by Cori Hilsgen
Rolling Ridge Wedding and Event Center owner Randy Schmitz had planned to open mid-May this year for Wood-Fired Wednesdays, but like many other businesses, was not able to do so because of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Schmitz said four months of his wedding business has vanished.
Until he can open for business again, Schmitz offered his patrons some musical entertainment and encouraged them to have some fun and gather in groups of 10 or less on their patios, enjoy some adult beverages and listen to some live stream music.
Along with sponsor J.F. Kruse Jewelers, he also offered viewers a chance to win a free piece of unique jewelry by watching the screen to upload their best “patio group selfie” and unique #hashtag. Photos were judged for most creative group selfie and most creative hashtag for their selfie.
On his Facebook message, Schmitz said summer will be a little different for everyone and he is working to create an event that is safe and enjoyable for everyone.
He plans to open June 3 and will discontinue live streaming musical entertainment at that time. The in-person Wood-Fired Wednesdays events might include a fee. Patrons should continue to check the Rolling Ridge website and Facebook page for updates.
Schmitz has partnered with Custom Catering by Shortstop for food and beverages for all of the center’s events and Dave Lumley coordinates the musicians for Wednesday events.
Wood-Fired Wednesdays were started in 2017 as a monthly event to offer consumers a chance to view the property before their special event. It then became a twice a month event and now is usually weekly.
On Wednesdays, rain or shine, this year from mid-May to September, Schmitz hosts Wood-Fired Wednesdays from 4-9 p.m. at the event center. These casual events usually include live acoustic music, Neopolitan style pizzas and adult beverages. If it rains, the event is moved into the barn and lounge.
Residents Jeny and Mike Meyer and Mary Bruno have attended Wood-Fired Wednesdays at the event center.
“Mike and I have attended several times,” Jeny said. “We have gone out there for date night, just the two of us, but we’ve also met groups of friends using their resolvable VIP (very important person) tables, perfect to reconnect over the busy summer. The beautiful surroundings are fantastic, and then when you add live music it’s just so easy to feel like you can make the most of a midweek night out in the summer.”
“The Wood-Fired Wednesdays over at Rolling Ridge are absolutely brilliant,” Mary Bruno said. “I brought a group over one sunny day to see Wanda Jam. The folks at Rolling Ridge truly have thought of everything and even though it was packed with people, there was plenty of room to park, everyone had a seat, and the food and beverages were wonderful. This is a really dialed in event that is perfect for friends, families, and a great date night.”
Rolling Ridge Wedding and Event Center
Rolling Ridge Wedding and Event Center is a short distance from the main traffic on CR 75 at 31101 CR 133 in St. Joseph.
This secluded, historical, charming and modern event venue with some exceptional features offers a private option for people celebrating weddings and other special lifetime events.
On 14 acres, the venue includes a historic 1890s tamarack timber barn that has hand-scraped wood floors, vintage crystal chandeliers and can seat 300 people. It also includes a Bridal Suite where bridesmaids and others can dress and prepare for events, Rooster’s Roost where groomsmen can dress and gather, Lone Tree Lounge, Courtyard Patio, Garden Atrium and landscaped gardens. The gardens, patios and water features offer many scenic photo options.
Buildings are climate controlled and insulated with heating and air conditioning. The property is wheelchair accessible.
Schmitz has many stories to share about this popular venue.
Last year he hosted more than 60 weddings at the center and said he was on track to host about the same number again this year before Covid-19. Almost 90 percent of the events hosted at the center are weddings.
“It is not uncommon that we book a venue for a couple that isn’t even engaged yet so they can get a date on the books,” he said.
A historical location
Schmitz opened the event center in September 2015. It is on property that Jerome and Dorene Rennie were recognized for being a Century Carm. Established in 1887, the Rennie family farm was recognized in 1991 as a Century Farm and having been in continuous family ownership for at least 100 years.
Schmitz, who grew up in the Sauk Rapids area, said his grandparents lived on farms that near the Jacobs Prairie and Roscoe/St. Martin areas. When his family visited his grandparents for holidays and during the summer, they often drove past the Rennie Farm and he said he “always admired it.”
When Schmitz first decided to purchase the property, his goal was to also reside on the property. However, establishing his business at the location required changing that plan.
When he purchased the property, it was annexed to the city and the property which had been zoned as agricultural was then zoned as commercial.
“It was a little bit more of a riskier financial decision than I had hoped for,” Schmitz said. “It was a challenge because it had been in the Rennie family for so long and we had to deal with changes to the property surveying techniques over time, dealing with fence lines and more.”
They needed to legally settle discrepancies.
He closed on the purchase of the property one week after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
Schmitz said he had spent a great deal of time and money to close on the property before Sept. 11 and the purchase almost didn’t happen.
“As I did many times in my life, I took a calculated risk,” he said.
After purchasing the property, Schmitz moved Scenic Specialties Landscape Company to the site. The business, which he started in 1997, has merged with a former employee, Ben Stockinger, who is now the owner and lead designer. The business does landscape design, installation, professional maintenance of the gardens which the business has landscaped and specialty commercial snow removal.
Schmitz started the landscape business from his college dorm/apartment while he was attending Central Lakes College in Brainerd. After obtaining an Associate of Applied Science degree in horticulture and a diploma in landscape technology, he then set up his business at Thomsen Greenhouse and Garden Center at 29754 156th Ave., St. Joseph, with Bob and Bonnie Thomsen, who have since sold their business and retired. Stockinger also graduated from Central Lakes College.
Opening the event center
When Schmitz opened the center in 2015, he had previously planned other special events and was still trying to determine what his vision for the property was.
“We had been involved with many events beforehand, so things just sort of melted together in terms of it making sense as to why this landscape guy would become this wedding guy,” Schmitz said. “One of the things we knew we wanted to do was to offer exposure of our event center to the public.”
Restoring the property to his vision required more work than Schmitz had anticipated. After researching required changes, he discovered it would be a “hefty process both in time involvement and figuring everything out.”
Because of the history and the craftsmanship of the barn built in the 1800s, Schmitz did not want to destroy it and build a new building, even though the vast majority of contractors he consulted with recommended removing the barn, salvaging components of it, and repurposing them within a new structure.
“Anybody can build a brand new barn and try to make it look old, but there aren’t many barns built in the 1800s still standing,” Schmitz said.
Restoring the traditional barn, meant every joint and beam needed to be structurally engineered to meet requirements. This included snow load, wind load and live load of people.
The restoration of the barn included lifting it and moving it from its foundation to a new location. It was moved, turned and placed on a new foundation of poured concrete walls.
“We paved the way to get a lot of questions answered and have been doing our best to advocate for the fact,” Schmitz said. “There are hundreds of these venues that have opened since we started and the greater majority of them have not been brought up to code. They risk a tremendous amount of potential danger and/or closure.”
He said he has never put a price tag on the restoration because they had invested so much in the property during the years before opening the event venue, but said it was certainly more than $1 million.
Schmitz said his success with the event venue has included both luck and vision.
“Luck was in our favor, but we had the property for some time already,” he said. “Because I am a designer by trade, my vision for the property was to restore it. That’s my passion, so I am always dreaming.”
He said when it came time to do all the restoration of the event venue, others might have decided against it.
“It was my goal that the project was going to happen and it was a matter of how it was going to happen and when,” Schmitz said.
The start of Wood-Fired Wednesdays
When he opened Rolling Ridge Wedding and Event Center, Schmitz decided to get out of the retail business part of Scenic Specialties, using the restoration as a chance to liquidate items.
“It just made sense not to have that conflict of those businesses overlapping,” he said. “It was a hard decision, but it was a good decision.”
Unlike other places that host special public events, when Randy discontinued the retail business, people were no longer able to view the place before their special event.
“We wanted to be able to market the venue and soon realized that people wanted a way to be able to view the space before their special event,” he said.
Wood-Fired Wednesdays were started to give consumers a chance to view the property before their special event.
Randy and Nancy
Schmitz and his wife, Nancy, reside in St. Joseph and have three children Lily, 13, Sylvie, 10, and Wylie, 8. Lily attends Sartell Middle School and Sylvie and Wyle attend St. Joseph Catholic School.
Nancy graduated from St. Cloud Technical & Community College and works as a certified ophthalmic assistant at CentraCare Eye Clinic in Sartell.
“She has been my voice of reason, always going back and putting the reality on everything along the way,” Randy said.
Lily accompanies Randy to the event center on Saturdays to help give tours. She periodically helps Custom Catering when setting up for events. The children sometimes also help with landscaping care and clean up of the grounds. At home, Lily, Sylvie, and Wylie help assemble wedding planning guides, tour folders, and other materials.
For additional information about Wood-Fired Wednesdays or the Center, visit Facebook.com/woodfiredwednesdays or RollingRidgeEvents.com.
Author: Cori Hilsgen
Hilsgen is a contributing reporter for the Newsleaders. The central Minnesota native is a wife, mother and grandmother. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Organizational Management and Communication from Concordia University – St. Paul, MN and enjoys learning about and sharing other people’s stories through the pages of the Newsleaders.