East Texas Wedding Venue & Events Center – Arabella Manor – Longview, Texas

September News-Journal Article

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There is a dream rising just outside the Longview city limits on Texas 300.

Entrepreneurs Linda Lawless and Teresa Crisler said it has been a long time coming. It was a dream born on a paper dinner napkin while they were eating at a local restaurant.

When Arabella Manor opens in a few months, it will represent years of talking, dreaming, planning and training. Lawless and Crisler first met about five years ago through their volunteer efforts for the Pilot Club.

Both partners, who will be joining longtime Longview-area builder Tom Davis in operating the venue for receptions, meetings, parties and other gathering, have formal and on-the-job training in their respective areas of expertise. But they felt they needed additional guidance before making the plunge and in going out on a limb to invest their time — and money — in a start-up business.

They found that help in the same that more than 4,000 other East Texans have during the past 19 years — through a special Kilgore College Small Business Development Center course designed for people in their position. Crisler and Lawless said while they took the eight-week course at different times, they feel the information they received will be valuable as they move forward in their venture.

Actually, it already has paid off, they said.

“We used a lot of what we learned in the class on developing a business plan to prepare ours,” Crisler said. She has experience in banking and accounting and plans to take care of the bookkeeping end of operating Arabella Manor.

Lawless grew up in New Orleans and has been trained as a chef and worked in the city’s restaurant environment before relocating to East Texas a few years ago.

“I’ve always loved to cook and am glad I can make a living at it,” Lawless said. Her grandmother owned a New Orleans eatery, so she grew up learning creole French and later worked at some of that city’s top restaurants.

Since arriving in the Longview area, Lawless has been active in a catering business that grew out of that experience and word of mouth from satisfied customers.

They hope to have Arabella Manor open by early December — in time for holiday parties. As they continue preparing for that opening day, they said they continually fall back on the training and tips they received in the college’s business start-up course.

“We met, talked and had a vision,” Lawless said. “But what we learned in the course and with help from Brad (Bunt, director of the Kilgore College Small Business Development Center), we’re able to turn that vision into reality.”

They have taken a methodical, slow approach to getting to the point they are today. Lawless took the course about three years ago, while Crisler’s session was about two years ago.

“One of the big advantages is that they have all the information you need in one place,” Crisler said. “And long afterwards, they’re still there as a resource when we have questions.”

Lawless said she would recommend the course to anyone considering going into business for themselves.

“They make you think things through,” Lawless said. “They provide you guidelines and help walk you through developing your business plan.”

Crisler said part of that process was in looking at worst-case scenarios of what might happen in a variety of circumstances.

“We wanted to make sure there was a need for what we wanted to do,” Crisler said. “We did a lot of talking, a lot of research and spent a lot of time going over what the needs are for a facility like this are locally.”

Their Arabella Manor was designed around that research. They plan to employ up to 25 full-time employees with another 100 part-time workers to handle special events they will be booking.

Arabella Manor is under construction on Texas 300 about a mile north of the Longview city limits.

Crisler said the venue should provide the ideal setting for a variety of functions from weddings and receptions to business meetings, banquets, quinceaneras, charity events, parties and other special occasions. Depending upon the type of seating, the location can seat more than 300 inside with optional space possible with outdoor seating under a tent.

They plan to also hold events open to the pubic, with one of the first of those special events scheduled to be a bridal show in January.

For Laweless’ end of the business, Arabella Manor will feature a full-service catering kitchen where she and staff can work with groups to provide custom-planned catering menus for a variety of budgets and ranging from hors d’ oeuvres to complete dinners. The kitchen also will be available for groups wanting to use outside caterers.

Crisler described the venue as being a upscale option with future plans including development of a garden area, construction of a gazebo and a chapel area.

Reposted from the Longview News-Journal

By Mike Elswick melswick@news-journal.com, Photos by Justin Baker