SWANSEA – Big events, memorable moments and all the familiar food and drink needed to celebrate them will be back on Route 6 very soon for the rebirth of the iconic Venus de Milo.
After a multimillion-dollar renovation that's underway, the Venus will reopen its huge ballroom as well as the Athena, Venus and Empire rooms and the Apollo Lounge in the coming months. They will resume takeout five days a week Oct. 4. No restaurant is planned to open at this time.
Monte Ferris Jr., the third generation of the founding family of the event facility, is the man behind the project to revive the Venus. His father, Monte Ferris, shut it down during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, when all big events were canceled. The property, with its 60,000-square-foot building and 7 acres surrounding it, was put up for sale for $4.75 million. It was taken off the market in December.
The calls for the return of weddings, fundraisers, Lobster Newburg, Delmonico potatoes and Minestrone soup have never stopped, said Ferris. The venue can serve more than 2,000 people at one time. The ballroom, which can be divided into three spaces, can be used at the same time parties are going on in the Athena, Empire and Venus rooms.
Many diners in Southeastern Massachusetts and neighboring Rhode Island can tell you about having their wedding, sports banquet or Thanksgiving turkey at the Venus. One by one, similar banquet halls have closed across Rhode Island (the West Valley Inn in West Warwick and the 1025 Club in Johnston); and Massachusetts (several Chateau de Villes, the Montvale Plaza in Stoneham and soon Lombardo's in Randolph).
Why is the Venus de Milo reopening?
Ferris said the holiday takeout for Thanksgiving and Christmas in 2022 convinced him it was time to reopen. He had the calls go to his cellphone, as well as the kitchen. Everyone he talked to asked him when the Venus would open again.
He had left the family business a decade ago and made a career in insurance, hospitality consulting and real estate development.
Now he feels this is his calling, and he's thrilled to lead the reopening. His father has taken on an advisory role.
"Everyone has a memory, a landmark moment, that happened at the Venus," Ferris said. "That is rare."
When he was on his honeymoon last year in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico, he ran into people who'd been to the Venus.
"Reopening is the best use for this property," he said. "There's no second guessing."
"I know this mission is the right one," he said.
What will the new Venus de Milo banquet hall look like?
The single biggest thing guests have suggested over the last decade is that the owners update the building for both utility and decor, said Ferris.
Every surface is getting a new look, from the drop ceilings to the flooring to the bathrooms (new porcelain walls) to new paint and wall panels in neutral tones. The chandeliers, which welcome guests with sparkles, will remain. The layout will not change.
"The decor honors our heritage while embracing a modern feel," he said, adding that his wife, Erica, has helped with the design.
The signature statue will remain in the lobby, but there will be new marble on the walls and a piano. The lobby bar remains as is. The kitchen underwent a deep cleaning and new heating and air conditioning has been installed.
A new sign is coming soon. New chairs and tables arrive in February.
The first big event is planned for mid-November, and many annual functions have signed on for 2024 events, though Ferris declined to name any of them yet.
Working at the Venus de Milo
Ferris said he's already received calls from many former staffers who want to come back. They include Carol Kinepp, who worked for 50 years at the Venus. They expect to have a staff of 150, many of them part-time for the functions. That is down from a peak of 270.
They will not offer cocktail service at tables anymore, opting instead for guests to go to one of the bars for wine, beer or drinks. That is the industry standard for functions now, Ferris noted. It will make meal service flow better, he said. Often bringing drinks to one large table has meant the other tables were not served as quickly as possible.
Chef Laudalino "Larry" Almeida will be heading up the kitchen. He started as a dishwasher and worked his way up to chef. He's been cooking the takeout served three days a week and really never left during the pandemic.
"The foods are remaining the same," Ferris said, adding they are still darn good. Iconic dishes such as baked stuffed lobsters, soups and pasta will be offered with carving stations.
"It's a model that worked for my grandfather, uncle and dad," he said. They have added a new lineup of hors d'oeuvres.
Still to come will be a second round of improvements in 2025. That could include a new casual but upscale restaurant.
History of the Venus de Milo restaurant
If a few things had worked out differently in the 1960s, maybe the iconic banquet facility and restaurant would still be hosting duckpin tournaments. It started in 1959 as a bowling alley that the late Monsour Ferris had built there along Route 6. His dream was to have 30 lanes.
Instead, 10-pin bowling surged in popularity and they started to lose their leagues. But Ferris, who already had a lounge to serve his bowlers, expanded to a restaurant concept and secured the services of a chef, Joe DeRosa, whose food would keep fans coming back again and again. Ferris was at a banquet in the old Hotel Mellen in Fall River when he was so impressed with the food, he went right into the kitchen to meet the chef and eventually offered him a job. It's a story his son Monte Ferris liked to tell. He and his late brother Ronald were the second generation running the Venus. Many of their children helped along the way.
With the size of the Venus, some parties were legendary for being crazy-big. None were larger than a political event run for Rhode Island Senate Majority Leader Rocco A. Quattrocchi with 3,250 guests.
The Venus did St. Jude events with Danny Thomas and hosted other big-time entertainers, from Frank Sinatra to Red Buttons.
The biggest wedding they ever held? That would have been Monte Ferris Sr.'s, with 900 guests and a three-hour receiving line.
This article originally appeared on The Providence Journal: Iconic Swansea banquet hall and restaurant Venus de Milo to reopen