WONDER LAKE – When Ingleside resident Cindy Johnson pulled in for a wedding reception at Marquise Banquet Inc. in Wonder Lake a few months ago, she mistakenly sized up the place based on the steel exterior.
“I was like, ‘They’re having the wedding here?’ ” she said. “But the outside doesn’t do it justice. ... I really, really liked it, so I booked my niece’s 16th birthday there.”
Owner Richard Kusz said Johnson isn’t the first person to misjudge the hall, at 4117 E. Wonder Lake Road.
Although the exterior could pass for a manufacturing building, the inside has a formal dining setting with chandeliers, modern light fixtures along the walls and a dance floor.
“If [people] walk in, it’s a whole different world,” Kusz said.
Kusz bought the building, which he says was “basically a run-down biker bar,” about four-and-a-half years ago and spent about six months gutting it.
“I put in new walls, new floors. ... It was truly a labor of love. I saw tremendous potential,” Kusz said. “People come in here who have been here 10 years ago, and their jaws drop.”
Aside from the formal setting, Kusz also does cooking for events, a skill he’s perfected when he owned two restaurants and a catering company in Chicago at different points in his professional life.
“I can do anything from hot dogs to chateau steak,” Kusz said.
Kusz had planned to retire at his summer home in Wonder Lake, but doesn’t regret his decision to buy the hall.
“I thought I was done with the business,” he said. “But it was just kind of an itch that I had to scratch.”
Kusz offers full low-cost wedding packages, starting at $26.95 for adult dinner buffets, which sometimes has unintended consequences. The meals also can be served family style at the tables or as individual plates for an additional cost.
“People think there’s got to be a catch ... because of pricing they’re skeptical,” he said. “We’re just very aggressive in our pricing. I’d rather be working than not.”
Johnson said that didn’t discourage her from booking the hall.
“With the economy the way it is, you’ve got to look for deals where you can,” she said.
Johnson’s family and friends had the chicken in a cream sauce with noodles, meatballs and marinara, vegetables, rolls and salad at her niece, Meghan Brown’s, birthday gathering.
“The food was good, the service was good, they were so friendly,” Johnson said. “I was happy.”
Kusz said that’s his goal.
“You’re my boss,” he said. “I’ll work for you.”
The hall seats as many as 160 people, and Kusz also offers off-site catering for up to 2,000 people.
He said he hopes to run the place for at least another 10 to 15 years.
“I love my work,” he said. “And I love cooking.”