Cescaphe’s made-in-Philly wedding empire hosted over 750 nuptials last year, and has no plans to slow down (2024)

A wedding can be a six-hour affair, but Joe Volpe, CEO and cofounder of wedding event company Cescaphe wants to make it into a multiday celebration.

“It’s easy to have a great time on the wedding night, but what do you do on Thursday night? What do you do on Friday afternoon? Friday night?” said Volpe. “That’s what we’re really looking to tune into and really looking to highlight and make special.”

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Founded in 2003, Cescaphe celebrated 20 years in business last year.

Since Volpe launched Cescaphe with his wife, Andrea, it has grown from one ballroom in Northern Liberties into a booming business with around 450 employees and venues across Philadelphia. Cescaphe hosted over 750 weddings last year, and Volpe says he’s not slowing down.

Last month, Cescaphe opened the Switch House at the Battery, the former site of a Peco power plant in Fishtown, and the company’s first venue with a hotel on site. The venue ushers in a new growth opportunity for Cescaphe, as the company can host rehearsal dinners, welcome parties, or departure brunches, all in one place, says Volpe.

”We’re used to having them for six hours. .... Now we’re hosting them for two and three days at a time,” Volpe said. “That’s a huge, huge change for us.”

Cescaphe also announced in February it would start operating at the Bellevue Hotel, which was bought in 2021 by Lubert-Adler, a real estate investment firm. At the time of the purchase, Lubert-Adler announced plans to invest $100 million to renovate the property. Cescaphe will begin hosting weddings there in April, making it the company’s eighth venue.

“I think we’re just gonna continue to grow until we get tired of it ... I feel like we still have a lot more in the tank,” Volpe said.

Easing the ‘nightmare’ of wedding planning

Cescaphe weddings are known for good food, beautiful venues, and seamless planning, recent Cescaphe brides told The Inquirer.

“Planning a wedding was a nightmare,” said Volpe. “Our goal was to change that and really be part of the entire planning process and make that a better experience for people — not just the wedding part.”

Kiera Missanelli, 33, who works at a women’s health start-up in Philly, spent around $100,000 on her Cescaphe wedding at the Water Works. She liked that she didn’t need to hire a wedding planner because Cescaphe made it so easy for her to plan.

For example, she wanted to offer her 200 guests cheesesteaks at the end of the night and looked into getting a food truck, but knew it could be expensive. Cescaphe planned it for her — and it cost less than it would have to book a truck, said Missanelli.

“When I brought it up to my planner, she said, ‘Oh, well, we can just do that for you,’ ” she said.

Jillian Iacoviello, 29, a registered nurse who lives in South Jersey and was married in November at Cescaphe’s Northern Liberties ballroom, echoed the sentiment. She described Cescaphe as “a well-oiled machine.”

“Planning a wedding is a difficult time,” she said. “They make it fun, and they make it less challenging.”

The $100,000 for Missanelli’s July nuptials included plenty of add-ons — extra lighting, a trolley to shuttle guests, a band — beyond Cescaphe’s base package, which includes an hour and a half of co*cktails, a three-course seated dinner, top-shelf bar, a custom hand-carved ice sculpture, and a four-tier custom wedding cake.

Volpe says Cescaphe’s pricing model is what makes it unique. Cescaphe offers couples many different high-end options, already built into a wedding package price.

The average Cescaphe wedding costs $35,000, but a wedding at the new space in the Bellevue Hotel, could cost up to $98,750 on a Saturday, a significant uptick from the average cost of weddings in Philly.

According to the Wedding Report, a research company that has been collecting data on the wedding industry since 2003, a wedding in the Philadelphia metro area cost, on average, $44,722 in 2022.

Katie Petruzzo, 31, and Mark Bamburak, 31, who live in Flourtown, were married in November at Cescaphe’s Down Town Club and paid about $200 per person for each of their roughly 185 guests.

“Cescaphe seemed expensive in the beginning, but really their baseline and everything that was included for their price was everyone else’s upgrade options,” said Petruzzo.

COVID-19 and noise complaints

Like many business owners, Volpe took a hit in 2020 when the pandemic forced him to shut down his venues for over a year.

He joined a coalition of others in the local catering and events industry to rethink how to do business in accordance with health department rules, The Inquirer reported. During the early days of quarantine, he kept most of his staff on payroll and had them go through COVID-19 safety protocol training online, he told The Inquirer that year.

Almost all of the 350 weddings scheduled for 2020 at Cescaphe either got downsized to “micro weddings” of less than 25 people or moved their date, The Inquirer reported. It wasn’t until June 2021 that the city allowed indoor weddings, and it was another year before COVID-19 restrictions were fully lifted and events at Cescaphe could take place like they had pre-pandemic.

“Thank God that’s over,” said Volpe “That was definitely a tough couple years”

There has been a more recent challenge to operating in Philadelphia. Earlier this year, The Inquirer reported that residents near Fairmount Water Works have complained about the noise coming from Cescaphe’s venue on event nights.

“I can deal with buses, I can deal with neighbors who have a party every once in a while. This is six months out of a year of incessant vibrations and noise at a venue,” Spencer Gober, a neighbor who has launched a petition online to address the noise told The Inquirer in a previous story about the noise issues.

Cescaphe says the noise may not be originating from their venue and has hired a sound engineering company to investigate.

Changing expectations

Even with Cescaphe’s comprehensive package, it’s been challenging “staying up to date with today’s couple,” says Volpe.

Couples today are abandoning the traditional seated plated dinner and opting for buffets, or barbecues. They’re using venues that aren’t the typical banquet hall or resort, said Shane McMurray, CEO of the Wedding Report.

“Now it’s like, “oh, let’s go get married in the mountains and have a party out in the woods somewhere,” he said. “There’s just so many different things that people want: rooftop weddings or barn weddings. There’s just so many unique experiences.”

Terrain, a garden and home brand from Philly-founded URBN , has recently been expanding its events business in the Philly suburbs hosting weddings in spaces that blend indoor and outdoor elements and highlight nature.

The company, which has a venue in Glen Mills and is adding a new space in Devon this spring, booked 100 wedding and events at its Doylestown location before even opening last summer.

But Volpe isn’t worried. He’s focused on meeting couples’ growing desires.

The company has had a Chickie’s & Pete’s food truck serving crab fries, they’ve used customized engraved keychains to assign table seatings for guests, and have presented a “Champagne wall” for guests to grab flutes of bubbly on-draft upon arrival.

“For us, every wedding is an entirely new scorecard. There are no redos in weddings. We have to earn our stripes for every single couple,” he said. “You don’t get by on what you’ve done in the past.”

Cescaphe’s made-in-Philly wedding empire hosted over 750 nuptials last year, and has no plans to slow down (2024)
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