Arts/Entertainment

Meet Kansas City’s Party People

Meet the folks who make the magic happen behind the scenes at some of Kansas City’s top events.

Story by Lindsey Corey  |  Photos by Paul Andrews, unless noted

From charity fundraisers to corporate events to weddings, a lot of planning and know-how goes into pulling together the unique elements that make a gathering more than just a party but rather a complete experience. We asked some of the top Kansas City event professionals to tell us how they do it.

Dan Meiners, Studio Dan Meiners

Twenty years of lavish floral and event design have taught Dan Meiners to stock up and plan ahead.

“With any event, there are a thousand things that people don’t think about,” he says. “I used to be much less organized, and I used to be much more stressed. I get a lot more sleep than I used to.”

Dan Meiners, looking cool as a cucumber in one of his design
studio’s walk-in flower refrigerators.

Studio Dan Meiners’ “mammoth warehouse full of fabulous stuff” provides much relief.

“I have such a huge inventory that if vases don’t arrive in time for a custom order, it doesn’t ruin anybody’s day anymore because we have 1,000,” he says. “If I say I want 200 votives for an event, I bring 300 because I want to have options when I start to decorate on site, and I’m so incredibly picky. I want my clients to walk in and love me. I don’t want them to walk in and say ‘That’s nice.’”

Behind the scenes, a lot of effort goes into the wow factor Meiners and his team of 27 aim to achieve, whether it be at a dinner party for eight or a fundraiser for 2,000.

Four people recently worked for three days to pavé 20 life-sized birds—one flower petal and tiny seed at a time—for a Nelson-Atkins Museum event.

“It takes the patience of Job to do that,” Meiners says. “They stressed me out because you don’t know how long the petals will last, you have to bag them, and you never know exactly what it’s going to look like until you put it all together. No matter how much I can see it in my head, there are always variables that require change.”

A parrot crafted out of flower petals for a recent Kansas City event designed by Studio Dan Meiners.

Weather conditions are at the top of that list.

“That’s our biggest irritation,” he says. “And wind is the worst. A small amount of wind can really destroy a party, blowing out my candles, knocking things over, making it loud in a tent. Wind is my least favorite thing on earth. It’ll really throw me for a tizzy.”

He and his team have also come to the rescue when a venue is too hot or chilly.

“We have run out and bought pashminas for people if it’s cold or gone after 100 hand fans. They might only be a dollar each, but they’re priceless if somebody is sweating at a party,” Meiners says. “And it can’t be an ugly fan. We’ve made them with lollipop sticks with our in-house graphic designer at the last minute, and we’re practically handing them out as we glue them. You have to think on your toes and constantly adjust, all to make the client happy.”

 

Mary Berg, delish! catering and events

Mary Berg’s signature salmon dish doesn’t typically require a blow torch.

But when the electricity went out at her client’s home minutes before dinner was to be served, Berg improvised.

“In order to do it effectively, my job is to produce events knowing everything that can go wrong is going to happen,” says the owner of delish! catering and events. “I’m able to just roll with it, think on my feet and adapt to the situation.”

When a breaker blew as she was finishing pork for 450 wedding guests, Berg and her team lit 15 Sternos of chafing fuel under the convection oven to reach the desired temperature.

Mary Berg in the kitchen of her Olathe-based catering and events company.

“I wasn’t about to go up to the bride and say, ‘Congratulations, we only have raw pork,’” she says. “It worked perfectly, and no one was the wiser. To this day, the bride doesn’t know. And that’s what it’s all about: putting out those fires without anybody knowing.”

Berg says she loves a challenge, be it dishing out ice cream at an outdoor function with no electricity in the heat of summer or building hand-washing stations where there’s no running water.

“The behind-the-scenes isn’t always pretty to execute, something presented on fine china with a string quartet,” she says. “It’s sort of like producing a culinary escapade while camping.”

And often it takes a vendor village.

“We play well with others and are always looking out for each other,” Berg explains. “If the bar needs more ice, we’ll go get it so they don’t have the leave the bar. I’ve rewired brides’ bouquets and fixed their bustles with double-faced tape I keep on hand for buffets. I’ve even plumbed a toilet. Everybody chips in and helps to make sure the experience for the guests is the best it can be.”

The delish! team, now in its sixth year, makes everything from scratch and uses local and organic products whenever possible. That may require meeting a farmer in the early morning near Lawrence, Kan., and then heading to central Missouri for fresh fish.

“Sourcing the food locally requires some jumping through hoops,” Berg says. “But it’s the love of the chase to keep it local and get the best food we possibly can.”

She’s commissioned two area farmers to grow Silver Queen corn for a September wedding that delish! is catering.

“It’s the specific corn the bride grew up with. She got that look in her eye, and I could tell just talking about it took her back,” Berg says.

So Berg ordered the heirloom seeds, and locally harvested Silver Queen corn relish is on the menu.

 

John DePrisco and Cate Crandell, The Photo Bus

People climbing aboard The Photo Bus simply push a button, say “cheese,” and seconds later, they’re holding a souvenir snapshot. They have no idea all it took to get the 1968 Volkswagen bus, affectionately known as Mary Lou Blue, to the event.

In 2012, local wedding photographer John DePrisco wanted to do something to set his service apart. Two years and two rebuilt motors (plus countless other repairs) later, two unique mobile photo booths are in demand at events in and around Kansas City. The blue and red buses took more than 10,000 photos during 61 events in 2013.

That’s a lot of miles and maneuvering.

John DePrisco and Cate Crandell own and operate The Photo Bus, which has been the site of four marriage proposals, including the couple’s own. Photo by Kyle Coburn

A New Year’s Eve party at Union Station was the company’s first of many indoor events. With just a half inch on each side of the bus to spare, DePrisco and the mechanic slowly pushed April, the red VW, onto a ramp they built and through double doors.

“There was a lot of Austin Powers maneuvers and hollering directions back at each other,” says Cate Crandell, DePrisco’s fiancée and The Photo Bus co-owner. “It’s got manual steering but nowhere near modern-day manual. But they managed to squeeze it in.”

And that night, The Photo Bus hosted its first of four proposals. DePrisco and Crandell, who met when she and a friend hopped in the bus to be photographed as guests at an event, became the second couple to get engaged in it last October. Both buses are reliable now, but it took a lot of tinkering to get them there. Crandell estimates their mechanic has put in more than 200 hours.

“Most people who have vintage vehicles only use them for a weekend joyride when the weather is just right,” she says. “And when they break down, they work on it when they have the money. But our busses have to be ready all the time.”

“Ready” for a photo booth on wheels means new flooring every six months, new seals for the windows and sometimes hard-to-find parts, plus maintenance for the professional photography equipment too.

Crandell hand-makes all the props—from Ninja Turtle masks to mustaches—and refreshes those once a month. She also designs a custom logo for each event that goes on every print. And she uploads the images to Facebook as soon as the event is over “so when they wake up in the morning, their photos are there to share.”

“It’s turned into a 60-hour a week job for each of us,” Crandell says. “People don’t realize how much goes into it.”

To book The Photo Bus, which recently expanded to St. Louis and Dallas, visit thephotobuskc.com.

 

Eddie Crane, Revel Traveling Bar and Events

When veteran bartender Eddie Crane set out to bring cocktails to clients, he envisioned more than your typical bar on wheels.

Since February, Revel Traveling Bar and Events has set up and served up custom concoctions to thirsty guests at parties throughout the Kansas City metro.

But it’s about much more than the booze, according to Crane.

“First and foremost, we sell hospitality. Second is the logistical location of the bar and the peace of mind that all the legal requirements are met for that scenario, and third is the drinks,” he says. “It seems most important, but it’s really in the background of what we do.”

The former owner of The Drop in Martini Corner, Eddie Crane now puts his skills to work all over town with his Revel Traveling Bar and Events business.

Former owner of the The Drop, Crane says while Revel’s full-service bars may appear to “show up for a bit and then float away on a breeze,” his bar masters, beer experts and sommeliers treat guests like they would at a brick-and-mortar establishment, and that plenty of planning and preparation goes into each mobile event.

“We can’t just roll up on a street corner and lay out booze. There are a lot of parameters for it to feel like an established place and before my bartenders are able to make an old-fashioned or a Tom Collins on site,” Revel’s co-owner explains. “But all that prep work, experienced bartenders and a fully functioning bar amounts to a different experience than people are used to at corporate events or weddings. It’s not ‘What can I get?’ It’s ‘What do you want?’”

Crane was creating a simple syrup from raw ginger when KC Magazine caught up with him.

“You won’t find these plastic bottles of peel-and-pour flavor items at our pop-up events,” he says. “It’s a lot more work, but fresh juices and real food products make all the difference.”

He recently taught a whiskey class on how it’s made and aged and why some are $700 a bottle and others are $10. Revel will soon give another on the history of the martini. Naturally, samples will accompany the lesson.

To arrange a class, tasting or artisan bar event, visit revelkc.com.