Mother and daughter partner as wedding caterers — and so much more

October 21, 2009 10:02:00 AM

Jan Swoope - [email protected]


While it''s not unusual for blushing brides and dashing grooms to tie the knot or hold their beautiful receptions in some of Columbus'' gracious antebellum structures, what has evolved at Shadowlawn is a bit out of the ordinary. 


Almost without planning it, Burnette and No No Avakian find their stately 1848 home on College Street has become what some brides and their families have called a "one-stop-wedding-shop." 


Not long after opening Shadowlawn to bed and breakfast guests about three years ago, the Avakians began receiving requests to host weddings in this unique setting of soaring ceilings, intricate crown molding and period antiques. And the more often Burnette and her "head chef" -- daughter Liz Merchant -- worked with individual brides, the more they became convinced of the stress-reducing value of a central planner or wedding designer. 


Today, their personalized service has expanded beyond planning and preparing sumptuous rehearsal dinners and wedding banquets. Burnette is available to also handle all floral arrangements and direct the rehearsal and wedding, as well as make arrangements for wedding and grooms'' cakes, photographers, wedding party accommodations, an on-site hairdresser -- and even a horse and carriage or antique car for the newlywed couple. 


"We''ve made a commitment to make our brides happy," she stated, seated on a deep rose-colored settee in the "ladies'' parlor" of her home. "We''ll do our utmost to deliver everything she desires." 




Bountiful table 


Liz, 28, is invaluable when it comes to planning a palete-pleasing wedding feast. A self-disciplined student of food science, she credits Alton Brown of Food Channel fame with many of the premises she follows. Although she currently lives in Birmingham, Ala., Liz is home almost every weekend to assist with events and see her family. 


"She''s so creative to start with," said Burnette. "I can tell her the results we want, and she can tell me how to get there. She knows certain ingredients that can make anything turn out the way we want it to turn out." 


The mother-daughter duo has learned that whether brides opt for hors d''oeuvres or a full meal for their event, "they want a table laden with food." 


For an Oct. 17 wedding, the menu included beef and vegetable kabobs (marinated in Liz''s own signature Italian dressing), royal chicken in a rich cream sauce, burgundy mushrooms, a potato martini bar with toppings, a salad option, a vegetable crudité, fruit cascade and Liz''s "awesome herb-crescent rolls." 


The wedding and groom''s cakes completed the appetizing repast.  


Other popular foods often requested for receptions and parties include smoked salmon and steamed shrimp.  


"And Liz does a flat iron steak -- almost like a steak medallion -- that is wonderful." 


Many of the family''s antique silver and specialty serving pieces add a shimmering elegance to the table, and Burnette enjoys the fine details -- such as carrying the bride''s color theme into food selections and presentation when possible.  


"For example, we had one bride who used green and purple, so we included cranberries and green onions, among other things, in her table," she said. "And you can make different color punches that complement." 


The Avakians are comfortable preparing for groups ranging from "25 to 225" and have an experienced staff available when needed. They can even do some catering off-premises. The food is certified by the state Department of Health 


''No one eats the crudités'' 


Liz laughs at what has become her tag line: "No one eats the crudités." The traditional French-origin appetizers of sliced or whole raw vegetables with one or more dipping sauces are often by-passed for more ritzy fare, she has discovered. 


"While my mother hears the compliments in the dining room, I get to do the dishes. Not have to do the dishes, I get to do them. Nothing is more useful for me than seeing what gets left on plates and on the table," she explained. "After many parties and much experience, I''ve learned that people don''t eat fresh vegetables at celebrations. They just want the delicacies. They want shrimp cocktail and burgundy mushrooms. They want crawfish cheesecake and a mashed potato bar with toppings like bacon, cheese and chives." 


Many times, Liz continued, bridal parties will have specific traditional foods they want served at their reception, but the underlying theme is almost always the same: "They want rich dishes that are less waistline-friendly and more flavorful," she confirmed. 




Floral experience 


Expanding Shadowlawn''s services to include floral arrangements came naturally to Burnette, who worked with Flowers by Shirley in West Point on and off for 13 years. 


"My favorite part of the flower business was weddings," she stated. "It was always a happy time, and brides are so appreciative of what you do for them." 


Helping create memorable events has been a fulfilling role for Burnette, especially with Liz at her side. Weddings, rehearsals and receptions are on the calendar for the remainder of 2009 and into 2010, and the pair is already fielding inquiries for 2011.  


When added to the bed and breakfast guests and other events the Avakians host, it''s more than enough to keep the family on its toes. One recent football weekend called for breakfast for 14, a bridesmaids'' luncheon and a wedding and reception, all in one condensed time span. But Burnette doesn''t seem to mind the pressure.  


"I can see how God has dealt with me now, how the big picture has unfolded ... bringing together (my past experience with) flowers, antiques and all the rest," she observed thoughtfully. "I love doing this. I really enjoy making someone happy."

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.