With mass gatherings on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Stand Eat Drink LLC is tapping into what remains of the local wedding and event market.
The Milwaukee-based hospitality group has converted its Walker's Point tapas bar Movida into a venue focusing on "expedited micro weddings" and other small-scale events taking place this year.
The Carriage House, located at 524 S. 2nd St., will officially open Saturday, July 18 and is now booking for summer and fall. Meanwhile, Movida has taken over SED's Hotel Madrid space, located a couple blocks west at 600 S. 6th Street.
The temporary pivot allows SED to use an existing, ready-to-go space to accommodate quick turnaround times, limited budgets, safety requirements, and the ever-changing landscape of COVID-19, said Sean Willie, director of marketing and public relations at SED.
"We have had a lot of people reach out who were planning on much larger events, and are unable to do so, but don't want to wait another year or eight months to go through with their wedding," said Wille. "They're looking for something they can do this year on a smaller scale."
Since booking opened last Friday, The Carriage House has gotten one wedding on its calendar. But "dozens" of inquiries have come in for the fall, said Wille. And not just for events that were upended by the pandemic.
"We've had a lot of early-phase planners who have reached out to say, 'With everything considered, we still want to go through and get married this year'... and now we're curating ourselves to be the best suited to fit those people," he said.
Groups are currently limited to 50 people, under phase four of the City of Milwaukee's reopening plan. At full capacity, the 3,000-square-foot space seats up to 75 people.
Wille said the company has been in frequent communication with local government and health department officials to ensure the new operation complies with current mandates and to learn more about next phases.
Seated events will have tables of up to six people, with six feet of space between each group as well as designated traffic lanes. Wille said SED is working with some companies that make custom printed face masks, so guests could have the option of wearing face coverings branded with the wedding hashtag or other messages. Guests are also allowed to hire a 360 booth if they want an extra entertainment.
This isn't the first time Stand Eat Drink has adapted to stay afloat during the COVID-19 crisis. Just days after the state shut down bars and restaurants in March, the group repurposed its Walker’s Point restaurant Don’s Diner into Don’s Liquor & Grocery, a small retail store selling food, bottled alcohol and high-demand items such as toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Four months later, that business model is here to stay. And it recently added a speakeasy, under the name Don's TV & Repair.
"We're trying to adapt as a business and finding new ways to strive, not just survive, and find opportunities and create and have the ingenuity to find what's out there in the given times," said Wille.