Farm's Grows Happy Memories for PartyGoers
For Five Decades, A West Side Favorite
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
By Linda Cagnetti
The Cincinnati Enquirer
The Farm is more than a well-known party and banquet hall. It's a bank of good times for West Siders and other Cincinnati families. It holds 50 years' worth of fond, celebration memories for several generations.
"It's a wonderful business being involved with happy, important events in so many people's lives," said Dan Elsaesser, general manager. The Elsaesser family has been in the restaurant and hospitality business in Cincinnati since the 1920s.
Located on Anderson Ferry Road, one mile from the Ohio River, The Farm is known for delicious food, honest prices and efficient, family-friendly service. It has hosted hundreds of thousands of wedding receptions, anniversary dinners, community and political fundraisers, school banquets and company parties.
Sometimes there are four wedding receptions on a Saturday, split into The Farm's two large party rooms, afternoon and evening. On a busy week, The Farm staff serves 3,000 meals, including private parties and the popular Tuesday night buffet that's open to the public.
On Thursday nights, May through September, the 350-car parking lot is home to "Cruise In," which draws antique car fans for miles around.
The Farm handles groups of 50 to 600 guests at a time. Two large rooms, each with its own kitchen, bar and dance floor, hold up to 300 each. For large groups, they "open the walls" between the rooms.
The Elsaesser family is almost as well known among West Siders as their landmark party hall. The Farm was started by the late Bill Elsaesser and is operated by his wife, Dolores, and some of their eight children.
In addition to son Dan, son Doug Elsaesser, and son-in-law Mike Seibert also work in the business. Two of the founders' daughters, Debbie Ernst and Dolly Mounce, often help out.
No shortcuts here
In early morning, matriarch Dolores Elsaesser is in The Farm kitchens preparing the day's entrees. She's lost count of how many times she's prepared her famous au gratin green beans or the much-requested standing round of roast beef.
"We buy good quality food, prepare and cook it with pride and serve plenty of it," said Dolores, who lives next door.
When not in the kitchen, you may find her greeting and chatting easily with guests.
She knows generations of West Side families. When she forgets a name or face, she simply asks "Which party do I know you from?" Chances are she'll remember the family name and the menu.
There are no pretensions. No shortcuts with customers.
"We major in the basics," said general manager Dan. "We answer the phone. We don't run out of food. We pay attention to detail. We, as owners or managers, are always around."
Nothing is left to chance, he said. "Many of these events are one-time happenings in people's lives. We don't want anything to spoil it."
That's why they have three back-up generators and several separate air conditioning and heating systems, lest any wedding day or family event be foiled by a power outage.
"We don't believe in hidden costs either," said Dolores. There are no extra charges for such items as linens or cake-cutting, she says.
"Our employees are great and we pay them a fair rate, so everything, including service, is in our price."
According to the sign posted at the bars, even drink tips are "donated to local charities."
Nothing is wasted
There's a data file on every event. When families or groups call to book repeat events, Dan pulls out the files.
"I can predict almost to the single drumstick or dinner rolls, how much food they'll need, based on past parties and the family's or group's eating habits from the past," he said.
Precise ordering and planning, he said, saves their guests money, provides plenty of food, with nothing wasted.
Matriarch Dolores met her husband Bill in the 1940s at Cincinnati's Cricket restaurant (a popular downtown meeting place near Fountain Square). The Elsaesser family owned and operated the Cricket and the attached Palace Hotel, now the Hotel Cincinnatian.
Bill Elsaesser, one of the Cricket's owners, created The Farm as a party site in 1949. He died in 1984, but his and Dolores' wedding photo, from Blessed Sacrament Church in Lower Price Hill, still hangs in The Farm's lobby.
"I always dreamed I'd live on a farm," said Dolores, chuckling. "Now I do. I live next door. So I tell everybody, you can make your dreams come true."
When asked the secrets to The Farm's enduring success, Dan Elsaesser pauses and ponders his answer.
"It's the fear of God. We want to use our business to glorify Jesus Christ. We honor our commitments and fulfill our promises to people every way we know. We operate first and foremost on the Golden Rule: In everything, do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
The story starts when Herman Elsaesser came from Baden, Germany to Cincinnati in 1881. He was 18 years old, penniless and homeless, according to The Farm's Web site. When Herman asked for a job - or at least some food - at Cincinnati's Palace Hotel, he was turned away. He vowed to someday own his own restaurant.
He found work in a bakery and eventually bought his own bakery/restaurant. He saved money and in 1927, Herman bought the Palace Hotel (later to become Hotel Cincinnatian and the Cricket restaurant).
In 1929, Herman bought a 250-acre dairy farm "out in the country" on Cincinnati's west side. Twenty years later, Herman's youngest son, Bill, transformed the dairy farm into "a party barn" and continued his parents' legacy of home-style food and service.
Today it's called The Farm, located at 239 Anderson Ferry Road in Delhi Township.