If you want to have your dog in your wedding party, this pet-friendly wedding venue might be just the spot for you!
I had so much fun capturing CJ and her 3-year-old dog Willoughby. CJ is the owner of a fantastic pet-friendly wedding venue in downtown Franklin, Tennessee, called CJ's Off the Square. Follow along with our Q&As below to learn more about CJ, Willoughby, and her venue!
First things first: let's talk about your pup! How did you come up with his name?
I have enjoyed that name since I first read it in Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. He isn’t really named for the actual character in the novel, more for just the way it sounds. You can’t say it out loud without smiling….which is completely fitting for this pup!
What's your dog's breed?
What does your dog love most / like least?
He LOVES to play fetch. We have one of those Chuck-It ball launchers and he can’t get enough. On average, we play this game with him twice a day . . . sometimes more. It is great exercise for him and my husband and I just love the pure joy on his face every time we play.
What's your favorite thing about him?
Willoughby is such a sweet dog. He is really playful but also loves to snuggle. He really enjoys being with people. He has tons of personality and does something cute or funny daily.
What do you love most about the breed?
I was drawn to poodles and/or a poodle mix because of the low/no shed coat and low allergy sensitivity. Both my husband and I had poodles as kids and had very fond memories of them. They are also typically sweet natured, smart and affectionate. All of this and more is true of Willoughby.
Now, about you and CJ's . . . How did you get started in the wedding business?
I got started in the wedding and events industry back in 2004. While planning my own wedding, I was frustrated with the lack of options available for busy brides. There weren’t a lot of venues besides hotels and country clubs at the time and neither of those were an ideal fit for us. I wished there was a unique venue that wasn’t cookie cutter, preferable historic and had a built in team of professionals who could bring my ideas to life. I never did find it but after the dust from our wedding settled, this idea really stayed with me. I started doing research, wrote a business plan, and within 6 months, I found the property, quit my “real job” and CJ’s Off the Square was born.
How long have you owned and operated CJ's?
CJ’s Off the Square hosted our first event in spring of 2005. It is hard to believe it has been 12 years already!
What is your favorite part of working with couples during their weddings?
I love working with engaged couples. This is a really unique time in their life – full or potential and possibility. I am a big believer that couples should spend as much time as possible during their engagement to prepare for marriage but these days it is very easy to overlook that because so much emphasis is placed on the actual wedding. Being able to help couples with so many of the details that go into the wedding day itself frees them up to focus on the more important parts of what it means to be starting a completely new family unit. I also love all of the cake! ;)
What should couples look for in a wedding venue?
I could write a book as an answer to this question! As a wedding professional, I believe the venue is a huge factor in the overall success of the wedding (both the planning process and the big day itself). All of the other details of the day center on the venue so not only is this is a big decision and should be one of the very first things that couples research. However, some important foundational work must be done before the venue hunt begins. I encourage couples to follow the following five steps before they ever visit a property in person.
1. Determine the Size/Scale of the Wedding Guest List: Get in touch with key family members and start putting together a draft of the guest list. Have a general idea of how many people you wish to celebrate with you before you even start looking at properties. This one thing will help you narrow your search to only properties that can accommodate everyone. Your guest list is also a critical factor in determining the budget. Which leads me to point number 2:
2. Budget: Be realistic about how much you have to invest in the wedding. This is going to be different for every couple. Many couples have multiple family members contributing to the budget, some are paying for everything themselves. Have those conversations BEFORE you start looking at venues. Your budget may need to expand in order to get everything you want, or you may need to compromise in a few areas to make things stretch. But it is dangerous to start the venue search without having any budget guidelines whatsoever.
3. Flexibility for date: Now that you have a general idea of the size of the wedding along with a budget, consider dates for the wedding. If you can be flexible, you will have more options when it comes to selecting the venue. I suggest discussing date options with key family members before you start your venue research to save time. If the date is set, this will eliminate the venues who may already be booked and you won’t need to waste your time reading through pages and pages of brochures and pictures of a space was never even an option.
4. Style: Do you want to be outdoors? In a house of worship? On a family farm? At a historic property? Think about the aesthetic qualities that appeal to you and consider any restrictions or limitations for key family members. I also like couples to consider the time of day that appeals to them. The same space can look very different in the morning than it does in the afternoon or evening. This goes for both indoor and outdoor spaces. Also consider the overall style and color palette that you want to use.
5. Amenities: Every venue operates differently. Some include catering, some include tables and chairs, some (like CJ’s Off the Square) are more all-inclusive. Some are just an empty room and it is up to you to figure out how to fill it. Consider what you want and need for the day and make sure that matches what the venue offers. If you have your heart set on using a specific caterer, make sure they permitted to work at the spaces you are considering.
Once you have done a little homework, your venue search will be much less daunting!
What would you like future clients who are reading this to know about CJs?
We love weddings! My team and I are committed to serving our couples and their families throughout the planning process as well as on the wedding day. While we are blessed to get to do what we love for a living, we do not take our role lightly. It means the world to us to be trusted with such an important occasion.
Just for fun: What's your favorite thing to do for fun?
Play with Willoughby of course! I love taking him for walks, going to the dog park or playing fetch in the yard. My husband and I typically plan our evenings and days off around what we can do with him. Not terribly exciting, I know, but we love the simple life.
Mandy Whitley Photography is Nashville's premiere pet photographer. Mandy Whitley creates fun and playful photographs with pets and their people. She photographs portrait sessions, family sessions, couple portraits, and weddings - as well as just pets! To inquire about booking a photo session, contact Mandy!