URBANA — A banquet center operated by a longtime local catering business has filled the void left by Kennedy's restaurant at Stone Creek.
Classic Events Catering has opened the Stone Creek Events Center at 2560 S. Stone Creek Blvd., U, and is using it to host special events, such as weddings, receptions, corporate luncheons and anniversary parties.
Bob Rowe, catering director for Classic Events, said the banquet center, which looks onto the Stone Creek golf course, has eye appeal.
"Every time I show the space, it sells," he said.
Plus, the setting is attractive for engaged couples who want nice surroundings.
"It's nice to have a country club wedding when you don't belong to a country club," he said.
Kennedy's closed Jan. 22, nearly 12 years after it moved to Stone Creek. Owner Luke Kennedy said the fine-dining restaurant was hit by the 2008 economic downturn and by subsequent cutbacks in entertaining by the University of Illinois and Carle.
The Atkins Group invited Classic Events, the catering division of Tice Food Service, to look at the space early this year, said Tice President Jim Graham.
"We liked what we saw," he said.
Classic Events entered into a five-year lease with The Atkins Group, with options for two five-year extensions, Graham said. As part of the arrangement, The Atkins Group gets the room-rental fees.
Folks visiting the events center will notice a few changes from Kennedy's days. Walls have been removed, uniting the spaces formerly allocated to the bar, main dining room and a small dining area just to the east.
The booths in the dining room have been replaced with tables, and the center has new carpet and furniture.
With the walls down, 140 sit-down guests can be accommodated in the main dining area. Rowe said 100 guests can be served in a dining room to the east, and 240 people can be served at tables in the banquet area above the Stone Creek clubhouse next door.
On a recent weekend, Rowe handled a golden anniversary reception, a wedding reception and an afternoon tea at Stone Creek.
Though it has its own center now, Classic Events continues to cater events off-site, at locations ranging from The Refinery to Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
Classic Events previously used the Levis Center on the University of Illinois campus for its base of operations.
Rowe said when he first operated Classic Events 20 years ago, 80 to 90 percent of his business was done at Levis. Now that venue accounts for 10 to 20 percent, with the remainder done at various sites in Champaign-Urbana and the surrounding area.
With Classic Events moving out, the UI Housing Division's Dining Services is taking over catering at Levis, similar to what it already does at the Illini Union, said Ed Slazinik, associate vice chancellor for student affairs and director of auxiliary services at the UI.
Although Stone Creek is off campus, Graham said, it's convenient to reach, using Lincoln Avenue and Windsor Road — and parking is much easier than on campus, he said.
Rowe said although Stone Creek might not be the easiest location for someone in town to grab a quick lunch, it is a "destination location" that people are eager to go to for special events.
Another plus: Stone Creek's kitchen facilities are more up-to-date than those at Levis, he said.
Rowe came to Champaign-Urbana in 1981 and earned a bachelor's degree in restaurant management from the University of Illinois in 1986.
He served as food service director for the National Academy of Arts in downtown Champaign before operating Vriner's Restaurant from 1986 to 1992.
That year, he joined Tice's catering division, which adopted the Classic Events name soon afterward.
Graham, originally from DeKalb, has worked for the Bromley Cos. for 32 years, starting when he was in college. He earned a business degree from the University of Illinois, majoring in marketing with a concentration in finance.
He served as general manager of Bromley Hall, a 731-bed privately owned residence hall on campus, and in 1989 was named executive vice president of Tice Food Service, Bromley's university food service subsidiary. He was appointed president of Tice in 1995.
Today, Graham is involved in property acquisition for the Bromley Cos. and is also president of its college housing division.
At one time, Bromley had student housing at Ohio University, Northern Illinois University, Texas Tech, Colorado State University and the UI.
Today its only student housing property is Bromley Hall at the UI.
Classic Events has six full-time employees and about 60 people working part time at catered events.
Altogether, Bromley employs about 150 in its student housing, catering and food service operations, Graham said.
Graham said the catering business felt the effects of the economic downturn in 2009 and 2010, but business "came back quickly" in 2011 and 2012.
He said revenues this year are expected to hit pre-recession levels.