Food and drink are central to almost any wedding celebration. From cocktail hour to the main meal to cutting the cake, these are often among the first decisions the happy couple makes.
There are many local businesses that provide these delicious services, which is why two years ago, local photographer Allison Usavage and wedding planner Rachel Conroy founded Sweet Bough Wedding Collective. The collective is comprised of vendors involved in every aspect of planning and executing an amazing wedding celebration, including some outstanding caterers, bakers and other food purveyors.
All of the businesses involved are worthy of the spotlight, but three in particular stand out for tailoring their businesses to meet specific needs and trends common to modern weddings. Those needs in particular being flexible and interesting bar services, menus accommodating dietary restrictions and sustainability.
Finger Lakes Liquid Catering
Finger Lakes Liquid Catering, owned by Heather Sandford, provides beverage coordination for events of all sizes.
“We can do everything from fun non-alcoholic cocktails, champagne brunches, breakfast service with mimosas and Irish coffees, all the way up to the full wedding service with beer and wine and cocktails,” she said.
Sandford is one of the founders of Ithaca butchery The Piggery. She has been involved in the food industry for 25 years, bartending on and off over that time. While working with a local catering business, she noticed that “there is a pretty big hole in the marketplace for people who need DIY or small services about beverages for events.”
Some venues and catering companies provide this service, but not all. And with the increase of events hosted at non-standard venues – farms and parks are popular in the Finger Lakes – this need is increasingly common. However, unless one has a liquor license associated with an existing brick-and-mortar business, New York State Liquor Law makes it difficult for bartenders to procure a license for a one-time event. With Finger Lakes Liquid Catering, Sandford has found a way to assist couples despite this limitation.
“I work with people on their beverage menu, as well as their sourcing,” Sandford said. “I can buy the mixers and I can bring all the equipment and I can help them with rentals with glassware and recommendations.”Couples buy the alcoholic beverages themselves, which works within New York State Law, Sandford said, and then she and her team come in and provide service for that event.
“A nice perk for customers is that it really helps keep the price down because there’s no mark-up that’s associated with having a vendor like myself purchase the beverages beforehand,” she said.
Sandford said she’s excited about bringing her ethos and ethics from her past businesses to Finger Lakes Liquid Catering.
“I’m hoping to focus whenever possible on sourcing from local vendors and artists and producers here because we are all stronger together,” she said.
Humble Bee Baking Company
Humble Bee Baking Company is owned by Hope Rainbow, a baker by trade who most recently was responsible for many of Ithaca Farmers Market vendor Macro Mama’s popular desserts. Hope noticed that many couples were seeking cakes for weddings and special events that could accommodate specific dietary needs.
“I learned a lot of techniques around vegan baking and using alternative ingredients,” Rainbow said. “It can be really difficult to get vegan and gluten free baked goods that actually taste good.”
While cakes are her main focus, Rainbow also offers French macarons, eclairs and profiteroles. She extends the same principles to these desserts.
“I’m experimenting with creating a vegan macaron, which is exciting because macarons are simply egg meringue,” she said.
Rainbow draws on her background as a bread baker to make Humble Bee Baking Company’s desserts stand apart.
“A lot of bakers shy away from using local flour because it’s a challenging ingredient to work with,” Rainbow said. “I worked for four years at Wide Awake Bakery, where the focus is very heavily on using the local flour and on this relationship with Farmer Ground Flour. I learned to appreciate the challenging details around baking with freshly milled, stone milled flour. That’s something that I’m really excited about playing with more and I think it’s something that I don’t see any other confectioners and cake bakers doing.”
Her enthusiasm for local extends to other ingredients as well.
“I do a lot of canning and freezing on my own, and so I’m really excited to preserve blueberries, strawberries and raspberries as they come into season and to be able to use them in my baking,” she said.
While there are numerous bakeries in Tompkins County, Rainbow still sees demand for bakers who can work special events.
“I see people going further afield – going to Syracuse, Rochester and the Hudson Valley to order cakes – and it just seems like they shouldn’t have to do that,” she said.
Rainbow encourages clients who are looking for simple, elegant and delicious cakes to connect with her.
The Dish Truck
Sustainability consistently appears on 2020 Wedding Trends lists, from sources ranging from The Knot to Harper’s Bazaar. It has become increasingly common for couples to consider the impact their celebrations have on the planet.
In 2015, Joey Gates founded The Dish Truck to help reduce the waste one-time events produce by providing durable dishware to use in place of disposable plates, cups and utensils. A dirty dish station and a compost bin are provided, and at the end of the event, Gates takes the dishes away to be washed.
The Dish Truck can be found at a wide variety of events.
“They range from community events at the library to luncheons at Cornell to weddings,” Gates said. “We’ve become the low-priced wedding option.” She commonly works with weddings featuring buffet service, though The Dish Truck is equipped to service even sit-down affairs. Gates said that since many of her dishes have been sourced from Finger Lakes ReUse, they aren’t identical, but she has found that clients don’t mind.
Originally founded as a non-profit, Gates incorporated the business in late 2019. This allows her to be more agile and adapt the business structure to the needs of the community.
“We’ve done over 100,000 dishes since 2015,” she said. “About 60,000 of that was last year. We’ve grown every year. Word of mouth has kept me as busy as I can be.”
Finger Lakes Liquid Catering, Humble Bee Baking Company, The Dish Truck and many more can be found online at sweetboughcollective.com or in person at the upcoming Winter Wedding Showcase. This annual event helps couples connect in person with an array of collective members, all of whom have agreed to a set of shared principles supporting calm, joyful and personal weddings.
The next showcase is Sunday, March 1, 2020 from 1 to 4 p.m. at the Argos Inn and Argos Warehouse in downtown Ithaca. Tickets are $5 and can be found at sweetboughcollective.com/2020-showcase.
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