The sun had just dipped beneath the treeline as the couples came ambling across the lawn at Verona Columns Park in Mission Hills. The ladies looked summer fresh in their vibrant dresses and high-heel sandals with their husbands alongside, wearing shorts and pastel button down shirts.
Sarah Radasky and Lauren Sotos, owners of Sarah-Allen Preston Designs, had staged a lavish dinner party for 16 beneath the stars. They were celebrating Soros coming on board to work in the wedding and party planning venture that Radasky founded six years ago.
“We wanted to do this to kick off working together, and we wanted to do something totally unique,” said Radasky, as she made last-minute preparations. “So we looked to New York and LA and Savannah for something a bit over-the-top. Then we said, ‘Why don’t we use the local park that no one really uses.’ ”
The elegant affair looked like it had been teleported in from Tuscany or the South of France. A long rustic wood table had become part of the the park’s scenery, which comprises a long dark reflecting pool slicing through a lush green lawn and leading to a separate ornate swan fountain. Sprawled just beyond the water features is a grand staircase that climbs to a stone platform buffeted at the rear by eight towering columns.
It’s a majestic sight in a majestic neighborhood.
The table, lined with bentwood cafe chairs, sat at the top of the staircase just in front of the columns.
Radasky and Soros had to apply for a permit to host the dinner, which required appearing before the Mission Hills city council for approval.
“They were so excited that somebody wanted to use the park that they said yes right away,” Radasky says.
When she and Sotos arrived the morning of the dinner to set up, they found that the fountain and reflecting pool had flooded the park. They panicked. Then they called the parks department.
By late afternoon, the scene was dry as a bone, though the fountain and sprinklers in the reflecting pool weren’t working. That might have been a blessing. For as lovely as a fountain sounds, it might have drowned out the mellow jazz that Doug Peete played on his guitar.
Yes, there was live music. There were also cocktails and passed appetizers. There was lots of wine and a four-course, sit-down dinner prepared by Julita Catering working from a menu developed by The French Market in Prairie Village. There were huge floral arrangements in stone urns from The Little Flower Shop and papaya-colored fabric cocktail napkins with embroidered white columns.
And, like any elegant outdoor affair that goes on past sunset, there were dozens of candles. They lined the reflecting pool, climbed the stairs, perched side by side on a wall fronting the columns and, of course, twinkled along that rustic table between the glassware, flowers and papayas that had been sliced in half to expose their bright juicy innards.
To top it all off, Radasky and Sotos had commissioned party favors: bottle openers with the date carved into their wood handles for the men and Mer-Sea cotton wraps embroidered with each female guest’s initials. They were draped over the backs of every other chair, a sprig of greenery tucked into ribbons holding them in place.
Radasky studied art history at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, then drawing and painting at Parsons School of Design in Paris. After graduating, she worked for awhile at a magazine in Dallas before starting a business creating stationary, called Preston Paper.
Six years ago, she married Marc Radasky, planning the wedding and the reception at the Misquamicut Club in Rhode Island overlooking the Atlantic Ocean herself. It was so breathtaking that it was featured on Style Me Pretty, a website for brides-to-be and wedding planners that Buzzfeed once described as “a hotspot for dreamy, aspirational wedding photos, and blush pink details.”
Not long after, Radasky became a professional wedding planner and founded Sarah-Allen Preston Designs.
In a nod to Old World meets modern technology, Radasky had created one of her signature invitations for the recent dinner party, had it photographed then sent the image by text to her guests as the formal request for their presence.
She and Sotos have known each other since their high school days when they socialized with the same group of people. They reconnected when Radasky returned from Dallas and the pair started a playgroup after having their first children at about the same time.
Radasky and Sotos are restructuring their business from mostly wedding planning to mostly party planning, though they’ll still handle both.
They could easily do something similar to this night in a client’s backyard, a restaurant, warehouse, pretty much anywhere. But they do like a challenge.
“If they wanted this exact party, we would do it,” Radasky says. “But I like to get to know the clients and tailor the experience to them and their personalities.”
The meal began with small loaves of rustic bread wrapped with a paper band bearing each guest’s name followed by a bowl of chilled carrot, peach and ginger soup with pickled shrimp. The main course, served family-style, comprised asparagus salad with mustard vinaigrette, French green beans, shallot sherry vinaigrette and radish; farro with Persian cucumbers, tomato, feta, kalamata olives, red onion, lemon juice and herbs; beef tenderloin was served with red onion jam and mushroom sauce.
A cheese course with nuts, dried fruit and crackers followed by fruit tarts for dessert rounded out the evening.
After the meal, when the sun had completely disappeared, the couples boarded luxury SUVs from a local car service and were whisked to the Kansas City Country Club for a nightcap.
“It was so special to be able to create this setting within a place we’re all so familiar with that had never been used like that before,” Radasky says. “It really is a great opportunity to give a gift to your guests, and it’s such a great feeling. Everyone feels so taken care of when everything has been so carefully planned.”