Cranford’s Venue 104 Opens
There’s a posh new NYC inspired venue that just opened in Downtown Cranford at 104 N. Union Avenue– but Venue 104 also packs a whole lotta love, warmth, and family on the inside! I stepped into this swanky and sparkling new event space and was immediately greeted with hugs from co-owner/creator Ally Vitella and found Chef Franco Vitella’s Italian mother, Carmella, in the kitchen preparing us a fresh grilled chicken and house mozzarella sandwich. The vibe immediately turned cozy and warm as I sat down with Ally to listen to the exciting offerings that Venue 104 will bring to the area!
Cranford’s Venue 104 Chef Franco Vitella
Multi-Award-Winning Chef Franco Vitella has so many accolades already such as “Most Creative Caterer” three times by ILEA NJ, you would never guess that he originally went to school as an artist and had no formal training initially as he quickly rose to become one of the most famous caterers in the NYC area. According to Ally, his parents are originally from Italy. He was born in the United States, but they brought him back to Italy when he was very young. He’s 100% fluent in Italian and learned everything by working in the family restaurant in Milan.
Franco was back in the kitchen at eight-years old and quickly learned how to create and master the one-page menu. The family restaurant lasted over twenty years. Franco came back to the United States and attended the School for Visual Arts NYC to train as an artist. Franco found he was continually drawn to the culinary world. By being around his mother in the kitchen at such a young age – he just was just naturally a self-trained chef. Franco opened up a small deli in Nutley called Vitella’s Deli & Café. His deli was a catering and lunchtime hot spot in the area as everyone came to grab the notable Italian staples, subs, and fresh mozzarella.
Cranford’s Venue 104 Owner/Creator Ally Vitella
Ally was working for MSNBC at the time as an award winning tv-film producer & director. When he decided to become a chef – Ally and Franco realized they were a creative culinary match made in heaven! “With my Creative Director background and Franco’s artistic training we can bring so much into our catering business!” commented Ally. “We wanted to start doing more catering outside of the deli. We started with house and family parties and then one day MSNBC news correspondent Rita Cosby asked us if we would cater her big event in the city. I was like, “Yes – I’m sure we can do it!” So basically, all of Franco’s family brought all their pots and pans and we went to this big club in the city and we catered an event for 400 people! It was the biggest event we had ever done. I’m on my way out the door and the owner was like, “Hey your food was amazing – we love you guys. Do you have a business card?” I laughed because we were obviously not off-site catering professionals at that time – we had like 80,000 pans!!”
A Celebrity Grammy Gig
“I was moonlighting this catering gig while still working at MSNBC and I gave that NYC club a call back and asked them about their upcoming event. They said that John Legend’s people tasted our food and wanted us to do his Grammy party! I was like wow – this is a whole other ballgame! We catered his private camper, his VIP Room, and then every other celebrity who couldn’t enter the VIP room. We managed it fine, but we were doing it the only way we knew how. Eventually Franco pursued further training at catering academies and he quickly became known as “THE off-site catering expert”! We started doing HUGE events…BIG events like the VIP Party at Giants Stadium for the Super Bowl. We built an entire city of ice and all the hors d’oeuvres went inside. Franco created tiny appetizers like small bottles of Coke with burgers. It was a big line of miniature food like you would have at football game. That event was still our biggest event and we had so much fun!”
Food Festival in Miami
“From there, Franco was invited to go to the Food Network South Beach Food & Wine Festival in Miami where he was given culinary chefs and he taught them how to make his famous homemade pasta and fresh mozzarella. It was a really big deal for a chef to be invited to this event – especially when you’re not formally trained! You’re up against the top 90 chefs and culinary personalities–It was a huge honor for him!”
“This was 2009 we had been doing on/off catering and big events. Franco had started a name for himself by then – doing Victoria Secret launches, parties for the Tony Awards, the Oscars – his name was out there. You always have to be coming up with something new. We try to come up with at least something unique all the time. And a lot of the creations have really stuck. Franco makes these cool VEGETABLE SUSHI CIGARS with caviar ash, wild mushrooms, fontina cheese, and puff pastry, “SAVORY” ICE CREAM CONE with fresh mozzarella topped on a wafer cone stuffed with bruschetta, balsamic fudge, and DRAGON POPCORN with Oreo’s & Cream Dippin’ Dots and Movie Popcorn Tossed into Nitrogen – then blow cold air out your mouth and nose! We did that opening night in Cranford, and everyone loved it!” Franco Vitella Catered Affairs now the caterer for the James Ward Mansion in Westfield and we just did the grand opening bash for the new Cranford Theater and the latest Star Wars Premiere in NYC for over 20 locations!” For the full experience of what Franco and Ally can bring to your event, check out www.vitellas.com
Venue 104 and the Cranford Connection
“We live in North Caldwell now. One of our employees lives in Cranford. We’ve been looking for our own private venue space for two years. We wanted a great location and one drive around Cranford, and you are in love – it’s just so cute! You feel like you are inside of a Hallmark movie every time. This building used to be an old catering site. We gutted everything and hired local company MWT Builders LLC and their crew to transform the space. We wanted an open kitchen because Franco is so personable, and he loves to talk to people so much. We also wanted the option for people could see what was being made for them – but it can be closed as well if that is desired”.
A NYC Vibe in Downtown Cranford
“We wanted Venue 104 to be like the spaces we do in the city. It’s so nice to have our own space and not be off-site all the time. We also want to stay hip and cool – this is not your regular banquet hall! We are BRINGING the NYC to Cranford! Our prices will be very reasonable because we get it! We are willing to work with everyone’s budget. We can do anything from a super affordable shower to a full blown-out event! Venue 104 can accommodate 60 seated and 100 standing. Franco and I are looking forward to hosting your seated dinner, cocktail parties, and family gatherings. We provide such services as high-end furnishings, high top tables, lounge seating, china, glassware, bartenders, DJs, Sonos audio system, plenty of parking, and much more! The big Ferris Wheel in the room – that’s from my daughter’s 16thBirthday Coachella party. It has a motor and can spin around. That’s our big thing – Franco and I like to use “food furniture” versus the big serving tables. We love to have objects instead of buffet tables. We have a farm stand table and a conveyer belt that moves the food! We even use drones to deliver appetizers! You can use our space for gallery openings, the debut of pairings with your new drink item– the sky is the limit! Our oversized store front windows & small skylight gives Venue 104 a beautiful natural daylight throughout the day – 900 sq. ft of shooting space for your photo, video or event rental!”
A Grand Opening Event
“What a supportive town Cranford is! Our opening in December was packed with the Mayor, Westfield Township Committee, Cranford Township Committee, local teachers, families – there was a huge line out the door just to see our space and sample the food! We were pleasantly surprised at the outpouring of interest and support. We have received so many emails inquiring about bookings for 2020!”
While we were finishing the conversation about the catering/private venue goals, Franco himself walked in and made coffee and espresso for all of us! It was nice to finally meet the acclaimed chef whom I had just heard such glowing comments!
So Many Options at Cranford’s Venue 104
“Everyone may be a bit confused about who and what we are”, commented Franco. “We are a pop-up restaurant, we host parties small and large, and can also give you your intimate lounge event. You don’t always need a sit-down dinner. It’s way more interesting to have a light & fun event! Please don’t get scared off by the look – we are very affordable! You can pick up a half tray of pasta and chicken parm! Just come through the front door and pick up food – sandwiches, platters, tray of meatballs, your favorite Italian fare. We are still what we started. It’s our foundation.”
“Venue 104 is the flagship for Franco Vitella Catered Affairs. We can’t thank MWT Builders enough -they jumped right in here and we connected. They don’t normally do this type of thing. We loved everything they did! We look forward to building another story and expanding our venue space soon! We had to start small!”
A Bright Future
What may have started out small is already growing in popularity. As a matter of fact, within moments of their grand opening, the first party at Venue 104 was booked. They continue to receive requests daily – so hurry and reserve your catered event for 2020! You can book online at www.venue104.com. Follow them on Instagram at instagram.com/venue104 and Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/venue104
Make sure you book their Pop- Up Dinner for Wednesday, January 22 for Downtown Cranford’s “Dinner and a Movie”. Head to Venue 104 at 5:30pm to enjoy an appetizer, dinner, and dessert – plus a cooking demo and jar of homemade sauce to take home. Then make your way to the Cranford Theater to see “Goodfellas” playing at 7:30pm! Tickets are $55/person. More details and link to purchase tickets can be found here: Dinner and a Movie .
Stay tuned for an upcoming Sushi Class and a Pop-Up Valentine’s Day Dinner – to RSVP to receive more detail – head to https://www.venue104.com/goodfellas-dinner
Franco commented, “I’m so excited to be here – it’s a Hallmark town. I couldn’t believe the people walking around town on a Thursday or Friday night. This community supports their own small businesses in the hugest way. The township is so supportive, and we feel right at home. Cranford doesn’t try – it’s just there.
Franco and Ally – the warmest welcome to town! We have NO DOUBT that the surrounding community will make many happy memories celebrating special occasions at your new venue! Cheers to 2020 and a successful new year!