of paving bricks and mud, lots of mud. Or being told that the park’s largest banquet room, Le Jardin, will be closing for about a year and, by the way, we’ll need an alternative space for parties of 200 or more guests.

Fortunately, being creative and flexible seems to come naturally for Pieters and his professional team. Project New Leaf was a big test, and then along came COVID-19. Neither is over yet, but Cantigny’s F&B operations are thriving under Chris’s leadership. The 2021 wedding calendar is looking especially strong.

Prior to Cantigny, Pieters was general manager of Sullivan’s Steakhouse in Naperville. A resident of Lisle, he holds an MBA in marketing from Keller Graduate School of Management (Downers Grove) and earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin.

Chris took a break from planning menus, taste-testing craft beers and measuring guest capacity in the new wedding ceremony sites to answer five questions.

Q: What are some specific ways that Project New Leaf has affected F&B at Cantigny?

A: In just about every way imaginable! We’ve been challenged to find creative solutions to deliver exceptional guest events while highlighting the exciting updates throughout the property. From creating new custom events [such as farm dinners and princess brunches] and relocating or changing currently planned events, to creating a from-scratch custom wedding venue at the Woodside Pavilion, the F&B team has been outstanding. We’ve been flexible and optimistic, always rising to the occasion and putting clients first.

Q: You’ve obviously had to be flexible during the project. Can you give an example?

A: The Catering Sales Team deserves a special award. They’ve tirelessly worked hand in hand with our customers, construction managers, park leadership, and every department on property to find ways to make events happen for our clients and staff. In the wedding industry you have to think for today and for two years out. That’s hard to do when things are in constant flux. But we’ve met the challenge with nimble footing, quick reflexes and an unwavering commitment to excellence.

Q: Has our wedding business suffered because of Project New Leaf? What are future brides saying now?

A: We lost some wedding bookings, sure. Couples want their venue to look perfect on their big day and we understand that. But like anything worth doing, Project New Leaf is setting up our wedding business for long-term success. Brides, grooms and their families are loving the many improvements and upgrades to the gardens, grounds and facilities. Those booking Cantigny weddings for 2021 are excited to be the first to celebrate their nuptials in our amazing new ceremony sites such as South Lawn, Rock Garden and Rose Garden.

Q: Many key parts of the project are finished or soon will be. From an F&B standpoint, what new elements are you most fired up about?

A: I think rather than particular elements it’s the overall flexibility and access that the new layout of the park provides. Getting around, to and from the ceremony sites, and to and from Le Jardin, will be far easier than before. This will make the Cantigny experience even more welcoming and enjoyable for clients and their families and guests.

Q: When Project New Leaf is finally over, how will you celebrate?

A: Probably by writing my novel about construction jargon that I’ve learned and pretended to understand.

For being around food most of the time, Pieters is remarkably lean. It probably helps that his hobby, in addition to chasing around three small children, is participating in Spartan races.

Woodside Pavilion at Cantigny Golf, a premium tented venue, went up in 2018 to replace lost capacity during the temporary closure of Le Jardin at Cantigny Park. Woodside has proven highly popular for wedding receptions, golf outings and special dining events. Across the lane, Woodside Garden opened in 2019 as a companion ceremony site for weddings.

Prairie View, on the former Rose Garden site, will be a popular venue for wedding ceremonies starting in 2021.

Themed dinners in the Red Oaks Farm Table series are consistently sold out, like this one in the new Rose Garden. Pieters brought them to Cantigny in 2018. Photo by Melissa Gutierrez.


Posted by Jeff Reiter

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