By Britney Grover
When it comes to weddings, Jennifer Oz LeRoy is the woman behind the curtain: She’s using her vast experience in the wedding and event industry to pull strings as a wedding planner and make brides’ dreams come true at her very own magical land of Oz Farm. Creating magical experiences is in Jennifer’s blood: She’s the great-granddaughter of Warner Brothers’ Jack Warner, granddaughter of acclaimed Hollywood producer and director Mervyn LeRoy of “Wizard of Oz” fame, and the daughter of Kay and Warner LeRoy, successful New York City restauranteurs. Jennifer’s parents owned Tavern On The Green and the Russian Tea Room, and she began working in the restaurant business at 16.
“I grew up working at the restaurant, and it was a very split profit: we made 50 percent of the profit off of a la carte dinners and things like that, and 50 percent was off of weddings and events,” Jennifer said of her start in the industry. “We did $20 million in private events every year. I grew up working in that, and on such a large scale. The numbers at Tavern were so crazy: It was 26,000 square feet. We could have three weddings going on at the same time, and they wouldn’t know it. Then, of course, Tavern’s Crystal Room was ‘the place’ to get married. Both of my sisters got married there, and as I got older all of my friends wanted to get married there. So I was maid of honor and wedding planner many, many times.”
Tavern On The Green
When her father died in 2001, Jennifer’s path down her own yellow brick road got a little steeper. She inherited Tavern On The Green at only 22 years old with 1,000 employees. Jennifer was CEO for nearly 10 years, during which time Tavern did over 3,000 weddings. “I was CEO until 2010, when we lost the lease and the city wanted to go in another direction.” But instead of being a pitfall, her change of course eventually led to her Emerald City.
Horses have been in Jennifer’s life about as long as the restaurant business has. She began riding when she was 4 years old and stopped at 16. “My father died in 2001 and 9/11 happened in the same few months,” she said. “It made me realize that I wanted to have a balanced life.” She got back into horses, acquiring two horses that she still has 16 years later: George Goes To Hollywood and The Pie. “He’s very special — 18 hands, super grumpy, and the best horse ever to ride. They’re both still in work!” she said.
In 2006, another tragedy again brought life’s shortness to the forefront of Jennifer’s mind when her brother was killed in a motorcycle accident. “I wanted to own a place where I could wake up and see my horses, but was still close to New York City.”
Jennifer purchased a farm in Saugerties, near the HITS showgrounds. “I love the balance between New York City and the fresh air at the farm,” she said, calling her new property Oz Farm to pay homage to her grandfather’s film. She called Oz Farm home while she did large event production and consulted on various properties. Her successful enterprises included the renovation and rebranding on Gurney’s Montauk Resort & Seawater Spa, as well as the very successful innovation of the Capri Hotel in Southampton. “I was sort of burned out by all that, but I really loved the events. I’d been doing wedding planning, big wedding production and other big productions, like New Year’s Eve parties and concerts, things like that. I realized I was never spending any time at my farm, so last year I thought, ‘Why am I putting on all these events at other peoples’ properties?’”
With its own wedding wizard in place, Oz Farm opened not just as a working horse farm but a desirable wedding and event venue. Oz Farm is situated on 82 acres of over-the-rainbow beauty in the Hudson Valley, where many people are discovering the magic. “The Hudson Valley is really booming,” she said. “There’s a huge movement of people coming here from the Hamptons. I have a bunch of weddings booked for 2017 and 2018. Oz Farm is special because it’s a working horse farm.” Jennifer’s partner, Katha Gatto, operates Shadow Creek New York out of Oz Farm, where she imports and trains show horses. So not only can brides have a beautiful farm wedding, they can have truly beautiful horses as a backdrop or even a part of the festivities.
When it comes to equestrian weddings, Jennifer isn’t short on ideas. “The thing about brides is that there are so many different types,” she said. “Riders absolutely want horses involved: They want the photoshoot with their own horses, everything.” Incorporating equestrian elements into a wedding can begin before the actual event. First to Jennifer’s mind was a ring featuring horse hair: Scandinavian company nannasalmi can create beautiful jewelry around your own horse’s hair. “That’s one thing I love. Then there are fun photoshoot ideas: I love it when a bride brings here riding boots and has pictures of her holding up her dress and wearing her boots underneath. It’s great to do a photoshoot beforehand with your horse and have it at the wedding. Even better if you can have a video made; guests will love it! That’s a way to have your horse be a part of it without bringing your horse to The Breakers or wherever you’re getting married.”
While bringing the horse to the event might not be possible at many venues, it’s certainly feasible at farms. “For the full-on horse pros, you could set up a temporary stall that’s nicely decorated on the outside, with either rustic style wheelbarrows or silver platters, depending on the style of the event, filled with carrots and apples for guests to feed your horses. We’ve done this at Oz Farm and it’s great! If there are going to be a lot of kids at your event, putting the ponies in a paddock nearby with treat displays is always a hit. We did this last year and added string lights for a rustic-chic touch,” Jennifer shared. For a fun farm twist, Jennifer loves the idea of a horse trailer bar or tractor beer bar: serving drinks from a horse trailer, or filling the tractor’s bucket with ice and drinks.
Whether it’s a Plaza wedding or a technicolor affair at Oz Farm, Jennifer knows what truly makes an event great and powerful. “It has to be a reflection of you, the couple; that’s the most important thing. Whatever magic it was that brought you two together needs to reflect in the event, and that’s what people will remember. It’s the details — the details definitely make a difference. I really love what I do; I’m really happy to be doing it.”
And when it comes time for her own wedding? “My wonderful boyfriend, Steven Michel King, and I have been together for six years, and when we have a break in our busy schedules, we’ll plan our wedding. He says our wedding will be like a musical, and I say it will go from black and white to color as a tribute to ‘The Wizard of Oz.’ Either way, it will be an event like no other!”