Destination Rochester

Why couples are choosing to wed in Med City.
Written by
Abby Ashbacher

When Rochester comes to mind, you may think more of stethoscopes than bridal tiaras. But though this up-and-coming is best known as home to the world-famous Mayo Clinic, it has far more to offer than just great health care.

Brianna Rannells of Copper and Coal Photography lived in Minneapolis before deciding to make the hour-and-a-half move south. She saw all the growth happening in Rochester and thought her business could grow along with it.

“I love being in Rochester,” says Rannells. “The number of talented photographers here always amazes me, and there are plenty of wonderful weddings and couples to go around.”

Well under way is Destination Medical Center (DMC), an ambitious $5.6 billion 20-year plan to expand the medical complex, and make the city an attraction in itself with brand-new residential and retail projects.

Locations to Love
Despite all the dynamism and new development, Rochester weddings maintain an intimate feel. When it comes to venues, it doesn’t get more classic than the Mayowood Stone Barn, just 10 minutes from downtown. Couples flock to the rural property for its majestic oak trees and distinctive stone arches built by Dr. Charles H. Mayo in the early 1900s.

Built in 1867, Studio 324 combines old and new. The urban event space is in one of the oldest buildings in Rochester and features exposed brick and wood floors. The cozy space is perfect for smaller weddings, accommodating 80 people for dinner or 100 for cocktails.

The Plummer House, another Med City staple, can also host 100 people. It was built in 1917 by Dr. Henry S. Plummer, where he lived with his wife, Daisy. The five-story Tudor-style mansion sits on 11 acres of pristinely landscaped grounds with 49 rooms and original furniture.

Dig the elegant vibe but need more room for your guests? Somerby Golf Club in Byron, inspired by English country homes, accommodates more than 300 and is an easy 15-minute drive from town.

For more contemporary tastes, there’s the Rochester Art Center, with industrial-chic concrete floors, crisp white walls, endless windows, and natural light pouring into the soaring grand lobby and atrium. Bonus: Guests can enjoy sunset views of Rochester’s cityscape along the Zumbro River.

The ultra-modern space wooed and won bride Adriana Wohlhuter. Originally from the Pacific Northwest, Wohlhuter and husband Robert wed there in 2015. She was impressed with the RAC’s sleek vibe and versatility. “The RAC is so pretty yet simple; we were able to turn it into something of our own,” she says. “I also liked the art—it added an original touch that no other venue had.”

And there’s no need to call a cab after summertime nuptials at the RAC—downtown hotels and bars are just a short walk away. What more could a wedding party want? In winter, take the skyway through the Mayo Civic Center, another prime Rochester wedding destination.

Taste Test
Let your imagination take flight with a custom wedding cake and treats by Top Tier Delights, minutes from the Rochester International Airport. Their specialty tiered cakes include four delectable cake layers each separated by filling. With 21 flavor, filling and frosting options and 17 types of cupcakes, the sky’s the limit for customizing your ideal dessert. Executive pastry chef Dawn Hodapp’s philosophy is “If you can dream it, we can create it.”

Top Tier Delights offers complimentary tastings and is part of Powers Ventures, one of the largest caterers in Minnesota. In business since 1984, the organization now oversees over 250 weddings annually, and includes Canadian Honker Catering, Rochester International Event Center and Pinnacle Catering.

Wohlhuter raves about her tasting with Pinnacle Catering. “We got to try a variety of pairings and there was no pressure to choose right away what we wanted,” she says. “Our guests loved the food—we even had mac and cheese.”

Many couples are taking the path less traveled for their perfect menu and opting for nontraditional confections such as doughnuts. In 2014, Rochester Retail Services brought Dunkin’ Donuts back to Minnesota after a nine-year hiatus. With four more locations set to open in the next few years, the city is certainly not lacking in dough.

For a homemade spin on this trendy treat, consider tried-and-true bakeries such as Daube’s Cakes and Bakery and the Gingerbread House. The Fish family has been baking at the Gingerbread House for four generations, and with wedding brunches a trend, they serve miniature sweet rolls and Danish coffee cakes.

Unconventional couples will love Forager Brewery. With craft beers brewed on site, a made-from-scratch menu, funky atmosphere and summer patio, the space has a selection of rooms and is perfect for receptions for up to 60 people.

“We are a great option for a rehearsal dinner before a wedding or an engagement party,” says Barb Depman, event coordinator. “With our friendly staff and great ambiance, it’s a popular option for an informal gathering of family and friends before the big day.”

In Full Bloom
Downtown isn’t the only area that’s booming in Rochester. The Design District at Cooke Park is a developing area that’s full of energy and creative spirit, according to Brianna Prudoehl, founder and lead designer at Rochester’s Fox & Fern Floral, located in the Design District.

“The opportunity was presented to some of the business owners in the Design District for spaces, and we banded together to restore and revitalize the social and economic landscape of our core neighborhood,” Prudoehl says. “It gives us the opportunity to focus on our clients’ needs and really put our time and energy into product and design.”

In addition to galleries, designers, showrooms and vintage stores, the Design District also is home to wedding-related event and production professionals, including Majestic Tents & Events, which rents everything from tables and chairs to linens and tents, and Northern Sun Productions, which provides lighting and audio.

“There are artists and makers that are making a living doing what they love,” Prudoehl says. “We feel like cultured cities are built on their strong neighborhoods,”

Fox & Fern, after a slow start, has overseen 80 events this past year. Their specialty is bohemian style, with lush textures, big blooms and lots of greenery, but Prudoehl’s team can do it all. “We’ve done some fun things at the Mayowood Stone Barn—one time we canopied the whole dance floor with vines,” says Prudoehl.

For a natural yet polished feel, book a meeting with Jessica Miers of Le Jardin European Style Floral. Miers’ custom designs are fresh and uncontrived, with a strong sense of color. Le Jardin also offers a wide selection of linens and rental pieces to enhance your day-of décor.

Top-Notch Talent
In business for over 30 years, Mestads Bridal and Formalwear is in a wedding world of its own. Mestads travels the globe to bring quality and value to Rochester brides, and boasts an expansive collection of wedding gowns, moderately priced to couture, in sizes 2 to 28. Their aim is to be a one-stop shop, so they also stock a variety of veils, tiaras, tuxes, ties and jewelry.

After finding the perfect dress and accessories, look no further than Sewing by Carolyn for tailoring and repairs. A quaint country shop with sophisticated skills, it’s well worth the 20-minute gravel-road drive on the outskirts of Rochester to visit this seamstress. Carolyn Jurrens has been making brides, bridesmaids and mothers of the bride happy for over a quarter of a century.

Rochester’s wedding professionals are a cordial crew, and photographer Brianna Rannells, owner of Copper and Coal Photography, happily reports there are plenty of happy couples to go around. “My couples mean so much to me and I enjoy showing them how beautiful their love story is,” says Rannells. “I capture the day by embracing and encouraging” special moments to commemorate on camera.

Rannells works among talented peers. Olive Juice Studios is known for their bold, fun, caught-in-a-moment photography. Marit Williams Photography boasts work that’s natural and airy, the envy of any Instagram page. And in nearby Winona, you’ll find dreamy work by Nicki Lynn Photography, who’s an ace at golden-hour shooting.

If this list of wedding talent is starting to seem overwhelming, consider hiring Kirsten Fischer, principal planner and owner of Fab Event Design. With locations in both Rochester and Minneapolis, Fischer and her staff have been aiding busy couples since 2008. They’ll take care of all the details, from organizing the vendors to the last dance while making sure everything is simply, well, fabulous.

“I’m happy we got married in Rochester,” Wohlhuter says. “What mattered most was having all our family and friends with us to celebrate. It was our day, it was beautiful, and we made it the best day.”