This NYC Restaurateur Found Oz on a Hudson Valley Farm
The Big Apple event planner followed her family footsteps and built her own Emerald City in Saugerties.
Photo by Steven Michael King
Jennifer Oz LeRoy is the Dorothy Gale of the Hudson Valley. Aside from the obvious (both are brunette), LeRoy and Dorothy share a similar personality. Both are determined, persistent, and eternally optimistic. Even amid life’s many challenges (dare we say tornados?), both ladies find a way to come out on top.
But first, a backstory.
In case her name didn’t already tip you off, LeRoy, owner of Oz Farm in Saugerties, is more than just a fan of the The Wizard of Oz. In fact, it was her grandfather, Mervyn LeRoy, who produced the iconic 1939 film. Her great grandfather, Jack Warner, was one of the Warner brothers. Yes, we do mean those Warner Brothers. As for her parents, they were the New York City restaurateurs behind more than a few of the city’s notable eateries, including the former Tavern on the Green, the acclaimed Big Apple restaurant that was just as much of a who’s who social spot as it was a fine dining destination.
“I definitely grew up in what people would consider a privileged life,” she admits. “I grew up in The Dakota (the historic landmark apartment building in the Upper West Side) and summered in the Hamptons.”
Mervyn LeRoy (left) on the set of The Wizard of Oz / Photo provided by Jennifer Oz LeRoy
LeRoy is the first to recognize and appreciate the golden era of her childhood. Yet she’s also quick to point out that behind the Hollywood glamour was balance and hard work. Her mother, who came from England, taught her how to cook and put in her fair share of effort. Her father, meanwhile, made his mark hosting beautiful events and developing restaurants. Surrounded as she was by two dedicated parents and a slew of creative relatives, LeRoy wasted no time and jumped headfirst into the working world. At 16, she began her first job at Tavern on the Green.
“My dad wanted me to be a front desk hostess,” she recalls. Ultimately, however, it was the chaos of the kitchen that called to her. She spent one day in the pastry kitchen before switching her trajectory to the endless hustle and bustle of the hot line. By the time she was 19, she had covered every single position in the kitchen and was working six to seven nights a week.
Then her father bought The Russian Tea Room and asked LeRoy to helm the iconic eatery’s new team. Although she was sad to leave her life at the Tavern, she began working at the front of the house at the Tea Room before stepping up to director of operations.
Three years later, tragedy struck. When LeRoy was 22, her father passed away, leaving her in charge of both restaurants. Six months later, 9/11 occurred.
“I was in the Russian Tea Room when it happened,” she recalls. “I said, ‘we’re going to pack up all the food and call the fire department,’ and that’s what we did.”
Jennifer Oz LeRoy / Photo by Steven Michael King
Needless to say, the year was a shocking one. At one point, LeRoy realized just how much she had thrown herself into her work. Craving some sort of balance, she rediscovered an old passion.
“I’ve always loved riding horses my whole life,” she says. In 2002, around the time the Russian Tea Room closed, she picked the hobby back up, thereby reigniting an old spark for both the activity and the animals themselves. Yet just as she was beginning to find a balance for herself, tragedy struck once more. Three years after she began riding, she was at a horse show when she found out that her brother had passed away in a motorcycle accident.
“In that moment I decided I wanted to wake up and see my horses outside,” she notes. Recalling how charmed she was by Saugerties, where she had visited for a horse show, she returned to town and began work to turn her property there into a horse farm and wedding venue. In 2006, Oz Farm was born.
Even after the farm opened for business, LeRoy continued to juggle her old life with her new one. She continued running Tavern until 2010 and began to establish herself as a high-end event planner, overseeing culinary and wedding-related projects across the country. Three years ago, however, she began to crave a permanent life in the Hudson Valley. She challenged herself to spend a month on the farm, and not at her New York City apartment, to see if she could envision herself living in the Valley in the long run.
I loved it,” she says of her month-long challenge.
Left: Jennifer's father, Warner LeRoy / Photo provided by Jennifer Oz LeRoy. Right: Jennifer Oz LeRoy / Photo by Steven Michael King
Now a fulltime Hudson Valley resident, LeRoy is fast becoming a go-to wedding planner at her farm and throughout the Hudson Valley. This summer alone, she planned 40 weddings in and around the region, topping her 30 events from the previous year. She recently opened an office in Saugerties central that she plans to turn into a wedding storeroom and eventually a dedicated wedding store.
At home on Oz Farm, LeRoy balances her event time with her horse time. Currently, she keeps 25 horses, including ponies, along with two donkeys who are lovingly named Fred and Ethel. Unsurprisingly, the animals are a big hit with wedding guests.
Of course, animals aren’t the only thing that make the farm one-of-a-kind. True to her legacy, LeRoy includes a few subtle touches as an ode to her family’s Hollywood history.
“I’m working on a custom dance floor that will have a very subtle yellow brick road on it,” she reveals. Additional details include a mention of flying monkeys on the “Drive Slowly” sign and photos from The Wizard of Oz set. At the moment, she admits there’s only one thing that continues to stump her.
“I haven’t figured out how to do red poppies yet,” she jokes.
Looking to the future, LeRoy hopes to turn the farm into a destination for wedding goers and visitors alike with onsite lodging, glamping options, a lounge, and even a movie theater trailer. With aspirations to host activities and retreats to supplement her seemingly endless calendar of events, LeRoy has everything she needs to keep her hooked in Saugerties.
No ruby slippers required.
Jennifer Oz LeRoy at the Oz Farm barn / Photo by AJL Studio