By Rebekah Martin
Located in the heart of downtown Opelika, The Bottling Plant Event Center first opened its doors as the Event Center Downtown in 2010. Now, with the help of her new executive chef, owner Lisa Ditchkoff is putting the finishing touches on a complete rehaul of her business model.
As the name suggests, the building at 614 N. Railroad Ave. was home to a Coca-Cola Bottling Plant from 1938 to sometime in the 70s. The event venue boasts of original hardwood floors, exposed brick and beams, original structural joists and light fixtures. Specializing in conferences, seminars, weddings, receptions and reunions, the 33,000 -square-foot event space now offers an in-house food service instead of relying on outsourced caterers.
Ditchkoff recently hired Jonathan Walker as her executive chef to head-up the expansion. Walker hails from Athens, Ga. where he attended the University of Georgia and has nearly 20 years of experience in the food industry.
The Bottling Plant Event Center will focus on fresh, made-from-scratch food that is locally sourced when possible. “It was important to me that we focus on more local, fresh product from farmers … We are striving for consistent food-quality and service and more of that one-stop-shop feel that I’ve always had the vision of, but haven’t had the financial resources to pull together,” Ditchkoff said. “It’s going to make a huge difference that the food is cooked here and brought straight out, rather than it being brought in from another location.”
As a part of the rebranding process, The Bottling Plant Event Center has entered into a new partnership, which Ditchkoff said will be huge for her business. “Coca-Cola has agreed to partner with us, so they like the whole rebranding process. They’ve actually helped with some of the rebranding expense. Coca-Cola is, from what I understand, the second most-known name in the world,” Ditchkoff said. “So to me, it’s huge that they have entrusted us with their name and with their logo.
Walker has created signature Coca-Cola-themed menu items to reflect the new partnership. Coca-Cola braised short ribs, Coca-Cola dry-roasted peanuts and Coca-Cola chocolate cake are just a few of the soda-inspired dishes.
The in-house food service is not the only thing that will be expanding at the Bottling Plant Event Center. Ditchkoff and her team are currently working on a retail wine shop, monthly dinners with wine pairings that will start in January and a gourmet-to-go menu that is already up and running.
Ditchkoff said she plans to unveil the new business model to the public with a debut party Dec. 1 that will feature live music, various drinks, spirits, speciality cocktails and premium wines. Tickets to the all-inclusive event are $30.
Ditchkoff said that consistency is a main goal of the rebranding project, and their efforts have even extended to the brand new china and cutlery. “I’ve literally cringed when I’ve seen someone’s fork or knife break while they’re cutting into something,” Ditchkoff said. “Plus, it’s just better for the environment,” Walker added. “we’re not throwing away a bunch of paper products every time we have a banquet for 500 people. It makes the event as a whole elevate to the level of the venue. It just provides a level of consistency that was previously not available.”
Accommodating for their new cliental, Walker said his menu is very flexible. “It’s tough to make an all-encompassing banquet menu, so I’m happy to work with people. I want to make the menu just as special as their event,” he said.
For more information, call 705-5466 or visit www.bottlingplanteventcenter.com.