Hosts with the Most

The Art of Entertaining

 

The art of entertaining is a talent bestowed upon a select few. Meet the men who have what it takes to engage their guests with compassion and style. From calm and comforting to elegant and energetic, each host has his own flair. And while these one-of-a-kind parties may feature thought-out themes or custom culinary creations, guests always take center stage.

 

By Christina Cannon | Photography by Rich Smith

BO WATSON (Pictured Above)

Hixson

 

“My favorite part of hosting events is getting to build relationships and keep up with everyone’s busy lives.”

If you were to ask Bo Watson where he draws inspiration for his events, his answer might surprise you.

“I enjoy reading and studying Thomas Jefferson, and he was a huge entertainer,” explains Watson. “He was known for his dinners at Monticello, and he used good food and fine wine as an entrée to many deep political and philosophical discussions.”

Watson, who began hosting more events after marrying his wife, Nicole, in 2018, admires Jefferson’s approach and tries to embody him when entertaining guests.

“There is something strangely spiritual about sharing a meal with someone. Somehow the environment, not just the food, lowers relationship barriers,” says Watson. “It opens us up to conversation and the chance to have a deeper understanding of one another.”

A meal at the Watson household wouldn’t be complete without the couple’s signature charcuterie board, and other crowd favorites including a watermelon and feta appetizer and goat cheese stuffed dates wrapped in bacon.

Regardless of what is on the menu, one thing is certain – Watson’s Big Green Egg is never far away. From his prime rib nights to burger bars, preparing at least part of the meal on his Big Green Egg has become somewhat of a tradition for Watson.

Since he’s frequently on the road for work, Watson’s gatherings serve as a way to stay connected with family and friends, and his parties typically welcome anywhere from four to
20 people.

To be a good host, Watson believes it’s all about preparation and perspective. No event turns out perfectly, and things do, in fact, go wrong. People don’t show up, food gets cold, and recipes don’t always turn out as planned. A good host focuses, not on these things, but rather on their guests.

“If you keep your focus on the main thing, your guests, then everything else seems to work out. When we invest our time in people, it makes a difference – it impacts them,” Watson elaborates. “People find comfort in the presence of people they know and care about. Combine that instinct with food preparation, and you have the spot where people want to be.”

 

Photos by Karen Culp

MARK RAMSEY

Riverview

 

“To be a good host, you have to treat everyone involved with your event with the utmost respect.”

Growing up in North Carolina, Mark Ramsey was a big fan of the beach music popular in the coastal areas of the state. From an early age, he could be found listening to artists such as The Tams, The Drifters, and The Spinners, so when he set out to throw a party one year, he knew he wanted beach music to play a role.

Beach Music & Beer is now in its 25th year, and the event is reminiscent of the good ol’ college days. What started with a guest list of 50 has grown to 300 attendees, and the party places an emphasis on good conversation with good friends.

“If it wasn’t for some of these events, I’d have no social life at all,” laughs Ramsey.
“I love to host events because I get to spend time with my friends, and these parties help reinforce my friendships.”

To this day, Beach Music & Beer is as simple as it started. With no food and just a few kegs of beer, guests at Ramsey’s lawn party are encouraged to connect with those around them.

“It’s always nice when guests come to me and tell me that they had a nice time at my party and that they got to see people they hardly ever get to see,” says Ramsey.

But Ramsey isn’t just skilled in hosting laid-back, more informal events. He has also been instrumental in what he calls the holiday museum party. This event started as an elegant Christmas gathering in an apartment lobby and has transformed into a black-tie affair that welcomes roughly 1,000 individuals. Taking place at the Hunter Museum of American Art for the last several years, this event features an open bar and light food. While Ramsey was one of four men who originally started the event, it has seen more than 125 hosts come and go over its 40-year history.

“To be a good host, you have to treat everyone involved with your event with the utmost respect,” Ramsey says. “Mostly, I just try to think in advance what would make the guests want to stay with you, regardless of where you are or what you’re doing.”

In addition to his Beach Music & Beer party and the holiday event, Ramsey regularly hosts a Head of the Hooch gathering and a Holiday Open House, as well as several smaller get-togethers for various holidays.

SHALIN TEJANI

Ooltewah

“Hosting, to me, transcends the gatherings We organize. I want to always be known as someone who exudes hospitality rather than just being a host.”

For Shalin Tejani, hosting family and friends hasn’t been a learned activity – it’s in his DNA. Growing up within the Indian community,
Tejani was constantly at family-friends’ houses, and it wasn’t uncommon for casual parties at various homes to have 20 to 30 guests on the weekend.

“Our community has an ‘open door’ policy when it comes to family and friends, and it’s just a cultural norm that we spend time with each other,” explains Tejani. “Having people over is so much a part of who I am that I don’t even consider it hosting, and our gatherings don’t feel like events.”

Hosting is so engrained in Tejani’s lifestyle, it was a major motivator when it came to building his current home. Tejani and his wife, Niti, were upfront with their builder and architect about communal spaces being at the forefront. The end result was a home that’s layout caters to groups, whether it be for a grilled pizza night, game night, or a traditional Indian meal.

Anywhere from just a few people to upwards of 35 can be found at one of Tejani’s gatherings, but he notes that he doesn’t necessarily want people to feel like they are at an event.

“You have to strike a fine balance between meeting people’s needs but also making them feel at home at the same time,” says Tejani. “I just love making people feel like they are part of the family. They need to be taken care of, but not everything has to be prim and proper.”

The one exception is his children’s first birthday parties. Each of these took place at an outside venue and welcomed roughly 150 people.

“We’ve done everything from a farm party to renting out the Loose Cannon
Gallery and bringing in circus performers. We even had a fairy party at my in-laws’ lake property one year,” explains Tejani.

When it comes to the children’s parties, the Tejanis’ goals are a little different. For these, everything is in the details, but regardless of what type of party they are hosting, Tejani hopes all of his guests walk away feeling like they just came from a warm and inclusive place.

“Hosting, to me, transcends the gatherings we organize. I want to always be known as someone who exudes hospitality rather than just being a host. Guests should simultaneously feel comfortable and catered to.”

TOM CORY

Signal Mountain

“Caring about and helping take care of others is what life is all about. It’s our relationships, not our possessions, that truly matter.”

Tom Cory has always been highly involved in his community. Wanting his friends from different walks of life to meet each other, Cory began hosting meetups and events alongside his wife, Pat, decades ago.

“I became invested in helping our neighbors and friends meet each other,” explains Cory. “We think it’s incredibly important to know our neighbors.”

As a result, Cory began hosting a Christmas open house in 2004 and welcomes upwards of 45 people into his home each holiday season.

“A fun tradition that has grown over the years is our Christmas Village. We began putting out miniatures in the late 90s, and we started getting a lot of compliments when people were over,” says Cory. “We’ve grown from about 12 buildings to roughly 130 structures and several trains. Each Christmas, we try to add a few new items and rearrange the whole set up. Everyone seems to really look forward to what we’ve done with that each year.”

In addition to the Christmas open house, Cory, who is a part-time professional photographer, has been a part of many enthusiast and hobbyist groups over the years. To this day, the Corys host a creativity group, photo arts group, and travel photography group as a way to bring like-minded individuals together.

“We wanted people to have a supportive, non-critical environment where they could show their work without worrying about it being judged,” explains Cory. For these smaller gatherings, the Corys provide food and drinks so their guests can focus on each other, and every get-together starts the same way – with a toast to the health and happiness of each person.

“That is a tradition that we picked up from our Irish friends when we were teaching overseas,” remarks Cory. “I like hosting these meetups because it’s exciting to watch as our friends meet new people or restore a connection with someone they haven’t seen in a while. It’s not unusual for photographers to leave our events with plans to take a trip together.”

Regardless of what type of event he is hosting, it is always Cory’s goal to make sure everyone in the group feels welcomed and included. Fostering new and existing relationships is the main driving force behind the parties Cory plans.

“To be a good host, you simply have to realize that you’re the host and that it’s your job to make sure everyone feels good about the evening,” explains Cory. “Caring about and helping take care of others is what life is all about. It’s our relationships, not our possessions, that truly matter.”

GABRIEL FRANCESCHI

Brainerd

“At the end of the night, I really just want my guests to have fun, whatever that looks like to them.”

When Gabriel Franceschi and his wife married and put down roots in the Scenic City following college graduation, they were ready to meet some new people.

“It wasn’t long after we moved to Chattanooga that we realized there weren’t many events in which people could participate,” Franceschi says. After throwing a surprise birthday party for his wife one year that went off without a hitch, Franceschi decided that was a void he would try to fill.

“I just wanted to do something nice for my wife, so I rented a venue, got some food catered, hired a band, and created some special drinks. I was surprised when over 100 people showed up,” he recalls. “After the party, I started getting all these texts and calls from people telling me how much fun they had. I love helping people have fun, so I thought I’d try to do it more often.”

From wine tastings to game nights, fun is at the epicenter of everything Franceschi does. He notes that, between him and his wife, their family has quite a number of different social circles, but the goal when hosting friends or family is always the same.

“At the end of the night, I really just want my guests to have fun, whatever that looks like to them,” he explains. “I always try to put myself in my guests’ shoes during every step of the planning process. I try to think about what that group of people likes and enjoys, and I try to provide that.”

Franceschi notes that the events he hosts do look a little different now that he has children, but fun is still a priority.
One of the more popular annual events the family hosts is A Birthday Party for Jesus, which takes place every Christmas Eve.

“When this party started, I thought parents would just come drop off their kids and use it as a chance to do some last-minute shopping, but the parents love it, and most of them stay,” says Franceschi.

Now in its fourth year and with about 50 attendees, A Birthday Party for Jesus consists of several different stations where children get to participate in activities like decorating ornaments and cookies and making waffles and s’mores. The entire night culminates in a reading of The True Meaning of Christmas.

“Regardless of if it’s adults or kids, it’s always heartwarming to watch people get to connect and bond over shared values or a common interest they didn’t know they had,” says Franceschi. “I like being able to provide that.”