A night in white: Community members gather downtown to dine

Following a family trip to Europe in 2013, Maria Van Laanen embraced the idea of bringing an elegant outdoor dining experience to the Fox Cities.
The Van Laanen family had stayed mostly in homes versus hotels during that trip as a means to better immerse themselves in the culture. It was then that they learned from a gentleman and his wife in Paris about the concept of White Dinners.

“I instantly fell in love with the idea and turned to my husband and said, ‘We have to make this happen in Appleton,’” Van Laanen recalls.

A few weeks after her return, Van Laanen, president of the Fox Cities Performing Arts Center, spoke to Jennifer Stephany, executive director of Downtown Appleton Inc., about what she had discovered. Stephany was familiar with White Dinners due to an episode of Bravo’s television show, “Top Chef.”

“We talked about how much we love our downtown and all the fun events that were happening,” Van Laanen says. “We agreed this was a great fit for our community and about a month later we were hosting Appleton’s first White Dinner.”

Van Laanen and Stephany organized the dinner as community members outside of the Fox Cities P.A.C. and ADI. The second White Dinner was held on Friday, Aug. 15 in Houdini Plaza. About 35-40 people attended the invite-only gathering. Guests were asked to come dressed in white and set their tables in linens, dishes and centerpieces of the same color.
“It just adds to the overall feel of the light, summery experience,” says Van Laanen. “In the future, if this concept becomes public, each month could be a different color or a different theme. So many great ideas have come to us from attendees. I’m sure the experience will evolve.”

There is hope that the event could be expanded to involve the general public and be sponsored by ADI, along with being connected to Art on the Town events on the third Thursday of each month during the months of June through September. Stephany notes that the area offers “a variety of areas for groups to dine together, great lighting, easy access to parking and a beautiful setting in the center of our downtown.”

White Dinner group_0

“ADI is very interested in making the event public,” she shares. “It would require the appropriate permits, insurance and marketing. The event would likely need to take on an additional sponsor to make it all happen.”

The dinners also could be an opportunity to engage downtown restaurants to create a “to go menu” and encourage cross promotion with the galleries, retail stores and businesses downtown, Stephany adds. ADI also would like to see a partnership with Mile of Music to provide a performance as part of the event as well.

“I love gathering friends together over good food,” says Van Laanen. “I love being outdoors in the summer, I love the feel and energy of our downtown. I want to be a part of what makes this a fun, creative community to live in. I was part of the task force that helped with the renovation of Houdini Plaza and there are so many great activities happening there. It is a perfect place and time for this event.”

White Dinner RA

— By Amy Hanson

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