In 2002, after seventeen years of coordinating extraordinary weddings and events at Colleen’s, Joe Volpe found himself catering a party at a Philadelphia real estate mogul’s Main Line home, when the developer asked him if he would join him to check out the shuttered Imperial Movie Theater at 923 North 2nd Street in the city’s emerging Northern Liberties section. Volpe obliged and immediately fell in love with the idea of transforming the 12,500 square foot space into a stylish, upscale wedding venue. Joe’s boss at Colleen’s didn’t share his vision, so the 34 year old convinced family members and an apprehensive banker to loan him the $2 million necessary to gut and renovate the space.
By May 2003, Volpe’s Cescaphe Event Group was incorporated and the energetic entrepreneur began booking affairs without any marketing materials, while operating in an office adjacent to a noisy construction site. “I was booking weddings on promises that the space would be finished and gorgeous — showing carpet and paint samples to brides-to-be and their families who were nervous about what we could deliver,” said Volpe. Thankfully, Volpe’s sincerity and charm provided a handful of families to believe in him. You might even say that Volpe’s belief in himself transcended into his first customers believing in him.
On Valentine’s Day 2004, Volpe and his small team of friends and family, including wife Andrea, produced their first wedding at Cescaphe Ballroom. The company went on to orchestrate sixty-three weddings in their first year in business, providing the company with enough revenue to break even and pay down some of the $2 million debt. “Everybody was happy,” quipped Volpe. “The brides and grooms and their families were referring us to their friends and families and guests began booking weddings and events from attending affairs”. It was clear that Volpe’s risk had paid off.
Business increased steadily and Cescaphe Event Group coordinated over one hundred weddings in 2005. Joe and his team adopted a philosophy to charge a fair price for their services and stick to it no matter what their customers asked for. By 2006, the company’s reputation for producing dream weddings by purveying impeccable food, premium service, and the highest integrity standards provided Cescaphe Event Group with a steady stream of bookings that landed the brand at the top of the region’s highly competitive wedding and event industry.
At the start of 2008, during the worst economic time in the U.S. since The Great Depression, Cescaphe Ballroom weddings were booked two years out, and Volpe was invited to meet with the developer of the Curtis Center, located in Philadelphia’s historic district, to determine if he could produce weddings in the building’s breathtaking atrium. “I was blown away by the venue and immediately decided to invest in the construction of bridal suites and a kitchen,” proclaimed Volpe. By 2009, Cescaphe Event Group was orchestrating more than two hundred weddings per year. “I knew it was important to get more organized by this time,” quipped Volpe. “I realized that I couldn’t do everything myself and decided I needed to invest in growing my organization by empowering my people. This is the point at which I evolved from a master wedding planner into a patient teacher and personnel manager.”
Just as Volpe and his team conceived their new operating systems, the restless perfectionist was asked to develop another property in 2010. The space was a 10,000 square foot former Schmidt’s Brewery space adjacent to The Piazza — a vast residential and retail centerpiece of Northern Liberties — which contained exposed beams and bricks, and enough room to build an edgy, modern, industrial chic venue reminiscent of New York City lofts. By the end of 2010, Volpe’s newest venue, Tendenza, was operational and Volpe was producing over 360 weddings annually.
In late 2010, Joe got a call from a friend who was working on a new 100,000 square foot development along Philadelphia’s North Broad Street that included a new restaurant by celebrity chef, Marc Vetri, and a concept being conceived by Philadelphia restaurant impresario, Stephen Starr. Volpe dropped everything to go see the space located at 600 North Broad Street and decided to take 28,000 square feet to launch Vie, his fourth venue and one of Philadelphia’s largest wedding venues. Vie officially opened in October 2011 after Volpe and his team hosted a thousand of the city’s movers and shakers at Philadelphia Magazine’s “Best of Philly” party in the unfinished facility in July.
In January of 2013, Volpe took possession of Philadelphia’s legendary Down Town Club, which was founded in 1897 and is located throughout the eleventh and twelfth floors of the historic Public Ledger Building at 150 S. Independence Mall West. Volpe renovated the space in the first quarter of 2013, and began orchestrating weddings for up to 200 guests in the Spring of 2013.
In September of 2015 Cescaphe Event Group acquired the iconic Water Works, whose neoclassical revival architecture was built to disguise Philadelphia’s first public water system in the early 19th Century. The landmark destination allows CEG to operate outdoor wedding receptions under the Grand Pavilion and offer smaller, more intimate affairs inside the Engine House.
Today, Cescaphe Event Group is arguably one of the busiest wedding brands in the U.S., producing dream weddings for over six hundred brides and grooms annually. Joe Volpe has no plans for slowing down as he continues to explore developing additional wedding spaces in and around Philadelphia, while pursuing expansion regionally. Joe resides in New Jersey with his wife, Andrea, and daughters, Francesca and Sophia, whose names he combined to create his company name.
Cescaphe Event Group CEO Joe Volpe’s biography reads like a heartfelt American success story. Over the past decade, the humble 44 year-old Philadelphia based entrepreneur has methodically grown his company into one of the most successful upscale wedding brands in the United States.
Born in working class South Philadelphia in 1969, Joe lost his father at four years of age to cancer before he really got to know the man his mother devoted her life to. As a result of his father’s untimely death, his mom moved the family to the gritty Wissinoming section of Northeast Philadelphia. Like many 10 year-old kids during the 1970’s, Joe’s first job came as a paperboy, servicing several blocks near his home. “I made about $18 per week,” said Volpe. “That provided me with enough cash for candy, lunch, the movies and even a pair of leather Nike high tops that my mom felt were too expensive. We struggled, but we were happy and life was simple.”
By the age of twelve, Volpe landed a job at a bustling Jewish delicatessen around the corner from his home and spent his afternoons and weekends working the deli counter and assembling party trays for his neighbors. Joe was a star at the deli. He was always on time, never called out sick, and did whatever was asked of him to make the demanding clientele happy. During his first summer working at the business, the handsome pre-teen met the love of his life — his wife, Andrea, at the community pool after losing one of his prized Nike high tops. To this day, Volpe is certain Andrea had something to do with the missing sneaker.
In 1985, the deli owner secured an opportunity to cater weddings and events at Colleen’s, an upscale banquet hall located in Parktown Place, a prominent Philadelphia high-rise apartment building, and promoted the eager 16 year old Volpe onto the operation’s kitchen crew. “I worked my way up from dishwasher to cook to head chef by the time I was in my early twenties,” said Volpe. By his mid-twenties Joe was running the business, which had become one of the busiest wedding and event venues in Philadelphia.