It's not some marketing tag line. A&K Party Pals, a fast-growing name in Omaha in event planning, welcomes each client and guest at every bash they put on as if they were part of the family.
"Grandma Lewis took everyone in, loved them as her own, she fed anyone who needed a meal, and she never, ever locked her door," said co-founder Ashley Lewis-Redick. "That's her legacy, and that's what we bring into the business."
And customers feel that warmth and familiarity as word-of-mouth spreads from happy partygoers. A & K Party Pals, with Toni Lewis-Miners and Kishia Lewis, who head up the family business along with Lewis-Redick, has built a reputation of taking modest ideas into something that wows with its all-inclusive, one-stop event planning service.
"We want them to look at the pictures they take at the party, and say oh, my gosh, I remember this, wasn't that fun?" said Kishia Lewis, A&K Party Pals' other co-founder and Lewis-Redick's aunt.
Take a recent Sweet 16 party as an example: they turned an ordinary hall into a charming visit to Paris, with Breton-striped paper plates and napkins, and centerpieces decorated with mini Eiffel Towers, imitation Chanel boxes splashed with pearls and blue glittering masquerade masks fashionable enough to wear.
"Some parties can range from a few hundred to thousands of dollars," Lewis said.
They'll do the little things, too, like delighting a three-year-old girl at her Henry Doorly Zoo birthday party with a costumed princess from their inventory of popular cartoon characters.
"Our family is a great support system," Lewis said, "to help us execute whatever plan we have going on. We want to make a stamp on Nebraska."
'Auntie, I want to start my own business!'
With help from a SBA-funded microloan from the Nebraska Enterprise Fund they expect to just that, with future events all over the Omaha metro area. After using personal income to start, A&K Party Pals saw an estimated five to 10 percent growth in its first year, 15 to 20 percent in its second, and between 20 and 30 percent in its third.
"I always had a passion to start own business," said Lewis-Redick, who went to Bellevue University for a degree in business administration. She started out in 2009 with a costume at kids' parties for a few bucks here and there, but it wasn't until she worked a fundraiser for a cousin's medical condition and raised enough to inspire another successful one that one day she woke up, turned to Lewis and blurted out, "Auntie, I want to start my own business!"
Lewis was an experienced event planner in her own right, throwing, as she puts it, the "party of the year" in Omaha's Montclair neighborhood, a large-scale block party that stopped just short of becoming a street festival.
Their effort was modest at first with parties for family and friends.
But then came a chance not only to grow the nascent business but to help build an anchor of the North 20th Street corridor. As an extension of the Hope Center for Kids, a charity helping at-risk youth in the community, the popular Hope Skate location looked to A&K Party Pals for event planning in the family-friendly entertainment venue, as the business turned to the Hope Center's teen and college-aged participants to volunteer to don costumes for A&K Party Pals' events.
"That gives them an opportunity to do what they love, to help the community, to teach them how to interact with people, and show off," Lewis said. "They're really theatrical."
Word of mouth gave them plenty of party requests
Their first party at Hope Skate was a success, astonishing the kids; all it took was throwing up pictures of delighted, smiling little guests on their social media site and their phones began to ring. Shortly came a request for a memorable graduation blowout for three Central High School teens. There was music, dancing, a photo booth with a sweet backdrop, and specially-made banners with their pictures, "so they could leave with a permanent reminder of their party," Lewis said.
It didn't take long before other families of Central High School students began calling.
As word spread, the calendar filled for events at a west Omaha skating rink, area pizza places, the city's Children's Museum and local theaters.
Once, they put on a wedding reception for some 200 people in the middle of a sweltering Nebraska summer, running back and forth to replenish supplies.
"We woke up the next day and said, 'that was fun!'" Lewis said.
So is seeing the happiness on their client's faces.
To their surprise, even a local radio deejay even rang them up for their service.
"We haven't had to search for them, they call us," Lewis said.
But it's not to say they haven't been out doing a little promotional work. After drumming up business walking along with their company banner in a Native Omaha Parade, the three got the idea to pack up and crash a Cinco De Mayo festival as a guerilla marketing stunt, with their team of volunteers wearing their mascots and waving. Instead of cross looks, "we couldn't get one block without people stopping us," Lewis-Redick said. The crowd ate it up and the women were practically overrun with inquiries and invites.
The great ideas didn't stop there. A&K Party Pals lookalike mascots show up at department stores and fast food restaurants for some impromptu appearances, charming curious onlookers. To build its brand even more, they knew they'd need additional resources. After working for three years without needing a loan, and a need for more inventory and working capital, and to meet marketing expenses, they visited a local lender for help.
Turning to the Nebraska Enterprise Fund for help
But the answer was no--the business was too new, too small, and lacked sufficient credit history for conventional financing. Looking for another answer, their lender directed them to the Nebraska Enterprise Fund, which became an SBA microlender this spring. A&K Party Pals' approval for a $10,000 was one of the first such loans under the SBA program granted by the Oakland, Neb.-based non-profit.
They're also now able to rebrand their high-end luxury event planning service under the new name MiseEn Scene.
After three years of growth, they added Lewis-Redick's cousin, Toni Lewis-Miners, to help with creative and visual design, and just as important, "if we are overwhelmed, she is the calm person," Lewis said. Dealing with clients seeking the perfect event, or making significant changes at the last minute can tax the most patient planner.
"The one thing that makes this a success is that you have to understand who you're working with," Lewis said. "I study clients we meet with, I want to learn who they are and to help them feel more comfortable. But there are times we go on site and have no idea what we have to deal with, or dealing with difficult personalities. There are times people don't understand what it takes to put an event together and it takes time to shop around to find the best prices for the client."
But dealing with a bridezilla or impatient birthday child's mother is a piece of cake considering the family tragedies the three endured even as business demands called.
Over a trying 12-month period, the family lost its matriarch, Grandma Lewis, then Lewis-Redick's mother to cancer, and Lewis-Miners' brother just before he was to enlist in the Marine Corps.
"Our story here starts before putting this business together," Lewis. "We've been through hard times but never knew hard times were that hard until we went through this."
With that character-builder behind them, the future of the business is ambitious, taking their brand for event planning to the west coast and southwest. And the result?
"Massive success," Lewis-Redick said. "That’s our bet."