Readers’ Choice 2015:
Whether it’s a wedding for 500 or an intimate anniversary party, planning a celebration begins with choosing a setting that fits your vision and budget. Our readers recommend these venues.
In San Francisco, Congregation Beth Sholom’s stunning facilities include a sanctuary that seats over 600, a grand staircase, a social hall that accommodates 240 banquet guests, plus an outdoor courtyard and a kosher catering kitchen. The chapel and meeting rooms are ideal for smaller affairs.
The Westin St. Francis on Union Square, with a variety of opulent ballrooms, salons and suites, has long been a destination for receptions serving several dozen guests or 1,500. Wedding options include ceremony and reception, a wedding-night suite and a postwedding brunch; kosher catering under rabbinic supervision is available.
The East Bay winner, Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland, offers two social halls with supervised kosher kitchens, available to its members for bar/bat mitzvah parties, weddings and other social events.
On the Peninsula, Palo Alto’s Congregation Etz Chayim “makes hosting a party easy,” says executive director Ellen Bob. Among the advantages are easy freeway access, a well-lit, level parking lot with a wide ramp into the building, a multipurpose room seating 250 with an adjacent patio flowing into a large lawn, an open catering policy and a sprung-wood floor for dancing.
Also in Palo Alto, the Oshman Family JCC has more than 20,000 square feet of event space for celebrations from weddings to birthday parties, with a formal banquet hall, a rooftop terrace, dressing rooms, a warming kitchen and landscaped grounds. Birthday party packages, which include use of the indoor heated pool, play equipment and party room, “make it easy for parents to enjoy the party while we take care of the details,” says birthday party manager Kaila Goldstein
At Foster City’s Peninsula JCC, party-givers can take advantage of the facility’s sports and aquatics complex, hosting pool parties for all ages as well as gymnastics, sports and theme parties. For teens, the PJCC offers b’nai mitzvah and Sweet Sixteen parties.
Congregation Kol Shofar’s social hall in Tiburon, with sweeping views of the mountains from the floor-to-ceiling glass doors, plus bamboo floors for dancing, provides an elegant Marin setting for simchas, with movable walls for banquets of various sizes. A well-marked commercial kosher kitchen accommodates caterers.
In San Rafael, the Osher Marin JCC offers myriad options for weddings, receptions and special dinners, with the Hoytt Theater and its stage, dance floor and commercial kitchen for larger celebrations; the courtyard for ceremonies and summer receptions; and the Plaza J trio of rooms — lounge, atrium and gallery — which can be used individually or in combination. Fitness and aquatic facilities make this JCC ideal for birthday and theme parties.
Congregation Beth Sholom
Westin St. Francis
Beth Jacob Congregation
Congregation Etz Chayim
Oshman Family JCC
Parties • (650) 378-2776
Congregation Kol Shofar
Osher Marin JCC
Parties • (415) 444-8084
These bands and DJs, our readers’ choices for Jewish events, will play “Hava Nagila,” teen favorites or your mother-in-law’s requests.
Alan Waltz, who has been entertaining at bar mitzvahs for more than 10 years, started DJing as a hobby and formerly entertained at Walt Disney World. His 9-year-old San Jose-based company provides DJs and other entertainers for all occasions throughout the Bay Area. He strives to merge “the energy of an East Coast party with the style of a West Coast party.”
Gatsby Entertainment, called an artists’ collective by co-owner Adam Goldstein, specializes in Jewish entertainment, providing DJs and emcees, the seven-piece Gatsby Band, dancers and entertainers, plus photo booths and lighting. When clients choose live entertainment, “we add a DJ and emcee to all packages to allow for nonstop entertainment and an even wider array of music options,” Goldstein adds.
Perennial winner Joel Nelson, who has been in the local entertainment industry since 1981, leads his own band and provides DJs, emcees, dancers and specialty entertainment to the Bay Area’s Jewish market. “We understand the traditions of a Reform event as well as an Orthodox event,” says Nelson. “We sing in Hebrew, teach Israeli dances if requested and can even lead the Birkat,” the grace after meals.
Alan Waltz Entertainment
Joel Nelson Productions
Preserving precious memories is the forte of these photographers, who are celebrated for capturing special moments — and these days, digital files enable clients to peruse and choose easily.
Based in San Francisco, Larry Rosenberg has been photographing Bay Area events for 38 years, specializing in candids and portraits. He studied photography at the Art Institute of Boston, and has exhibited his work at Rayko Gallery, the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco and the Contemporary Jewish Museum.
Berkeley photographer Shoey Sindel calls herself a storyteller of people’s lives, using photos to tell the tale. She documents special moments at weddings, bat/bar mitzvahs, family gatherings and anniversaries, and does portraits “that capture the love and relationships throughout people’s lives, from maternity and childhood to multigenerational portraits.”
Serving Jewish community clients for 25 years, Richard Mayer, based in Foster City, says his job is to “tell the story,” emphasizing that “I love people and love working with them at an important milestone of their lives.” Recently, Mayer says, Peninsula Temple Sholom’s Rabbi Dan Feder called him “the Mercedes of photographers.”
Norm Levin of San Rafael’s Natural Portraits and Events says he “captures not just what an event looked like, but what it felt like to be there.” He specializes in “providing extensive and vivid coverage of Jewish events, including weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, anniversaries and other major celebrations,” and his services include high-resolution image files on disk as well as hardbound albums.
Larry Rosenberg Photography
Shoey Sindel Photography
Richard Mayer Photography
Norm Levin Natural Portraits and Events
Our readers’ favorite kosher caterers combine fresh, seasonal ingredients with stylish presentations.
Too Caterers, the kosher subsidiary of Continental Caterers in Palo Alto and also a San Francisco winner, is a perennial readers’ choice, providing strictly kosher fare for health-conscious clients at Jewish community events and simchas at synagogues, hotels and homes. “Our food is creative, organic and cutting-edge,” says general manager Wendy Kleckner, who has been in the catering industry since 1980.
The catering division at Oakland Kosher Foods caters worldwide, including an event for 500 in Berlin, plus a Chinese banquet for 200 at a bar mitzvah reception on a boat. With a deli, a butcher, café and a full line of kosher products, Oakland Kosher is an all-kosher grocery store with a huge selection of kosher wines, says co-owner Gary Freeman.
Based in Cotati, Park Avenue Catering provides kosher fare, under rabbinic supervision, as well as other menu options. It serves gatherings in wine country and throughout the North Bay. Bruce Riezenman, executive chef and owner of the green-certified company, is the author of the PairIt food and wine app for smartphones and has served as guest chef at the James Beard House in New York.
San Francisco & South Bay/Peninsula
Oakland Kosher Foods
Park Avenue Catering
Whether your preference is California vegetarian, Asian fusion or Jewish fare, these caterers are our readers’ choices.
Continental Caters, which is the winner in San Francisco and the South Bay/Peninsula, has been based in Palo Alto under current ownership since 1994. Continental specializes in event planning and catering, with menu choices ranging from Jewish cuisine, with blintzes and falafel balls, to Asian, French or vegetarian. “We pride ourselves in our understanding of current food trends and our ability to constantly be on the cutting edge of exciting new culinary ideas,” says president Paul Alexander.
Sunrise in Walnut Creek offers catering from 500-plus sit-down dinners to group breakfasts and lunches, which can be delivered or picked up at the bistro. “Our menus put a healthy emphasis on comfort food of all types — Jewish, Italian, Californian, Mexican, Pacific Rim; in other words, American,” says catering manager Angie Lindorf, who also takes pride in being a community leader in sustainable practices.”
At Delicious Catering, the first Marin caterer to be green-certified, “Jewish food is a specialty, based on old family recipes as well modern adaptations,” says Jan Goldberg, who founded the company in 1975. In addition to weddings and bar/bat mitzvah celebrations, the San Rafael caterer offers special menus for Hanukkah celebrations, break-the-fast events, Passover seders and shivas.
San Francisco & South Bay/Peninsula
Sunrise Bistro and Catering
Whether they bloom in spectacular primary hues or a softened, subdued palette, flowers deliver atmosphere, and our readers give these florists top scores.
Located in the lobby of the Fairmont Hotel on Nob Hill, the 20-year-old Ornamento offers floral designs for large-scale social events and private parties throughout the Bay Area, plus accessories and event planning, says business manager Bruce Gottlieb. Floral designer Orna Maymon, who has lent her talents to the San Francisco Symphony, the de Young Museum and Saks Fifth Avenue, is known for “unconventional juxtapositions,” according to the website, mixing colors and textures to enhance the client’s vision.
East Bay repeat winner Sheryl Tynes of Thistle and Bone in Pinole serves clients throughout the Bay Area. While she prides herself on using fresh, seasonal flowers and foliage, she also combines them with wood, berries, herbs and, of course, thistle and bone to create the unexpected, whether it’s a headdress, a centerpiece or a bride’s bouquet.
Serving clients by appointment in her Hillsborough studio, Mindy Rosenberg says she’s “passionate” about creating floral décor that will be remembered “long after the event is over.” With a background in the hospitality industry as well as jewelry design, she has focused on flowers for five years, “combining organic colors, textures and materials to create a botanical ‘wow.’ ”
Mill Valley Flowers, serving the Marin community for 25 years, specializes in “handmade, custom-made European styling,” says Karen Sapper, one of the designers, drawing not only celebrants but photographers and stagers. Specializing in weddings and events, the designers enjoy combining the unexpected — perhaps a centerpiece of dahlias, tea roses and ornamental pears.
Thistle and Bone
Mindy Rosenberg Design
Mill Valley Flowers
An invitation sets the mood of anticipation for any celebration, and our readers voted for these custom designers.
Susan Gildea, a repeat winner in Berkeley, has been creating personalized invitations, from whimsical to sophisticated, for 25 years. Customers can add personal touches, such as photos or ribbons, or search through the many designs that she carries. “Whether it’s invitations for your dream wedding or child’s bar/bat mitzvah, a best friend’s birthday party or an annual holiday open house,” she says she will find “the perfect fit” for a customer’s style and budget.
Repeat Palo Alto winner Paper Pizzazz, founded in 1985, carries “a wide range of invitations … from classical to whimsical, frugal to decadent and beyond,” says owner Frosty Gross, who serves clients by appointment and offers discount prices. In addition to customizing an invitation to a customer’s specifications, she also offers suggestions on wording and solutions to etiquette questions.
Sheryl Denker, former owner of Petite Paperie, now runs a San Rafael invitation and party-planning business, customizing invitations to fit a client’s theme and budget. A repeat client praises “her professionalism and her excellent eye for design, and the amazing ability to have everything work out both beautifully and seamlessly for me.”
Sheryl Denker Event + Design