"I feel like we got the events center as a Christmas present," said Denise Hutchison of From Scratch Catering and Event Planning and Blue Heron Events.
Hutchison, her husband, Paul, and their son, Aaron, now own the former Rescue Hose Co. Special Events Center property at 407 S. Washington St., Greencastle.
The $365,000 transaction was completed Dec. 5, some two years after it was first considered and following the resolution a Catch-22 zoning hurdle.
Last week alone, From Scratch Catering fed more than 1,000 people.
"If I can feed 20 people, I can feed 2,000 or 4,000," Denise said, adding it is commonplace to peel potatoes for hundreds.
She learned in the kitchen from her own and Paul's family and her favorite thing to cook is her grandmother's pan fried chicken and buttermilk biscuits.
"And those are two of my favorite things to eat," Aaron added.
About 98 percent of what they cook is from scratch, with Aaron specializing in sauces, both sweet and savory.
Denise started catering close to 30 years ago and owned Mary G's Deli at the corner of West Howard Street and Maryland Avenue in Hagerstown from 1991 to 1995. Aaron and his sister, Jessica, had their own slice of business there with a "lucrative snowball stand."
They sold the deli to move to Winona Lake, Ind., when Paul went to seminary at Grace College.
Denise got involved in event planning, coordinating a national youth conference for 10 years. She and the wife of another seminarian started From Scratch Catering in 1996 because "we didn't like living on a seminary budget."
They were called back East in 2006, for Paul to serve at Community Grace Church in Upton.
Denise incorporated From Scratch Catering here and would rent the Special Events Center from the fire company.
It was Aaron who came up with the name Blue Heron, both a nod to the gawky birds that walked on the sea wall in front of their home in Winona Lake and in memory of Denise's sister, Charleen Gill, who suffered from ALS and died in May 2012.
Like the blue herons, when Gill would walk she was awkward and her knees would buckle, "but when they fly they are absolutely beautiful," Denise said.
One of Denise's prayers was answered when the fire company asked in 2014 if the Hutchisons wanted to lease the building, and another was answered when they were later approached about buying the property.
Special Events Center
Officers of the Rescue Hose Co. publicly announced plans in April 2018 to sell the property and end the annual fireman's carnival held each July.
"I'm sorry the town feels we stopped the carnival, but we had nothing to do with it," Denise said, noting a social media backlash.
Selling the property and ending the carnival were businesses decisions for the fire company, made difficult because of the memories of the community tradition.
The work involved in the carnival vs. the amount of money it made, dwindling volunteers, the uncertainty of the weather and the annual disruption of the Hutchisons' business were all factors in the decision to sell. Carnival revenues amounted to just 4 percent of the company's annual budget of around $1 million.
When they were leasing the building, the Hutchisons literally had to move everything — from kitchen equipment to displays — out of the building and into a trailer from the last week in June until the end of July because of the carnival.
"It was hard to restart our business every year," Denise said.
The Hutchisons and the fire company had inked a sales agreement when the zoning problem was discovered.
An events center was not a permitted use at its location in an R-2 general residential zone. No one knew why it was allowed to be built there in 1982 and the paperwork from the time could not be found.
Earlier this year, Greencastle Borough Council amended the zoning ordinance to allow an events center as a conditional use in a residential zone. The Rescue Hose Co. received approval in September for an events center at 407 S. Washington St. as a conditional use and the sale moved forward.
"I'm a dreamer," Denise said, explaining they made improvements to the building before they owned it. This includes lighting, replacing the entryway carpet with attractive flooring, wainscoting and kitchen improvements.
She's looking forward to turning a back room into an actual office where they can meet with clients to plan events like weddings, banquets, parties and business meetings, both on-site and off. The 5,600-square-foot main room at Blue Heron can seat 275 with space for a dance floor and the Hutchisons travel from West Virginia to Chambersburg and Hagerstown to Gettysburg for catering.
Denise would like to work with the Greencastle Shade Tree Commission to create a more garden-like setting by planting trees along South Washington Street and Cedar Lane, and hopes to turn the carnival grounds stage into a smaller meeting area.
"This building probably brings more people to Greencastle than any other place in town," said Denise, who noted she's happy to promote downtown shops and restaurants to her visitors.
There are currently about 100 events a year at Blue Heron, including card and toy shows that draw 400 to 500 people.
The Hutchisons' catering calendar is packed for all December.
But on Christmas Eve they'll host their church family at Blue Heron, where they will eat crab legs, play games, watch movies and enjoy pizza — from Tony's.