This venue is anything but drab and ordinary and the origin story is absolutely legendary. Join me while we take a deep dive into this amazing new venue called LakenOaks in Browns Valley, CA in a quick and fun interview.
We love to get to know the origin story and discover why someone would choose to become a wedding professional and this venue is no different.
FROM LIVING IT UP IN MAUI......
Jeff and I met in high school (2005). We've always been a follow your dreams type of couple.
Once upon a time, Jeff and I moved to Maui and lived there for a couple of years. Maui was absolutely amazing. We loved every single thing about it…except maybe the humidity, but even then: worth it! We moved out there on a whim. We had spent two weeks there for our honeymoon and we fell in love with it. When we got home, we couldn’t get Maui out of our heads. On October 8, 2013, I was eating lunch with Jeff and I randomly asked, “If I could make it so we could afford Maui, would you move with me?” And Jeff immediately said yes. I’m a budget gal, hence this random question. Ha, ha. Fast forward to a trip to The Big Island in April 2014 (we surprised our moms and took them too) to make sure Maui was for us, where we decided Maui was definitely it. Then getting our first home ready to sell, which we bought when we were 21 years old, we got back in May, listing it in June, selling it the NEXT day, and getting on a plane with our first ever one way tickets in July 2014, where we moved to Maui with only our 2 cats, 2 dogs, 2 cars, and 4 suitcases…no housing lined up, no jobs lined up, only knowing one person on the island…it was insane. But we’re all about those life leaps. We lived there for almost two years, had some absolutely amazing once in a lifetime experiences, and made so many great friends and connections. But deep down, we always knew that when we were ready to start a family, we’d be moving to where ever our families were, and that was here, Yuba City/Browns Valley
...TO VENUE OWNERS
In our time there [Maui], we saw a small mom and pop restaurant open and were invited in to help run everyday operations there. That was it. We were hooked. Working for ourselves, seeing the outcome of all that hard work, and knowing it wasn't for the benefit of just some corporation who didn't even know our names...it was magical. We knew we wanted to start our own business, whether in the entertainment/event industry or in the wedding industry. When we moved back to California (to start a family) we couldn't get the wedding industry out of our minds.
Here people are, on one of their happiest days in their lives, and we get to help them? SOLD! Ha, ha. Honestly, with our backgrounds in customer service, the service industry, and the wedding industry, we just knew that opening a wedding venue was what felt RIGHT to us. We've been on BOTH sides of the wedding industry and know-how stressful both can be, so we aim to try to eliminate as much stress as possible for our couples. We knew we wanted this to be one of our top priorities. And how do we want to do that? By responding as quickly as possible, being transparent and upfront with couples, and being genuine with each and every person we interact with.
We moved back in 2016, bought our dream home, had Laken, and then enters the question, “What if we could make it so we can work for ourselves and start our own business?” And TA-DA! Here we are. Dreamhouse sold another big life leap, working towards our goals.
WHAT DID YOU DO BEFORE ALL THIS?
Jeff is a jack of all trades. Seriously, this guy has done so much, whether it be in mosquito vector control, the restaurant industry, physical labor with lots of digging, animal care for medical studies...just everything. For me, Heather, I too have a background in the restaurant industry. I have also worked as a concierge in Maui, worked and trained at a local bank, have a background in veterinary practices, some training in the medical field, and most recently, taken on wedding photography and videography.
Honestly, the wedding photography/videography just fell in my lap. One of my best friends owns Larcom Productions, videography (and recently added photography) business. They have, in my opinion (although obviously, I am biased, ha, ha), come so far and perfected their craft. The videos that they make are of amazing quality, and they speak for themselves as Larcom Productions has become more and more sought after. Because of this, they wanted to have more hands-on-deck, so to speak, and Ashley reached out to me to see if I would be interested in being trained in both videography and photography to help them out. Of course, I said yes because I knew that Ashley and I work really well together, I was already in the process of starting our own wedding business, but most importantly, photography/videography has always intrigued me. Let me tell you, though, there is a LOT that goes into it. I could sit here and explain it all day if anyone would let me, and I don’t even know it all, lol. But it’s so damn fun to do and we get to meet many great couples and their loved ones and each day it unique and keeps us on our toes with new possibilities.
HOW DID YOU COME UP WITH THE NAME OF YOUR VENUE?
We stumbled across the name "Laken" back in 2007 and jokingly said, "If we ever have a girl, let's name her Laken!" Fast forward to 2017, in the middle of ultrasound with Jeff by my side, when we were told we were having a girl. Jeff's response, "It's Laken. We get to meet our Laken." She is literally the reason for everything we do now, including this business. We want to be able to spend as much time with her as she grows up and working for ourselves allows us to do just that. The “oaks” in LakenOaks comes from our ancient oak trees that can be found all throughout the property, some of them dated to be over 100 years old.
We "officially" opened up our business on October 2, 2020. That's when we launched our social media and were available for bookings. We've been working on opening our venue since before we sold our dream home back in June of 2019.
WHAT SETS YOU APART FROM OTHER WEDDING VENUES?
What sets us apart is our ability to put ourselves in our couples' shoes and see things from their points of view. This, ties in with the fact that we try to remain as down-to-earth as possible and aren't just "in it for the money." We are here because we want to do what we love. Also, our responsiveness (as our couples have explained to us) and unique setting with all the water features, grassy flat ground, and ancient oak trees. We also want to express that we know [the] competition is just part of the package, but we respect the heck out of other venues. Owning a venue isn't an easy, overnight achievement, it takes a LOT of work and constant effort.
DAY IN THE LIFE OF A VENUE OWNER
Oh man, do you have time to read all of this? Ha, ha. In all seriousness, a typical day for us starts when right when we wake up. We immediately check any and all messages we received while sleeping and respond back to them asap. After grabbing some breakfast, it's work, work, work on the computer and our phones as we keep up on our social media outlets, connect with couples, respond to new inquiries and any individual questions that come up throughout the day, etc. At some point in the day, we do make an effort to get outside and work on and around the venue in some way or form. For example, yesterday a good chunk of our time was spent picking up even more tables to be able to offer for our events (this included drive time there, loading time, drive time back, and unloading time...twice). And then it's all upkeep, upkeep, upkeep. We're on 5.5 acres and there is always SOMETHING that needs to be tended to. We LOVE it though because every day is something new. We usually have back to back to back tours where we get to meet new couples and join in on their excitement as they plan for their big day. Those are some of our favorites. And don't get us wrong, we take time here and there to pause everything and do family time. As I type this, Laken sits next to me, reading books with Jeff. We go on small "adventures" to places every now and then and we have "goodie good weekends" where we get "goodies" as a family (i.e.: trying new donut shops, grabbing ice cream from local eateries, etc.). At night, after we have a sit-down family dinner and Laken goes to sleep, it's back on the computer to work on our website or draft up contracts or upload new photos to other platforms.
WHAT DOES A TYPICAL WEDDING DAY LOOK LIKE AT YOUR VENUE?
A wedding day at our venue: We’re up bright and early the day of. [The] first thing we do is a “property sweep” to make sure that nature didn’t make a mess overnight (ha, ha) - branches, leaves, etc. Once that is taken care of, if it wasn’t done the night before, we start to get all needed chairs and tables out to their proper areas. We use our quad and a trailer for this, but never going onto the grass, so some heavy lifting it definitely involved here. We set up the tables in a way that has been dictated by our couples from our previous conversations and meetings. Basically, we allow all of our couples to make their own layouts in whatever way they desire and we just make it happen. We wipe down every single chair and table, just in case. We then make sure all signs (i.e. parking signs) are in place. By this time, the wedding party has usually arrived and will start setting up the decor (again, if this isn’t done the night before, it’s a case by case basis). We meet with vendors as they come on-site and generally just make ourselves available for any questions or requests that they may have. We’re very hands-on people so we usually help in places that are “beyond our normal duties,” if needed. We always make sure to be accessible for both the groom and the bride should any questions arise but we also step back and let people do their thing so we’re not breathing down anyone’s necks. Ha, ha. From there it just depends on how hands-on couples and/or vendors want us to be. If we can act as extra pairs of hands to help set up the bar or catering, we’re there. If we can help remove dirty dishes from tables and scrape, stack, and sort (as we both have our backgrounds in the service industry), we’re there. We basically just constantly move around where needed, if needed at all. Plus, it also depends on what additional packages our couples have decided on (i.e.: if one of us is helping tend bar or if we’re providing clean up, etc.). Once all is said and done, we get back to the heavy lifting and put away tables and chairs, move out all trash and recycle cans and dispose of accordingly, as well as sanitize any areas that require it.
IF YOU COULD GIVE ONE PIECE OF WEDDING PLANNING & MARRIAGE ADVICE. WHAT WOULD IT BE?
Wedding planning advice: Do what suits YOU (as a couple)! Just because something may be labeled as "non-traditional" or "unheard of" for a wedding doesn't mean you shouldn't do it. It is YOUR day and we 100% believe that your (collectively as a couple) personality and taste should be expressed and present on your day.
Marriage advice: First off, COMMUNICATE. Second, communicate for the purpose of having a discussion not just to get your point across. Be open to the idea that you may both be wrong OR may both be right.
WHAT ARE SOME WEDDING TRENDS THAT YOU LOVE?
We are suckers for the "after I do's" walk back down the aisle with fun songs, and sometimes dances. It's such a great moment to say, "Yes!! We did it!" Also, as mentioned before, we love when couples incorporate their own unique touches and personality into their big days.
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT WORKING WITH COUPLES?
Honestly, we love how each couple is unique. The word "mundane" doesn't exist in this job. We get to meet new people, hear about their love and their experiences, and share one of the greatest days with them. We sound cheesy, we know, but it's the truth.
WHAT ARE SOME FUN FACTS ABOUT YOU?
For Jeff: He is a certified scuba diver and LOVES (and I mean LOVES) the ocean. For Heather: Crazy. Cat. Lady. Ha, ha. Seriously, I am obsessed with animals. My mother is a Veterinarian Technician and animals have always been present in my life. If it were up to me, we'd also own an animal sanctuary. Maybe one day?
DO YOU HAVE ANY ANIMALS?
We have two cats at this time. They were found abandoned at a local boat ramp and we took them in and fell in love, even Mr. “I’ll Never Own A Cat” did. We have fostered many kittens, with the biggest litter being at six kittens. So our two cats plus the six kittens, and then two dogs…plus Laken was barely one year old at the time: Let’s just say that was the sleep deprivation stage of my life, ha, ha. Between Laken and the kittens (they had to be fed every 2-3 hours), I was a zombie, but I would 100% do it again. Before COVID-19, we also volunteered at animal rescues at least once per week. I highly recommend it for anyone, even if it’s just you going and walking one dog per week. It’s beneficial to not only the pup, but the rescue too (you’re helping them exercise a pet, potentially getting that dog used to a collar/leash and showing him/her basic cues when walking), and you too (getting those endorphins in). Don’t believe me, *insert Shia LeBeouf voice here* “JUST DO IT!” and you’ll see what I mean.
WE LOVE TO TRAVEL
As far as travel, I, Heather have ALWAYS loved to travel. My mom and grandmother are also lovers of travel and definitely spoiled us kids with trips to Mexico, The Bahamas, and cities throughout the United States. When I graduated high school, my cousins and I (we’re all about the same age) were taken on a trip to Europe where we did a cruise to Croatia (at the time), France, Spain, and Italy. Then we stayed in Rome, Italy for another week. It was magical. Jeff, though, had never been out of the country. So knowing this, I had started to save up some money (we keep our finances separate) and surprised him one Christmas with a cruise to Mexico. After that, we only did “small vacations” to places around California, then we got married, had our honeymoon in Maui, saved up, and had a second honeymoon on a cruise to Turks and Caicos, The Bahamas, and Puerto Rico. While living in Maui, we visited several of the Hawaiian islands and took a trip to Cancun for our friends’ wedding. Since coming back, we have definitely “slowed down” a bit. Lol.
The BEST story and video we have with anything having to do with water is the time that Jeff swam right along [with] humpback whales (in Maui). It’s so amazing to see and one of his favorite memories. He also swam alongside octopus, many turtles, and once along [with] the rare Hawaiian monk seal, plus endless amounts of tropical fish. Oh yes, and let’s not forget the occasional shark. That’s a big nope from me, but this guy is all about it. He loves being under the water, he describes it as a different, peaceful world. And when the humpbacks were in season, if you put your head underwater, you can often hear their beautiful songs.
HOW HAS COVID-19 IMPACTED YOUR BUSINESS?
Well, we were hoping to be open MUCH sooner than we were, but COVID happened to all of us and caused delays in concrete, materials, labor, etc. It is what it is, and as we often like to quote Ross from FRIENDS, "PIVOT!" has been our motto this year.
ARE YOU WORKING ON ANYTHING NEW AND EXCITING?
What are we not working [on]? Ahahaha. Building a bridal suite, crafting a covered bridge, painting the entire house, mounting an "I do" bell, constantly landscaping, creating new package options to help our couples (like our "Clean Up Package" and "Bartenders Package"), and so much more. We are the type that loves to learn as we go so we aim to do just that with our venue.
TELL US MORE ABOUT THIS BRIDAL SUITE!
The Future Bridal Suite: We are on the hunt for a bridal suite that will be a bit off the beaten path of traditional. We're looking at a "mobile" bridal suite that we will station on the property for all our couples and that we can transform with our ideas, which include: at least one bathroom, a refrigerator, plenty of lighting, and, most importantly, ample space! We have specific visions and are being VERY picky [about] finding the perfect space for those visions.
That sounds so exciting! I can't wait to see it when it's finished. LakenOaks is doing so many fun, exciting, and new things that you definitely do not want to miss out on! Thank you so much to Heather and Jeff for this fun and awesome interview.
So, if you are looking for an affordable, and beautiful venue to have your wedding LakenOaks is an excellent choice!
Photography Credit: Frances Camille Makeup and Photography