Upscale dining meets Stampede party tent fever
It’s not every day that a grand opening of a new Stampede party venue features fine wines and fancy cheeses.
Then again, it took 42 years in business before the Terrigno family of Osteria de Medici (www.osteria.ca) got in on the action.
The upscale Italian restaurant, in the heart of the Kensington shopping district, is famed for being a celebrity magnet, having served the likes of actors Tom Selleck, Kevin Costner, Heath Ledger and, most recently, former U.S. president George W. Bush.
In its current location for more than two decades, the restaurant, with the help of charismatic matriarch Antoinetta, co-owner with her master chef husband Rocco, has managed to not only survive, but also thrive, in the cutthroat restaurant industry. Yet for some unfathomable reason, the enterprising Antoinetta never waded into the Stampede party business.
“It’s crazy that all these years, the parties have been taking place on the other side of the river, while it dies over here,” says Maurizio Terrigno, the second generation of the business and its general manager.
“There’s never been a Stampede tent in this neighbourhood, and I thought enough was enough — it was high time we lured some of those Stampede visitors to beautiful Kensington.”
Maurizio has clearly inherited his parents’ entrepreneurial streak and attention to detail. After jumping through bureaucratic hoops, he was finally given the go-ahead this year to set up a giant party and entertainment tent in the parking lot of his popular restaurant, smack dab at one of the city’s busiest inner-city crossroads.
His plan is no less than Stampede domination. “This is going to be big for Kensington,” he says of the venue that can accommodate up to 600 patrons a day, with sold-out cabanas for private hosting.
This belated bandwagon jumping on the part of Osteria de Medici, just one of a few first-time Stampede party entrants, is a sign of better times: after a dismal post-recession 2009, the infield suites at the Stampede rodeo are sold out, and many party tickets around town have been scooped months ahead by corporate Calgary.
Jocelyn Flanagan says she’s noticed a definite upswing in mood among her clients. Last year, there were a lot of conversations about optics, cutting out such luxuries as fireworks displays. In 2010, she says, “there have been a lot less conversations. People are optimistic, but still cautious.”
Still, there is a lot of work involved for those wanting to join the Stampede party circuit, says Flanagan. “It’s all in the details, and pacing is so important,” says the CEO of E=mc2, a local events planning firm that is responsible for a good number of the most-coveted parties this time of year, including entrepreneur Brett Wilson’s garden party, Whipstock and FirstEnergy’s FirstRowdy party.
“You need to find ways to keep things surprising, to think outside the box,” she says. “And you always need to make sure the pacing works, so no one’s waiting in long lines to get in, or for anything else.”
It’s not just about having delicious food, good entertainment or nice tablecloths, she notes. “You need to focus on all five senses, set the right tone for your guests. You really have to know your customer.”
Checking out Maurizio Terrigno’s new venue on Friday, I see that he’s got it right, and clearly knows whom he’s catering to.
The spaghetti western-themed tent has a minimum age limit of 25; the young women serving are, as one of my veteran Stampede party companions noted, not only some of the best dressed, but also the prettiest, of any Stampede venue downtown, with personalities to match; and the seating areas, with big couches scattered in some of the forrent sections and the odd chandelier hanging from the ceiling, are downright luxurious.
“This is a classy restaurant with a classy clientele, and we wanted to bring some of that outdoors,” says Maurizio, who credits Heather Dougall, brought on earlier this year to help with the planning, with giving it some upscale touches. “And no shooters in the cleavages of our servers,” pipes in Dougall. “We didn’t want anything tacky.”
But he’s not stopping at just a party venue. On July 18, Osteria de Medici and other Kensington merchants will host their first Food for Families Festival, a street party that will raise funds for YWCA shelters.
“Kensington will no longer be left out of the Stampede parties,” says Maurizio, who adds he intends for the fundraising festival to become a Stampede staple. “We’re here to stay.”
“Kensington will no longer be left out of the Stampede parties,” vows Maurizio Terrigno, right, general manager of Osteria de Medici restaurant, which has opened a giant Stampede party and entertainment tent this year.