The COVID-19 Pandemic put many things on hold; weddings, birthday parties, and other events that would normally bring friends and families together to celebrate have been postponed or canceled altogether due to safety restrictions. Diego Oliva, the owner of LCI’s member business Crystal Events in Kenner, could not have foreseen this sudden, devastating world event that shuttered his newly-purchased business. Slowly and safely, he has been helping people hold their get-togethers once again, and he feels that things will only get better from here.
Diego Oliva was born in El Salvador to parents who immigrated from Spain. His family immigrated to the New Orleans area when he was five years old. He continued his story, “We moved around a lot: Kenner, Metairie, Houma. We ended up staying out in St. Rose area so that’s where I went mostly for school. Destrehan High School, go wildcats! Then my parents moved to Gretna.”
The Working Man
Diego graduated from high school in 2005 just months before Hurricane Katrina struck the city and damaged his home. He moved to Miami, Florida for some months in its wake. “I came back home and was working at Bennigan’s in Algiers, but I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. I always wanted to have a business. So I went to Delgado first for two years, then transferred to UNO.” Diego left Bennigan’s for Superior Grill on St. Charles Avenue in New Orleans. The money was great for a college student, but he was putting in 50 to 60 hours of work per week. “Then I met my wife Kimberly. I wanted a future with her, and I wanted a lifestyle change. So I graduated in Business Administration and Marketing in 2011,” he said.
After graduation, Diego exited the service industry and tried his hand at an office job, but he knew quickly that it just wasn’t for him. “I went into insurance for a year, but something didn’t feel right. You want to make money, but you have to love what you do. I didn’t want to do something robotic. So then my friend got me a job at Chase bank on Williams Boulevard. I worked there for a while and moved up through the ranks. It’s for some people, the corporate world, but I was very stressed working there. And it wasn’t my stress. It was someone else’s.”
At this time, Diego was in touch with his friend Donnie Thomas, the owner of a longtime reception hall in Kenner named Crystal Plantation. Diego and Donnie met when they worked at the popular event center when Diego was a teen. Crystal Plantation was originally Frank’s Skating Rink in the 1970s before becoming a country bar then a reception hall when it was purchased by Lennie Dazet, Jr. in 1988. Diego continued, “Donnie and I both worked here. I left, and he stayed. He moved up and ended up buying it in 2011. He approached me in 2018 and said, ‘Would you be interested in buying it?’ I said, “I like my weekends off.’ But I knew everyone needs weddings and birthday parties. Then my brain cardio started working.”
Diego and Donnie spoke about the sale for months before Diego bought the hall. “I felt like I would have kicked myself if I would have not taken the risk. I like businesses, and I want to build this business up to its potential. This is a business that I’m passionate about; I like quinceaneras, events, and parties. It’s me and my wife’s, and that’s why we’re fighting for it. It’s my stress, it’s my baby.”
A New Venture
When Diego took over the Crystal Plantation, he immediately made changes to it to keep up with the times. “The place was different looking on the inside; we did some renovations. One big thing we did was change the name; we took Plantation out and changed it to Crystal Events. I brought in new staff members, and I got a new chef. What makes us different is that we’re all inclusive and we’re really good pricewise. We have our own in-house caterer, and you get everything on the menu. The DJ, police detail, open bar, decorations, linens, bridal suite are included. We even pay for a portion of the cake.”
Diego’s brand-new business was going well for about a year, and then the unexpected happened. He explained, “March 2020 happened. Like every HRT (hotel, restaurant, tourism) business, it stopped. I did a lot of reschedules for about 60 events. Being a new business owner is hard itself in the first year. Throw a pandemic on there? People who have been in business thirty years aren’t surviving. I was stressed out and thinking what should I do? Should I sell?”
As restrictions about gatherings slightly loosened in the last half of 2020, Diego made even more changes to his business to allow for weddings and other events to happen safely. “Around August, I started having smaller events. We do precautions: temperature checks, mask at the door, separate tables, shields on the bar. We don’t do buffet right now; everything is passed out.” He also gave the guests color-coded bracelets so that guests could indicate to each other whether they were open to close contact (green), were okay with conversation from a distance (yellow), or did not want to be in close contact with other guests at all (red).
While things are strained particularly for an event-based business, Diego can see a brighter future ahead. “I never thought I would have to deal with a pandemic. Things are going to end up getting better. Some people are scared to book because there’s uncertainty. I know that there’s light. We’re getting there. The staff is like my family. I have good servers, good busboys, and good bartenders. My chef is incredible; he’s been doing it for a long time. To me, food, alcohol, ambiance makes an event great.”
A Match Made In Heaven
Diego doesn’t regret making this leap because he was motivated to do the right thing for his young, growing family. He said, “The reason I bought it was flexibility for my children. I have two little kids 2 and 3 years old. They’re my everything. I was very tied at the bank working 8 to 5. When this opportunity presented itself, I sat down with my wife Kimberly who’s a nurse and photographer, and I said, ‘I can always go back to the bank.’ My degree will always be there as a backup, but this opportunity is never going to be here again. I believe in hard work, but sometimes you have to take calculated risks in life. I put risk, blood, effort, tears into making this place good for everyone.”
Spending real quality time with family is very important to Diego which is why having a business all about giving families a venue to have a memorable time together is so important. His father is also a major inspiration for his current path in life. “My parents, my two brothers, their kids, my family, we meet every Sunday. I came to the U.S. with just my parents and two older brothers. That’s it. My parents came with nothing and worked hard for us. In my country, my father owned a leatherworking business. He was an entrepreneur and said there’s nothing like being your own boss. He instilled hard work in me, and they took care of us, and I try to take care of them. And I try to instill that into my children.”
Crystal Events is safely open for business. “Hopefully this will be a place everyone knows. I want people to say, ‘I got married there because it was affordable, but beautiful and the staff was incredible. The food was great!’ That’s makes me feel good like I did my job. I want it to be flawless.”
To learn more about Crystal Events, visit https://thecrystalevents.com/.