a unique blend of
BY WILL FIFIELD
IT SHOULD HAVE BEEN A DISASTER. One beautiful spring
evening four years ago, Evan Williams, a Costco member who
runs Evan Williams Catering in Lawrence, Kansas, was about to
serve tenderloin to 130 people at a formal dinner when tornado
sirens went off.
“We were on the third story of a very nice facility at the
University of Kansas,” recalls Williams. “Though the tornado was on
the outskirts of town, everyone in the building had to be evacuated
to the basement, and many of the guests that evening were elderly.”
Hoping she could still salvage the evening, Williams pulled the
meat out of the oven so it wouldn’t overcook. When the sirens
stopped, everyone made their way back to their seats. As the first
plates were brought out, the sirens went off again.
This happened three times.
Welcome to the world of catering—an industry calling for
equal parts entrepreneurial spirit, endless energy, a strong desire to
please people, a good poker face in stressful situations and a well-stocked bag of tricks, all of which get tested by occasional tornadoes
(literally and figuratively). Caterers are the ones behind that great
wedding feast, the memorable birthday party and other special
events. And they’re definitely a special breed, as we found from talking to a dozen Costco members across the country who make a living in the business of gourmet on the go.
Donna Billman, of Donna B’s Gourmet
Cookies and Bakery Boutique in
Laguna Niguel, California, specializes
in baked goods. Her catering business
supplies everything from wedding
cakes to cupcakes to cookies in the
shape of corporate logos.
A passion for food
Catering is a rapidly growing segment of the food-service
industry. According to catersource magazine, catering is a $16 billion business. The National Restaurant Association estimates that
mobile catering, one niche of many in the industry, will reach $980
million this year. What these numbers don’t convey is the many
different directions in which catering is growing.
Some caterers host events for every occasion at their own facilities, as well as cater for clients off-premises. Some create intimate,
elaborate, several-course meals, elegantly served in their clients’
homes. Some restaurateurs run catering businesses through their
restaurants. Others, such as David Biber and Michael Todd of Two
Guys Grilling ( www.twoguysgrilling.com) in Dana Point, California,
focus on specialized cuisine, which in their case means “California
Q,” their own brand of grilled food cooked with a smoker and a grill.
There’s a caterer for every occasion and virtually every personality.
Some caterers enter the food industry as teens; others are