Thursday, January 3, 2019

Catering Governor Rendell's Inaugural Ball January 21st 2003. Part One.

I intended to write this post about 6 years ago as the event's tenth anniversary was approaching. I didn't. It's still a fun story and hopefully my memory will entertain and inform you about what was the biggest and maybe best event we ever undertook and executed at Max & Me Catering. As Governor Wolf prepares for his second inaugural, it marks 16 years since we took over Harrisburg's Farm Show Complex and turned a tractor and animal manure laden event hall into a fancy full on high end catered event for Pennsylvania's movers and shakers.
Governor Ed Rendell and his wife Midge at the Inaugural Ball
A little background. In December 2002, Max & Me Catering had been on a 3 year run of growth and winning venue contracts, and earlier in 2002 it was announced (after having to keep it secret for almost 9 months) that we had won the plum contract perhaps in Philadelphia catering history, the National Constitution Center. Integral to our success was the addition to our team of Larry Cohen, a major restaurant and special event food service entrepreneur. Larry had numerous great relationships with the most important people for our industry, and Governor elect Rendell was prominent in his rolodex (or palm pilot, which he used at the time). When it came time for the Inaugural committee to select a caterer for the Ball, we received the call. I believe we didn't get the nod until around December 21st 2002, which meant we only had one month to plan an event that we were told would be attended by 8500 guests. I was lead planner and point of contact for the Inaugural Committee.
Mr. Scott Mirkin. Event producer extraordinaire.

Some of the stellar team we were lucky enough to work with included Penny Lee who headed the Inaugural Committee, Mary McCarthy who headed the fundraising efforts which included HUGE amounts of product donations, to be discussed later. Nina Tinari, Penny's lead assistant and now partner in the Schulson Collective of amazing restaurants, and Scott Mirkin, the producer for the Ball and now Philly's go to planner for many of the city's biggest events such as the Papal visit and Made in America. Scott is also Jay Z's main producer for the events for his music streaming service, Tidal. 
Harrisburg PA. Farm Show Complex would be far upper right

As the meetings began and the scope of what we were being asked to accomplish materialized, the initial thrill of being selected turned to complete tunnel vision and focus on process and final goals. This was not a stage on which forgetting our lines would be acceptable. This event led directly six months later into the opening of the Constitution Center, and many of the NCC team would be in attendance as well as major donors, potential (and already signed) catering clients and just about anyone that mattered in PA. 
Overhead schematic of the venue. Ball was held in the Weiss Expo Hall, 172,000 square feet of blank canvas
It was decided that there would be three main catering aspects to the Ball. The first aspect was the main floor where the entertainment occurred, and would be our main catering set up with huge food stations and huge bars to accommodate the majority of guests. Part two was "The Taste of Pennsylvania", which consisted of approximately 40 restaurants from all parts of Pennsylvania that Governor Rendell personally requested to participate. I think he actually chose about ten of the restaurants, we chose some, we got Jim Cohn, Philly's Mr. Event, to get a number of participants as well. The "Taste" took up about 35% of the Ball footprint, while the main floor was about 60% of the space. The final 5% was devoted to the VIP area, where 60 separate seating areas were constructed to hold VIPs, sponsors and others. The catering in this area, was ultra high end with a wine and liquor list to match, companies were supposed to pre-order their food, but we had enough on hand to accommodate on site orders. One of our biggest challenges was going to be building the event without knowing most of the menu until much further along in the planning process. This was because to save money and keep the ticket price to $50, not only would the inaugural committee solicit beverage donations, which is typical for events like this, but they would be going for donations of a wide range of Pennsylvania produced food products, and these would comprise the bulk of our menu. 
Everybody's favorite co-worker, Damon Miele at the 5 Star Bacara Resort in Santa Barbara where he was the Event Producer for a premier event called the World of Pinot Noir. I told him to look snooty, he's still the same guy.

We had a monumental task in front of us, but we did have some things in our favor. Our biggest advantage was the timing of the event. January is almost always the slowest month on caterers calendar, so I was able to completely clear my calendar and focus on nothing else. We were able to recruit a very large and very capable crew for numerous sources, and my in-house planning team was as good as it gets. Morgan Bitzer (now Bedore) was designated to take the lead on the "Taste" portion, as well as the main liason for product donation, coordination and delivery. Morgan has gone on to much bigger and better things and now is second in command for Constellation (formerly Starr Events), and she is a superstar. Damon Miele was our lead for coordinating staffing, bars and the main catering floor. Damon is now in the wine industry on California's Central Coast and I have actually worked for him at a couple of events. Morgan is actually a very good writer, and at the time I asked her to write about her experience in the planning and execution of the Ball. Following in it's entirety is what she wrote, unedited. Thanks Morgan! 
Morgan Bedore, catering superstar.
This Caterer's Life
by Morgan (Bitzer) Bedore

I must say, after a mere four weeks lead-time into the biggest event in Max & Me history, I am a little star struck.  Max & Me Catering has gone from being one of the premier caterers in the tri-state area to the name to drop when you want to get things done.  Today I spoke to Georges Perrier of Le Bec Fin, Le Mas Perrier and Brasserie Perrier, and although I cannot say that I understood all of what he told me, I can say that three weeks ago I would have had to leave a message.  Life has gotten hectic around here, our average 50 hour work weeks have skyrocketed and have ceased to be weeks at all, simply days that we countdown.  The menu has grown over the past few weeks as the donations have poured in. Sometimes I feel that we are on an extended televised fund-drive answering the phone as the calls stream in.  Yet instead of cries of “$100 dollars from Betty of Kansas City” we find ourselves screaming, “600 pounds of Hatfield pork tenderloin or $7,000 worth of Red Bull.”  After many revisions the menu now resembles something you might see in a Northern Pennsylvanian Mom and Pop restaurant with Bison, Elk and the occasional Ostrich; and that’s just the carving station. 
Max Hansen & Jon Spivak as appeared in Philly Mag, about 18 months prior to Rendell Inaugural. Brother Jon was widely thought of as the "Me" in Max & Me
My life was put on hold for the three weeks of preparation surrounding the ball and no time of day or night was off limits for an impromptu discussion of crunchy snacks or estimated beverage delivery times.  I might as well introduce myself as one of the product organizers for the event and the coordinator for all things dealing with the “Taste of Pennsylvania.” In realistic terms, however, that means completely devoted to all ball related issues.  I myself traveled to Harrisburg on the Sunday night before the event and found our housing conditions to be quite the accommodations.  Harry, anticipating the stress and long hours that would drain his staff to delirium rented out a resort and day spa to tend to weary feet and sore muscles.  This however did not mean peace and quite as I was now the proud holder of the coveted Nextel walkie-talkie/cell phone. Now I was able to not only be in contact with all in the know 24 hours a day, but also allowed me to be woken out of slumber by the scratchy static-ridden voices over the channel.  I imagine that we all felt a little short on personal life, but this was the event of a lifetime and a stepping stone to other events of similar magnitude.  In my meager free time I simply relaxed by joining fellow Max & Me employees in the spa’s enormous teak encased Jacuzzi tub, Max had a spa day, Damon (my fellow event planner) had a much needed dinner at his nearby parents, while Harry preferred break-of-dawn runs on the resorts icy golf course.
Felicita Resort, our home base for the week. Now out of business and for sale
Although it seemed like Harry Spivak (Max & Me General Manager) and Max Hansen (Owner/Executive Chef) went through endless menu alterations to accommodate new donations and sponsors, the end result was an event that boasted simply unforgettable food.  The seafood stations were brimming with shrimp and cocktail crab claws while the carving stations offered an exotic mix of classic French and American fare as well as the Northern Pennsylvania staples of venison and the smaller farm-bred ostrich and bison. Max’s own personal hand was seen in many of hors d’oeuvres, including his own take on a classic Philly favorite: the cheesesteak.  Max smothered foccacia crisps in braised short ribs, melted mozzarella cheese and topped the whole tiny tower off with melted onions and spicy Ancho Chile mayonnaise.  In addition, Max’s famous smoked salmon made its appearance in numerous forms as well: Smoked Salmon Napoleons with Chive Crème Fresh and Salmon Caviar and the classic Smoked Salmon Platter garnished with capers, cream cheese and red onions.
Morgan wasn't kidding, it sure was a motley convoy of vehicles of ours that arrived in H-burg.
The Max & Me herd of cars and trucks is a motley crew, and its convoy across Pennsylvania a mix of speedy two doors and box trucks stuck at a maximum of 40 miles per hour.  Although a tremendous amount of prep work was completed before the entire Max & Me staff made their journey from Bucks County to Harrisburg, the bulk of meat slicing, cream cheese molding and canapé building was yet to be done. A sign greeted the staff on their makeshift kitchen door: Washrack- Please only wash one animal at a time, and thus the inaugural kitchen was born.   WaWa arrived soon after the caravan of chefs and schleps with 9000 feet of hoagie fixings wanting assembly.  Therefore, the afternoon into the wee hours of the morning found our kitchen staff elbow deep in bologna and American cheese.  It was quite a sight; an apparent sea of sandwiches filling every known nook and cranny of the “washrack”.
Imagine us and a bunch of prison inmates making Wawa hoagies all night long. It wasn't a pretty picture.
The Taste of Pennsylvania is like the Olympics of the Pennsylvania restaurants, resorts and caterers.   Never have I seen this breadth of cuisine choices offered under one roof.  In one corner we have the long-standing champ of steaks: Pat’s of Philadelphia, PA and in the other corner the modern Asian-inspired display of ripe citrus and lamb potstickers at Twenty Manning and to round it all off you can sample an authentic Cuba Libre Mojito.  That’s just the beginning: Primanti Bros. of Pittsburgh brought their monster turkey and french-fry “steel” city favorite, classy Brassiere Perrier teamed up with Le Bec Fin to served risotto with truffles and perfect French pastries and The Striped Bass brought diver scallops with kumquat endive salad.  Participants came willing and able to supply their own décor.  The Radisson Lackawanna ran away with the theme “I’ve been working on the Railroad” and can complete with conductor’s uniforms and a big Railroad Crossing sign.  Cuba Libre went authentic with a gothic wood arch and tropical foliage, whereas Harrisburg’s own “The Spot” sported their “Rendell Burgers” on specially printed napkins honoring the occasion.   
Chef Georges Perrier. "This is such a pain in the ass, but I do it for Ed"
Direct quote, said to me in his unmistakable accent.
This event was not simply a co-existence between the “Taste of Pennsylvania” and the never ending expanse of Max & Me food on the other side of the divide, but complex joining of many smaller food entities into a grand event.  In one corner of the Max & Me room Rita; one of our lead supervisors ran the VIP Sponsor booths.  This sea of booths sat the cream of the crop, those individuals, organizations and corporations financially and politically devoted to Governor Rendell; and the food served in that area proved their dedication.  Rita and her staff set up countless 000 Beluga caviar stations, platters of petite jumbo lump crabcakes and tiers of perfect mini pastries.  The remainder of the space was divided up into three separate sections, each boasting their own buffets as a direct reflection of the other stations.  Designer Ariel Alejandro once again worked his magic, transforming dull 8 foot tables into buffets of simple elegance.  Using primarily greenery, he employed large concrete-enforced tubing to build towers among the buffets, giving the room height and depth. 
Not sure who that guy in the middle is, but on the left is event designer non-pareil, Ariel Alejandro RIP. We miss him,
The bars were not to be overlooked at this event.  Generous donations of spirits, wine and beer flooded in for days before the event, giving our storage area the feel of a beverage distributor.  Diagio by far was the greatest contributor with Southern Wine and Spirits and Bartolomeo helping to round out the bar's intense selections.  For those who preferred a casual beverage or were simply partial to brew, three companies made their products and names known: Miller, Budweiser and Rolling Rock.  These three, however, were not the only options.  A handful of microbreweries also donated, setting up booths in the “Taste of Pennsylvania” room to offer their wares alongside of the acclaimed cuisine of the participating caterers and restaurants. 
Larry Cohen. Partner in Max & Me at NCC. This was the first event in our partnership.
I’d like to think that Governor Rendell was aware of my participation in the event, that my glimpse of him across the event in the VIP area was merely the frosting on the cake.  I now know, weeks out of the event, that we weren’t the typical overlooked caterers at a big event, but now THE Philadelphia caterer on the tip of everyone’s tongue. 
Ariel's prototype station for main floor catering 
Think I'll stop here and let Morgan's writing stand on it's own. Pretty damn good for a 24 year old, huh? Pretty sure that's how old she was at the time...
I'll close how she would,

Monday, December 3, 2018

Bryce's Catering & Me!

Simeone Automotive Museum. Bryce's Catering's top venue and a very cool space.
It's been over three years since I have written in this blog. Lots of news and changes. I have been looking for a catering company to partner with for over a year now. In making my decision many factors came into play, other than compensation the most important was autonomy. So I made the decision last Friday to join Bryce's Catering out of Haverford. Having done some type of consulting/sales work for probably 18 of Philly's top 20 caterers, I feel I am uniquely qualified to teach event planners the landscape, and strengths/weaknesses of the local catering market. If you know me, you know I'm a straight shooter.
Smoked Salmon! Yum!

Bryce's is a full service on/off premise and drop off caterer with an over 15 year history of excellence. I would NOT join a catering firm that I can't endorse 100%. Alan Brody, the founder and owner, looks at things differently, as I do, and I'm sure we'll make a dynamic team.
Whether your a Santa or Hanukkah Harry fan, we can bring you yummy snacks!!! 

So, even though the holiday season will soon draw to a close, keep us in mind for any last minute full service or especially drop off style holiday needs. Beyond that, please let us bid on any job you might think we are a fit to cater. We will be announcing venue additions in the coming weeks so pay attention to my social media and this blog for all the news.
Franklin Music Hall. New owners AEG are working wonders and we look
forward to future special event bookings
As we say in the kitchen, Happy Hollandaise!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Authentic Catering, here we go again...

I guess it had to come to this. After over 7 years of trying to help other catering companies grow, and almost 10 years since I last was the driving force in a catering company, I have decided to incorporate and create my dream catering company. As most of you know who read this blog regularly, the most enjoyable and rewarding job I have ever had was with Max & Me Catering. The six and a half years that we grew the company from under one million dollars in sales to almost twelve million was a wild and crazy ride that I will never forget. The relationships we made, the high profile successful events, the great staff, and the happy repeat clients made the those years that I was mostly absent from my family seem worth it. Until it all came tumbling down. Ever since, I have been chasing that feeling and hoped to achieve it through alliances with other successful catering companies, without having to do the real work myself. It kind of worked and I was able to put my daughter through college on the money I made, but the feeling was never the same. This year, I started doing in-house catering for five major venues, and the consequence of doing great, affordable catering led to more and more requests to do off-premise work. I was doing them as an agent for the venues, but it wasn't really the proper way to proceed. When I finally met the perfect chef to partner with, Mr. Ed Schreiber, it came to me, the time was now and it had to be done. So, here we are. I'm all-in and so is Ed. The rest of this post will be rather short and informative, but there will be many more future updates, venue reports, recipes, and stories.
We both left our hearts in the SF Bay Area. To paraphrase the state's former Guv, "we'll be back"

Two men on a mission. Guess we need a statement.
Our name begins our mission statement. We will strive for Authenticity in all we do. I can't say what is Authentic for you, you will have to be the judge, but we will strive do do what we think is real and important and good.
Philly 100, October 15, 2015. Though not yet under the flag of Authentic Catering, 
this was the first time Chef Ed and I met and worked together. Photo credit: Susan Beard

From Philly 100, Han Chiang of Han Dynasty with Jess & Danielle from 1925 Cocktail Lounge
Photo credit: Susan Beard
Raw Sushi & Sake at Philly 100. A great event we produced the catering for
with a collection of  our favorite restaurants. Photo credit: Susan Beard
We are a full service catering company. We also consult for other catering companies, restaurants and venues. We represent venues in a sales capacity. We work with restaurants to help them in a catering environment by acting as their logistics and operations partner. We produce and coordinate catering events using a group of restaurants and create a cohesive event by tying the group together with all necessary and desired components. We travel far and wide to bring our unique take on catering to parts of the US where we like to work or are called on for major events. We love what we do. We hope you will.
A couple of our true Authentic heroes, brothers from a Universal Mother.
Website: (just a static page for now)

Please like us on Facebook:

Harry Spivak; email:; 215.278.3759
Ed Schreiber: email:; cell: 415.837.0337

Venues for in-house (not exclusive) catering:
Electric Factory
1925 Cocktail Lounge
SoundGarden Hall
Underground Arts
Rumor Nightclub

Soon to come, a fairly large list of venues that we are welcome in.

Most important, we still have some availability to cater holiday parties. Be part of our first catering season, benefits will accrue to those that jump on the ship first!

Thanks for reading, spread the word...

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Reminiscences of Max & Me Catering. Part VIII

As we continued the process of growing Max & Me as a premier corporate catering concern in Philly, a new venue that was under construction came into my awareness in the Spring of 2001. Jaisy Styles, who at the time was with PGI, a major event planning and destination management company, told me about the National Constitution Center and that I should contact a Phil Castellano to find out about the plans for catering in the venue. Well after many calls and emails that went un-returned, I eventually found out how to get in the door. Rather than rewrite what I have already written, I'm going to regurgitate three separate Facebook posts that I wrote last year. These are what prompted me to do this series on the history of Max & Me Catering. After these three Facebook posts, (which I tried to write on anniversaries of the occurrences) I decided to just write the whole history as a blog series. Now I have reached this point, and I feel like just cutting and pasting and sharing. Note, as I preview this post before hitting the publish button, I'm not digging the way that the formatting turned out. When I cut and paste, Blogger reverses to type so we get the look you see instead of the normal look. I would rather publish now than retype so I apologize for the inconsistent look from past posts. 
Larry Cohen. Joined forces with Max & Me Catering to pursue NCC contract.
Facebook post of 9/15/14
The continuing story of the pursuit of the National Constitution Center food service contract. Thirteen years ago today, I was holed up at my townhouse in Blue Bell writing the response to the NCC RFP which was due on Monday 9/17/01. In North Jersey, arguably the premier financial catering consultant, Carl Sacks, was writing the sections of the RFP response that we felt he was better equipped to cover.
Back up to September 12, 2001, the day after 9/11. I was working at home,and I came across Larry Cohen's card. On 9/6, we saw each other at a Jimmy Buffet concert and we had discussed potentially teaming up to bid on the NCC. I called him and he suggested we have dinner that night at Cuba Libre as the NCC deadline was only days away. At our meeting Larry handed me the 100+ page RFP and asked if I had any idea how to respond to it as he didn't really know how. I said that sure, I think I can figure it out. We decided that night to go after this contract as a dual company venture, Max & Me Catering doing the special event food and Festival Food Management handling the museum cafe as well as the special event alcohol service to make the revenue split more equal and allow each entity to specialize in the aspect that they had more experience in.
With only 5 days to deadline, Larry tried to buy us more time, but he was unsuccessful and we had to submit by 9/17. I immediately called Carl Sacks to see if he had any plans for that weekend. Luckily he was able to set aside enough time to help me get it done.
Carl Sacks. We never would have sniffed the NCC without his help.
Facebook post 9/17/14
Constitution Day 2014. Thirteen years ago on this day we handed in our complete finished and bound response to the RFP for Food and Beverage Services for The National Constitution Center. It was due at 5pm, I believe I got there at 4:45pm with my 6 copies and one original. I placed our packet on top of the thirty or so other packets, clicked my heels together 3x, said a prayer, and left the building. I was completely exhausted but satisfied that what Carl Sacks and I wrote could very well get us to the next level, which was the "short list presentation" where the selection committee would pick the three or four best proposals and have them do a dog & pony show in person. That was the whole goal of the written document, to get us to the show, where we felt we could blow them away with our food (we planned to do a tight yet fairly extensive food display), and our innovative company and plans for the NCC. Here is the introduction I wrote for our proposal:

"Festival Food Management (FFM)
Max & Me Catering (M&M)

Bid for Food Service Contract for the National Constitution Center (NCC)
Two companies that offer the best of their respective food service specialties is our solution for the NCC to offer their public and special event clients the finest dining and service for any facility of its type in the Philadelphia area.
Festival Food Management and Max & Me Catering have formed a mutually beneficial alliance that will allow each organization to focus on their area of expertise. The relationship will also provide for each party to assist the other in functional areas where their resources could be of help.
The reputation we seek to foster for the food services at the NCC will bring additional special event bookings and drive repeat business, thus increasing food service revenues for the NCC. Both organizations are locally owned (4 out of 5 senior management grew up in Philadelphia), have their own facilities within 2-10 minutes of the NCC, and are large enough to do the job, but have local ownership that will oversee the NCC.
FFM is a 16 year expert in high-volume concessions. They have worked at almost every important event and venue in the Delaware Valley. Some of the similar facilities they have worked in include: First Union Center, Electric Factory, Tower Theatre, PA Convention Center, and The Fort Washington Expo Center.
M&M, formed 10 years ago, is a full-service upscale caterer who has experience in all facets and price ranges of on and off-premise catering. In addition to serving over 20,000 meals during the RNC in 2000, they have been the exclusive local caterer for Clear Channel Entertainment (Electric Factory Concerts, SFX) for the past seven years. They have served (and wowed) a diverse range of clients from Ozzfest to Congressman Tom Delay, from Madonna to Commerce Bank. This relationship with Clear Channel could prove to be very valuable to the NCC as CCE is the world’s authority on live music/theatrical production.
The menus you will see on the following pages are very flexible. FFM will work with the NCC to develop special cafeteria menus for special groups and will strive to fine tune the menu mix for profitability and desirability. M&M usually develops their special event menus custom for each client, but will work with whatever system the NCC prefers, perhaps some preset menus available as well as many variations and choices to create custom menus.
If the NCC is truly seeking superior food service operations, and FFM/M&M is selected as the operator, we pledge to do our part to make it the premier Philadelphia area special event facility for excellent catering and concessions."
More to come as more anniversaries come and go...
Hyatt Regency Penn's Landing. Our lucky place where we planned our presentation.
Facebook post 10/24/14
The continuing story of Max & Me Catering and our pursuit of the National Constitution Center food service contract. Part 3. I have been trying to do this series on the dates that actual milestones took place. The next step however, I can't seem to find the date it took place. After submitting our RFP response on 9/17/01, we waited to see if we made the "short list". The contenders that made the short list would then be allotted a time to present their case in further detail to the three person selection committee. We had a good feeling that we would make the short list, for a number of reasons, but we were still elated to get the news that we were on that list.
Now began the process of preparing for the presentation. we assembled the team that would be attending, which consisted of Max Hansen, Jon Spivak and myself from the Max & Me team, Larry Cohen and Mark Attinson from the Festival Food team (at this point it was a 2 company bid), Clark Maloney, a hired gun whom was a tentative candidate for GM/HR director, and from Max & Me as well was Ariel Alejandro (RIP) and Sunny Sampson who would set up and breakdown the food display. I took the lead in developing the presentation, who would say what, and what the accompanying sales tools and leave behind would be.Since our overarching theme was to be our superior food quality, we always planned on doing a tight, but fairly extensive food tasting display. I thought I had this menu in my files, but I can't seem to find it. I know there was smoked salmon in there, as well as some of our brunch favorites as our presentation was at 9am as I recall.
The night before the presentation, Max, Jon & I decided to stay in Philly at the Hyatt Regency Philadelphia at Penn's Landing, to brainstorm, miss the traffic and practice our pitch. We had a great, upbeat night, Larry may have stopped by, I don't recall.
We were pretty sure our competition would be the two behemoths of the food service industry, Aramark and the Restaurant Associates division of Compass Foods, both multi-billion dollar conglomerates. We found out much later, that in addition to those two and us, there was a fourth competitor, Finley Catering who had teamed up with McDonald's to handle the restaurant. The presentation would take place in the conference room of the NCC's temporary offices in the Bourse Building.
As I learned in b-school, we needed to distill our most important competitive advantage into an easy to communicate statement. The core of our pitch was we were locally owned companies with all local leaders not just dedicated to making our relationship with the NCC a complete success, but on-site at all times to insure that success. We knew the big guys could not challenge that commitment. That statement was all well and good, but we had to show that we had the experience, dedication and quality to do the job, no good to just be present if we sucked. We wove a narrative that included lots of recent press coverage, including the cover of Philly Mag and feature article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that told of our exploits on the Bush Campaign train in 2000. We also used our impressive roster of references to help with our credibility, and of course the food was maybe the closer.
After about an hour and a half, we left, feeling we did our best and began a waiting period of what I recall to be about 2 weeks to hear the results. To be continued...

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Reminiscences of Max & Me Catering. Part VII

Relaxing with Katie & Ashley in LBI after the RNC.
After the crazy month of the lead up and execution of all our RNC business, we all had some nice downtime to relax and reflect. For me, my real work and what I wanted to accomplish with Max & Me Catering was just about to begin, which was to transform a high end, mostly Bucks County based catering company into a major player in the Philadelphia (and beyond) event world. In reviewing our history and current work calendar, I also wanted to focus mostly on growing our business through corporate events as opposed to weddings which had been the bread and butter (or maybe in our case the lobster & filet) of Max and Jon's business. There's nothing wrong with weddings as a major part of a strong caterer's event mix, but I felt we needed much more corporate to balance out the calendar and allow us to have more full time dedicated employees.

How to move our center of gravity from above (Bucks County) to Philly?
So, other than focusing on corporate events, what was our strategy going to be for growth? In discussions with my brother Jon, dating back to before I joined M&M full time, we knew one strategy by which would grow the business was based on venue relationships. In other words we wanted to increase the number of venues we were able to work in, become more recommended in those multi-caterer venues, and pursue exclusive catering contracts when it made sense and we felt we had a realistic shot. Our role model for this strategy was Liz Neumark, founder and owner of Great Performances Catering in NYC. We read a quote where she said something like, the growth of her business was based on the growth of their positive and ongoing relationships with key venues.
Corporate party at the E-Centre, our first year as exclusive backstage caterer
Our first venue exclusive was the then named E-Centre, which became the Tweeter Center (how I still think of it) and is now the Susquehanna Bank Center. Interesting back story, when Pace Entertainment first built it (as the Blockbuster Sony Music Entertainment Center) in 1994. It came on the scene as the first major competition for Electric Factory Concerts (the company started by my dad and his brothers, which rose to area dominance with their partner Larry Magid at the helm) since they settled an anti-trust lawsuit with an upcoming entrepreneur by the name of Stephen Starr. For that first year Pace and EFC battled for acts, overpaying for many and the artists won big time. They realized that they should partner so EFC became the booking partner for shows at the BSMEC.
E-Centre/Tweeter/Susquehanna Bank Center & the Camden Waterfront
We started our catering run in Camden that spring of 2000, and it became the hub of our growth in Philly, not only logistically, but as a marketing force that we used to entertain clients, show the world our capabilities and sell catering to our neighbor properties and organizations. I can never thank Judi London enough, she was then with the Camden Waterfront Marketing Board, for opening so many doors for us. Catering jobs like the Tall Ships picnic, Walt Whitman Cultural Center fundraisers, Victory Building groundbreaking, and eventually our catering dominance on the Battleship New Jersey were all due to introductions made to me by Judi.
Max & Me Catering takes the cover of the only Philly Mag issue this century
to have catering as the cover story.
The success we had with the RNC was going to open doors for us, and we planned on how to best use the great stories from those events to grow our business. The article in the Philadelphia Inquirer was a huge bonanza, as a full page article in the Sunday food section of our areas major daily is going to reach hundreds of thousands of readers. In high end catering we really don't advertise to the masses, as there is huge waste in reaching an audience of whom only maybe 1% are your potential clients. However, if you get major press coverage, like that article, it can be used many ways beyond the one time appearance in the paper. It became the centerpiece of our growing media kit, and we used it to gain credibility with potential clients and other media that we hoped would also write about Max & Me Catering. The ultimate bounce we got from the article was when Philadelphia Magazine was doing a cover story on catering the following spring, an editor seeing that article is what we were told got us on the cover.
Max & Jon picture from the article in Philly Mag, on their front porch
when they were still housemates.
Another important component of our future success began that fall of 2000, and that was our relationships with various industry organizations such as ISES (International Special Events Society) and MPI (Meeting Professionals International), but none were more important than the PCVB (Philadelphia Convention & Visitor's Bureau) and Mid-Atlantic Events Magazine and the publisher Jim Cohn. For anyone starting off in the corporate events business in Philly, I would recommend two things, join the PCVB and advertise with so you can employ the unmatched resources of Mr. Cohn, often known around town as Mr. Hospitality. I had actually met Jim in 1995 at a previous restaurant marketing job, and he was at the top of my list when it came time for me to move Max & Me forward.

My introduction to the PCVB was through the late and very great Marie Baker Brown. We all miss you Marie, wish you were going to be here for the Papal visit and the DNC next year, you would have made it all better and more fun.
Marie Baker Brown, world class party planner and person.

She had a very large role in the RNC and when we met she decided that we (Max & Me) could be a good example for the many local events companies that complained they got shut out of the bounty that many reaped from the convention. My motivation was to show off our venues in Camden & Philly (and of course our cuisine) to the bureau, so we joined the PCVB and I became a very active member. The way a CVB works is similar to many joint marketing organizations where like companies and often competitors band together and pool resources to create more business for the group than each of their separate efforts could foster alone. I have been a huge proponent of this type of organization and marketing ever since my days working with the ski industry in Lake Tahoe, Utah and Colorado. Temple University's School of Tourism and Hospitality Management has an endowed scholarship in Marie's name, click here for more information: Marie's Scholarship.

That seems to be a good stopping point for now, as we are about to approach the point in the story where we will be revisiting our quest for the NCC food service contract. Two weeks from today I depart to Colorado for Katie's graduation where even more tears will flow than just did from writing and thinking about Marie. Thanks for reading.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Real Food Works and Sally Ann Spivak (Gold)

Easter morning. Reflections on life, death, and my past, present and future. Thoughts turn to one of my current projects and how it grabs an important piece of my past and brings back some very interesting memories that I have yet to write about. The movie "When Harry Met Sally" came out in 1989. My mom, Sally, passed away in June of 1988, so we never got to use that as a joke or pop culture reference. For those few of the readers of this blog who knew her, you will remember what a unique and amazing person she was. I will write more about Sally some day, but for this post I'm going to cover our family's adventure in eating that began in 1971 and how it is now a part of my daily work life.
The original Electric Factory, 22nd & Arch.
Quick background. My father and his brothers (and others) opened the Electric Factory in 1968. Shortly afterwards they hired Marguerite Gaffney, who quickly became my mom's best friend. Already trending towards accepting the new and different, Sally embraced the new counter culture as well as many of the enlightenment aids that had become very popular. When Marguerite moved to California (Big Sur), my parents visited and mom decided that we would all be moving west soon. If we were going to move west and be Big Sur hippies, well then we would have to eat like it. So, no more meat in our house. I was 12 at the time and the vegetarianism wasn't near as big a disruption as moving west, but I kind of had no choice. Once we moved and I got in the California flow, it was an amazing experience, and my love of many things that I hold dear today began in the year and a half we lived there. The diet thing became more and more restrictive though. Marguerite and Sally had become convinced that a book called "The Mucusless Diet Healing System" by Arnold Ehret was to be our diet. So we gradually removed all the "mucus causing" items from our diet until we were left eating only fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds and rarely, legumes. Even more radical than a vegan diet, I totally adhered to it. To convince my younger sister not to cheat when in the company of others (she was only two when we moved to California), Sally called all the food we weren't supposed to eat poison. Incredibly funny conversations would occur when sister would ask people questions like ""do you eat poison?"
A bunch of mucus free Spivaks in 1973, Bucks County. I used to have a neck!
We moved back to Pennsylvania in the fall of 1972, but the diet stayed the same. As my dad built his restaurant empire (HA Winston's), mom was always haranguing him to make the menu healthier and add vegetarian options. Eventually I segued out of the diet as I began driving and spending lots of time away from the family. Mom stayed a vegetarian until the last year of her life when the cancer had caused so much weight loss that her oncologist convinced her she needed animal protein. Ironically, I spent the last 9 months of her life desperately trying to put weight on her with mostly chicken and pork concoctions.

Now it's 2015 and I recently started doing some consulting work for Real Food Works, a company dedicated to improving peoples lives by helping them eat a more nutritionally dense, plant based diet. Sally would be proud. From their website here is some company history.

Real Food Works started simply. Lucinda Duncalfe just wanted others to experience the same benefits she had from shifting to a whole food, plant-based diet: weight loss, increased energy, and, most importantly, improved long term health.
Lucinda’s passion for great-tasting food dates back to early childhood. Although raised in New York City, Lucinda came from generations of family farmers and she has fond memories of shopping for produce when visiting her grandmother, driving from farm to farm – one for peas, another for raspberries. Sometimes they waited, talking with the farmer, for a just-picked batch to come in from the fields that would meet her grandmother’s exacting standards. As an adult, Lucinda ended up in Philadelphia and continued her culinary life in the same vein. She joined her local CSA, and settled into a healthy epicurean lifestyle, eating lots of fresh vegetables, fruits, and whole grains, but also lots of white flour, sugar, oils and meats.
Then, in 2011, Lucinda’s 80-year-old mother urged her to watch the documentary Forks Over Knives which describes the virtues of eating a whole foods plant-based diet. She was intrigued, and gave it a try. The result? Lucinda was transformed. Always relatively active, Lucinda lost a quick 10 pounds while eating as much as she wanted. Her already high energy level went even higher. The pain of her arthritis almost disappeared. People commented on how great she looked – the food was giving her a vibrancy she hadn’t had in years. Over time she went on to lose 22 pounds.
As easy as it was for Lucinda to enjoy this new way of eating, it was incredibly inconvenient. A busy working mom, Lucinda found it challenging to find enough time to cook, and take-out options that met her nutritional standards simply don’t exist. Tapping into her entrepreneurial background, Lucinda saw an opportunity in her own need: high quality nutrition and taste conveniently delivered.

Real Food Works. Delicious, nutritious, and delivered. What else do you need?
Contact me for more info.
Most of Real Food Works business is home meal deliveries, but the major reason they wanted my expertise was to help grow the corporate catering drop off service. So very conveniently, my blog is now a way to let you, my readers, know that you have a great new provider for your sales meetings, client appreciation lunches, office birthday parties, etc. Now, you can show your guests that you really care about them and their health enough to pay a little extra for the highest quality, nutritionally concerned catering provider around. Whether you want to have vegan, vegetarian, or include some low fat animal proteins, our culinary team at Real Food Works will provide you with a huge variety of menu choices. You can order from our existing menus or we can custom create meals to exactly fill your tastes. I can tell you this, even if you don't convert your diet completely, adding more plant based meals will improve your health, give you added energy, and make my mom, looking down on us, very happy!

Click for Real Food Works website. or contact me for menus and more...

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Sixteen days on the road. Powdery peaks, Pinot Noir & perpetual motion.

Colorado and California. The two states I have spent the most time in other than my native Pennsylvania. Lived in California in 1971 to 1972 and then for 4 months in 1976 and 5 months in 1977. Moved again to the Bay Area in 1987 and left in 1994. Colorado was were I ski bummed for two successive winters in 1979 and 1980. Returned to finish my undergraduate degree at University of Colorado from 1982 to 1985. Every time I leave either state, I can't wait to return. Two diverse and incredibly beautiful places. Two very distinct but related mindsets. I can't seem to get enough of either place and every time I return, the list lengthens of places I still want to experience or revisit. Here's a cool tune: Rufus Wainwright's California
Mt. Audobon Colorado 1984, photo credit Jeffrey Z. Gilbert
Los Padres National Forest, California 1975, photo credit Kevin Bacon
This latest journey, which ended on Thursday March 12th, was propagated by my previous trip last spring. Visiting catering co-conspirator Damon Miele in Santa Barbara and hearing more about the event he runs, The World of Pinot Noir (WOPN), made me determined to work the next event, and if I had to volunteer to get there, then so be it. Last fall, Damon let me know that he wanted me to work and could pay me and take care of some expenses. Yes. A few months later, some of my closest friends from college decided to have a reunion the weekend before WOPN in Frisco Colorado with 4 days of skiing and catching up. A journey was born.
Damon, running the catering show on the USS NJ with Kathy & Sunny, 2001.
First stop Denver and a couple days with my daughter Katie. I was actually there for her last academic functions as an undergraduate, finals week of her last classes before her final trimester which is a working internship. Got to do one of my favorite dad things, cooking for Katie, I think I made 4 meals over 2 days. Great start to the trip. Took Denver's light rail system to Centennial to meet my very close friend Tim and ride with him to the mountains. We had been contemplating turning the ski trip into a golf trip in early February before the storms and cold began tracking through Colorado again. We checked in at Timmy's townhouse, and bee-lined for Copper Mountain, an old favorite ski area in Summit County. On the slopes by 1:30p, with a complimentary lift ticket (thanks dude from Vermont), I did my best to keep up with Tim, his altitude conditioned lungs, and his much closer to college weight. My technique is still there, but I was gasping for air and needed a hot tub desperately by the time we finished. The rest of the gang arrived that night and it was really an amazing reunion. Kicked myself for not making more of these trips in the past and resolved not to miss anymore. The rest of the guys reside in Seattle, New Mexico, Colorado, Vermont and NJ. All are good skiers, in shape, and within 10 lbs. of their college weight. Could I keep up for more than one run? I was able to hang for at least part of the first day with the main group and was quite proud of my ability and horrified at my lung capacity. We skied that Friday at Copper again and then headed to Vail on Saturday. By Sunday, my body said STOP. So I did. Hung out at the condo, hit the hot tub repeatedly, caught up on some work, and headed back to Denver with old pal Roger and back to Katie's the next morning.
At Vail. Jake, me, Sean, Tim, Eric & New Guy
A couple more days in Denver cooking for K, then it's off to California and the World of Pinot Noir at Barcara Resort in Goleta, CA, just north of Santa Barbara. Here's is a great California travel tip for you. Amtrak's Surfliner train is a great way to travel and see the coast. I decided to fly into LAX, take a shuttle bus to LA's Union Station, a classic old train station, where I had a very nice meal at Traxx Restaurant. I ordered the wedge salad, they served it 3 ways, with iceberg, butter lettuce and grilled radicchio wedges, each with different toppings and dressings: Traxx website. Then I boarded the Surfliner. Good meal not withstanding, next time, I would fly into Burbank airport, usually it's the same price flight as LAX but there is an Amtrak station there and you can skip the shuttle and grab the Surfliner there.
Union Station LA. All aboard the Surfliner.
It was about a three hour train trip, the last hour of which was all on the coast, from Ventura, to my final stop at Goleta. Arriving at Bacara around 5pm, I began getting multiple tours of the facility. Getting to know where all the events would be, how to get from one place to another with a large cart or pallet jack full of wine and where our storage, staging areas and office space where located would be most important for me to be an efficient team worker. Here is the complete event schedule at Bacara. There was a tech seminar for winemakers that happened before my arrival, and was held at a nearby campground where they stayed in luxe camping accommodations known as "glamping".

Industry dinner: for all participating wineries

Seminar Series: Latitudes & Longitudes with Jancis Robinson Seminar 9:00am – 2:15 p.m. Santa Ynez Room – 2nd Floor 

Pinot Noir by the Sea Focus Tasting 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Early Access Ticket Entry to Focus Tasting 2:30pm Bacara Ballroom - Silent Auction at Focus Tasting Opens 2:30pm - 

Movie Screening in the Bacara Theatre: Vintage 2014 or American Wine Story 

Featured Burgundy Dinner with Domaine Marc Roy 7:00pm to 10:30pm Miro Restaurant Wine Cellar 

FIRE Dinner 7:00pm to 10:30pm Director’s Lounge on Ballroom level 

WATER Dinner 7:00pm to 10:30pm Miro Restaurant Dining Room 

EARTH Dinner 7:00pm to 10:30pm Bacara Rotunda 2nd Floor

Burgundy Seminar with Don Kinnan & Nick Poletto 9 a.m. – 2:15 p.m. Santa Ynez Room – 2nd Floor 

Foodie Frenzy Seminars 
He’s a Funghi - Mushroom Seminar 10 a.m. – 11:30 a.m. Salon Room # 4 
Enigmatic Uni - Sea Urchin Seminar 12 noon – 1:30 p.m. Salon Room # 4 

Saturday Pinot Noir by the Sea Grand Tasting 3 p.m. – 6 p.m. Early Access Ticket Entry to Grand Tasting 2:30pm Bacara Ballroom - Silent Auction at Grand Tasting Opens 2:30pm - 

Movie Screening in the Bacara Theatre: Vintage 2014 or American Wine Story 

Rock Stars of Pinot Noir Dinner 7 pm to 10:30pm Rotunda, Terrace – 2nd Floor 

WOPN Crystal Anniversary Dinner 7 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. Miro Restaurant Dining Room 

Vintage Burgundy Dinner with Fred Dame & Court of Master Sommeliers 7 p.m. 10:30 p.m. Miro Restaurant Wine Cellar

Complete event schedule description, click here.

One of the pool complexes at Bacara. Nice.
They have 311 rooms, some of the Casitas go for $10,000 per night!
Courtyard of Bacara, Damon in 2014, pre-fatherhood, behind are the areas where some of the 
seminars and most of the wine was staged from.
Bacara Resort as it sits on the Pacific, just north of Santa Barbara
After touring the resort a few times, guided, and then on my own, trying to get lost and find my way again, it was time to check in at our hotel and have dinner. The Goodland Hotel in Goleta is a rare find. Recently remodeled and managed by the Kimpton Group, this is a fun, hip and funky former cheap motel. The rooms are very comfortable and feature some very unique touches like real old fashioned functioning turntables, along with half a dozen vinyl albums. "It was twenty years ago today, Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play"...they knew I was coming! With two different airstream trailers out front that can be rented instead of a room, a very eclectic menu and delicious food, very chill pool area, this place could be my version of The Hotel California. Definitely coming back there soon.

The Goodland. You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave...
After dinner it was back to Bacara for a few hours of wine organization and distribution. I don't know the total, but I'm guessing that there were over 1000 cases of wine (most less than 12 to a case) for the entire event, with two initial staging areas that wine was stored. The one area on the lobby level of the hotel was the only one I really needed to be concerned with as the mass amounts of wine for the two grand tastings were in a separate area downstairs and would be managed and distributed by another team. So we broke apart pallets and got most of the Silent Auction wine down to the green room that was the home of the crack auction team of Annika Sousa and Craig Hamm, who are also having their first child soon! One of my favorite things about Damon is that he is an incredible manager of people, and the team that he assembled for WOPN was as good as it gets. Mika Tanimoto, Samantha Payette and Kristin Hight were his core team and were ultra professional, as well as easy going and very fun when it came time to punch out and enjoy the resort and the wine. Plus everyone was very experienced in the world of catering which makes me want to return to the Central Coast and do more events.
One of the large format embossed logo wines for the Silent Auction
Thursday dawned with a great breakfast in Goleta at a Mexican Restaurant whose name escapes me. Update: Mika just messaged me that the restaurant was Domingo's Cafe, we highly recommend it, thanks Mika! I had pictures, but I lost my phone in Vegas before downloading the pix. Arghh. Back to Bacara and a huge day of wine transport, then setting up and helping with the opening night function, the Industry Dinner for all the winemakers that wanted to attend. Great event, delicious food and a super group of people. WOPN 2015 was underway. Working with a hotel in executing an event was so much different than my normal off premise catering world in very many ways. An endless supply of people and great equipment were always at our disposal. It was very interesting to see how the responsibilities for the event were divided between the WOPN staff, the group of World class Sommeliers (Somms) and the Bacara team. The Somms seemed to be as much of the stars of the event as the winemakers.
Samantha & Brandon, all set and ready for the Industry Dinner.
Friday was the first official day of WOPN and we arrived quite early to be set and ready for the first seminar with Jancis Robinson, who is one of the very top wine writers and critics. After making sure all the wine related aspects were ready, we set up for registration and began to hone our system of getting people checked in and wrist banded as quickly as possible. We all had similar feelings about trying our best to make people wait the least amount of time possible. Next up was the Friday Focus Tasting, one of the two huge signature huge tasting events. Over a hundred Pinot Noir producers from all over the world, great snacks from the hotel and a local gourmet store called C'est Cheese (get it?), and a very groovy cast of attendees, this event was well worth the ticket price. In addition to the tasting, there were 2 wine movies playing in Bacara's theater. One movie called Somm featured many of the Somms working the event. It's a cult classic and shows the extreme difficulty in passing the test to be a Master Sommelier.
I was dying to sit by the pool with a nice Pinot. Patience.
Had a nice hour or so to enjoy the tasting then it was time to prep for the evenings dinner events that were themed on the Elements, Earth, Fire & Water. Thankfully Air was skipped, foam on food has seemed to run it's course. I worked registration for the Water event, but when it was time for us to eat it was all about the Fire. Frank Ostini, owner of the Hitching Post Restaurant that was prominent in the movie Sideways, is known for his amazing version of the Santa Maria Style BBQ, featuring meats grilled over a red oak fire.
Frank and his partner Gray Hartley also make delicious wines under the name Hitching Post
Frank Ostini on the left. The crank in front raises and lowers the grill.
A great rig for off premise grilling. Not a bad spot to work either!
Usually featuring tri tip steak as the main protein, the Fire Dinner was off the hook with the selection of grilled meats and vegetables. The meats that were served were filet, lamb & pork chops, chicken and shrimp, but to me the stars of the meal were the perfectly grilled California veggies. As good as the whole organic, farm to table movement is anywhere else, it all started in California where the astounding variety of the highest quality produce is enough to make you want to move there, let alone the weather and the scenery and all the other components of the lifestyle that make those of us who have lived there and left wonder what the hell we were thinking. Delicious and healthy, thanks Frank. Hoping I get to work with him sometime on a huge catered event.
Saturdays Grand Tasting
Saturday's event schedule followed the same flow as Friday. Seminars in the morning, Grand Tasting in the early afternoon, followed by theme dinners at night. If you go next year, make sure to buy your dinner tickets ahead of time, they all sell out and they are special and shouldn't be missed. Some of the best fun for me was doing registration and check in for the big events. Damon and team had a great system from Eventbrite that worked on everyone's (except mine) phones. I got to be the guy at the head of the line directing people to who was next and what check in person they should go to. For Saturday's tasting we checked in around 300 people in about 9 minutes, quite gratifying. Saturday night at the "Rock stars of Pinot Noir" Dinner, I tasted my favorite wines of the weekend. Kosta Browne, a very highly regarded winery introduced a new label called CIRQ Estates. Wow. It will be almost impossible to get on the East Coast, the winemaker was telling me how small the allocations were for some of the top California restaurants. I would be remiss in not mentioning the names of three other real pros on Damon's WOPN team that I really enjoyed working with as well: Dan Fredman, king and mouthpiece of the Somms and Brette Womack & Dana Matteson, queens of organizing and beautifying the grand tastings.
Future Rock Star of Pinot Noir? Gannon Miele, so cute!
Sunday consisted of rounding up all the leftover wines, packing up all the associated materials, and having a great farewell brunch with Damon's family and Team WOPN. A phenomenal 5 days. Hard work, good fun, yummy wines & food and great new friends. After finally getting my swim and hot tub in, it was back on the highway, to the train and South to Orange County to see sister Jenny, her husband Terry and my niece Sofia. Two fine days with them was not enough, but Jen and I had a great afternoon at Laguna Beach, I even swam in the ocean. Took the LA area light rail back to Union Station where I got my $15 Megabus ride to Vegas. About 36 hours in Vegas was 36 hours too many. Lost my phone. Computer broke down. Couldn't get in a hotel as I didn't have $100 on a credit card to secure my one night $23 hotel room. Couldn't get a check cashed and lugged my now 25 lbs. heavier baggage (wine) all over town. Vegas ain't fun with $20 in your pocket. But I did get to see the whole Catersource Tradeshow, meet with some of the folks I needed to see, and got out of town safely. A down ending to a great trip. Can't win 'em all. Until next time, thanks for reading the blog, hope you can join us for World of Pinot Noir 2016. I am getting rehired, right Damon?

This land is your land, Woody Guthrie. Theme song for the trip, couldn't get it out of my head. "I roamed and rambled and I follered my footsteps..."

Look for the next installment of "Reminiscences of Max & Me Catering" soon. Since I'm into this writing thing, I may start it now.

A late addition to the blog post, for posterity. My very good friend Mat who is a excellent winemaker in the Russian River Valley, and he specializes in Pinot Noir, had schedule conflicts and couldn't make it to WOPN this year. Yesterday he told me about one of his favorite wine critics who is called the HoseMaster of wine. The HoseMaster was invited to WOPN this year, and here is what he said about the production aspects of the event:

"World of Pinot Noir may be one of the best run events I've ever attended. From my perspective, that of an attendee, everything ran seamlessly, from the small seminars to the grand tastings to the dinners. I know how hard that is to do. Imagine wrestling with more than 100 wineries each day, co-ordinating the service of a bunch of sommeliers (I think the proper phrase is "a mixed case of sommeliers," or "a caravan of Coravins", getting the resort kitchen to perform on time, create the right menus, have everything set up and running on time, and make it seem like you're enjoying it. If I wore a hat, I would tip it to Damon Miele, and the rest of the people involved."

Couldn't be prouder of you Damon, that dude is a harsh critic, read some of his comments about the wine...