Monday, June 27, 2011

From the Max & Me Catering Archives...

Good evening. Cooking and serving hundreds of burgers with brother Jon over the weekend took it's toll. I'm still recovering, so I thought I would take the easy way out today and share an article from the Philadelphia Inquirer that was written about one of my favorite catering experiences.

I started working with Max & Jon full time on St. Patty's Day 2000. One of my first projects was meeting and working with our clients for the Republican National Convention. What started out as one major client turned into three major clients and a volume of business that in two weeks was equivalent to 45% of the sales volume Max & Me Catering had done in all of 1999. This obviously involved a huge time commitment from all of the key employees, and we all looked forward to that first Saturday after the convention for some downtime. Yeah, right.

About a week before the convention began we got a call from Bush Campaign. They were referred to us by the Union Pacific Railroad; they were our first major client. They wanted to offer us the catering work for the Whistle Stop tour that was due to leave Pittsburgh bound for St. Louis around noon on Friday August 4th, the day after the RNC ended. Wow. Max, Jon and I started our hasty deliberations on whether we could do the work, and if so, how to deploy our soon to be battered staff into uncharted territory.

The crux of the decision making process became the argument of "how can we do this?" vs. "how can we NOT do this?" We could not say no. For three or four days I was back and forth with the campaign planners on pricing and logistics, and it was not a done deal until Monday of convention week. I'll write more about that week itself some other time, but by Tuesday, Max & I had pulled ourselves out of Philly mode and were thinking and planning how to best execute the Bush Campaign Train 2000.

Maria Gallagher of the Inquirer wrote a great article which became the cornerstone of our Press Kit and I never missed a chance to show it to prospective clients.

Please click: Cooking On A Campaign Train Calls for Considerable Dexterity

Harry 6/27/11

Friday, June 24, 2011

Live from Penn's Landing, It's Friday Night!

Very busy week, three of my clients are doing food booths at Wawa Welcome America's Taste of Philadelphia event. We have been planning the best items to serve, how to serve them, and how to do it at the lowest cost in order to hopefully make a profit. This is another collection of restaurants serving food, but the twist here is that the event is free to attend, and you pay for sampling size portions of food. Great entertainment is provided, tonight the headliner is Gerald Veasley, he is an amazing jazz bass player. He played in a band called Reverie in the 80's and 90's and we were lucky enough to have them play many nights at our restaurant Bala Rouge in Bala Cynwyd. I just saw Gerald backstage, and I am listening to his band as the sun sets over Center City and boats float by to listen to the sweet sounds, it's a great scene. Tomorrow night Aaaron Neville headlines, it's still free and there are fireworks to end the evening.

I got a call from one of the event organizers yesterday asking if I could find a suitable restaurant or caterer to sell burgers at the Taste of Philly as the one they had backed out at the last minute. I thought about it for a few minutes and called one of my favorite chefs, Jon Spivak, my younger brother. After a few calls and some arm twisting, Jon & I are selling burgers; we are calling them "Colorado Burgers". Come visit Saturday & Sunday and find out what makes a burger a Colorado Burger. Jon flips a mean burger and I'm no slouch either.

Great day today seeing a selection of the who's who in area event planning and production. Scott Mirkin (Exec. Producer), Nicole Cashman (In charge of Taste), Rob Carachilo, Ira Rosen, Fred Stein, Drew Pompilio, Liz Trasmundi are all handling some aspect of Welcome America, and the Taste event gets better every year. Thanks to all of you, the city should be proud, as a native Philadelphian I am.

Some of the other restaurants and caterers serving food are GiGi Restaurant, Lounge & Catering; Feast Your Eyes Catering; Innovative Catering Concepts; Tiffin; Stella Jeannes; Cuba Libre; Chenango; Karma; Sampan; Hard Rock Cafe; Jamaican Jerk Hut; Keating's River Grill; Marabella's Meatball Company; Darling's Diner; Kuzina; and a number of cool food trucks. Lots of yummy treats, very reasonably priced, great family event.

On another note, I interviewed Steve Poses yesterday as the first inductee into my informal Philadelphia Catering Hall of Fame. Look for the interview in my blog sometime later next week. A big thank you to Mr. A.D. Amorosi for the write up about the blog in his Icepack article in the City Paper this week. Best part? Having my dad mentioned in the same article as me, I teared up a bit.

Happy Weekend! See you at Penn's Landing?

Harry 6/24/11

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Hodge Podge of Topics

Well I missed my first weekday blog yesterday, I'll try to do two today to make up for it. I was trying to get more information on the big change at Max & Me Catering (Guest Counts, Culinary Concepts, etc.) but was unsuccessful in finding anything substantial that I felt was of interest. The only additional information at this time is that Jan DeMarzo starts with Max & Me in mid-July and she will be in charge of Culinary Concepts and off-premise catering produced at the Culinary Concepts kitchen under the Max & Me Catering and Gourmetro brands.

Another lame excuse for not posting yesterday was I was busy in my garden jury-rigging a trellis for my very vigorous cucumber plants. I'm really enjoying gardening again after a 36 year hiatus. I was really into organic gardening from ages 12-16 when we lived in Northern Bucks County, but then I discovered girls, got my driver's license and gardening lost it's allure. I live in an area of Ambler that is in a flood plain which also means very fertile river bottom soil. I could not resist planting a little 60 square foot plot with cukes, tomatoes, zucchini, basil, parsley, cilantro, bell and habanero peppers. Looking good so far, I have already harvested 2 cukes, little green tomatoes are setting and the basil is getting very bushy. Here is the catering tie-in, I plan to talk to some caterers and see who is riding the farm to table tide and either buying direct, growing their own, or using organic and/or local small farm raised produce and other food products. I am actually exploring the possibility of going direct to farmers and buying as a group for my catering and restaurant clients.

Monday night I went with Jim Cohn, everybody's favorite event/hospitality person, to the Taste of the Nation event at the Loew's Hotel. Another great gathering of chefs and restaurants serving their best food. Jennifer Carroll chaired the event and the quality of establishments and what they were serving was excellent. Some of the culinary highlights were the fried skate wings from Little Fish/Fish, dusted with Parmesan and garlic, the Khyber Pass's bacon grease popcorn and Jen's pate on a crouton with what I believe was a sliver of grilled peach. My personal favorite was Oyster House and the shucked oysters and clams, nothing better than when they are well sourced, icy chilled and perfectly shucked. I ate at least 2 dozen with only a lemon squeeze. Great job Sam Mink.

Tonight I will be on the Battleship New Jersey with one of my clients, Feast Your Eyes Catering. They are showing off the event spaces on the boat to prospective clients, we still have space for a couple event planners if you would like to come, email me by 3pm,

This weekend, Welcome America holds it's Taste of Philadelphia event at the Great Plaza at Penn's Landing, I will be there most of the weekend with three of my clients, come visit! Saturday night is a huge fireworks display and Aaron Neville is the headline performer. It's free to enter, and all the restaurants and caterers participating are selling very reasonably priced tasting portions of their food. I am actually off to go pick up some rental items that one of my clients needs for this event.

Love & Harmony,

Harry 6/22/11

Monday, June 20, 2011


Inside sources have confirmed a huge development in the Catering World.

Max & Me Catering/Guest Counts/Culinary Concepts/Gourmetro have in the last half an hour made a very important internal announcement. They have announced the hiring of Jan DeMarzo as VP of off-premise catering. They also announced that Jim Israel, former owner of Culinary Concepts is "no longer with the company"

Jan was formerly with Compass Group where she was VP of East Coast Sales for the Wolfgang Puck Catering brand. The Puck division only recently replaced Restaurant Associates as Compass's operating unit in Philadelphia. I had heard rumors about Ms. DeMarzo's possible departure starting when the Puck changeover was announced, and I was wondering how her style would match with the California based management of Puck.

I will write at greater length about this story later this evening. Off to Share our Strength.

Harry 6/20/11

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Father's Day & Q-Mart

When I said I was going to post every day, what I MEANT to say was every weekday. I will only write on the weekends when the mood strikes me and this morning it did.

Happy Father's Day.

Thinking about my father, Joseph (Jerry) Morton Spivak, 12/9/28-10/5/84. We all miss him very much, especially my daughter Katie, his first grandchild, who he never met. She thinks about Jerry and Sally quite often. I was just getting to really know him when he died, I often feel his presence when I drive through certain areas. He was a child of the depression and was eternally careful with money because of it, although as he became wealthy he did enjoy the things and experiences that became available to him, especially his world famous sewn in pants crease. I need to start putting pictures in my blog, I have some great ones of dad.

As I sometimes do on Sunday morning, I think about dad and I decide to head up to Q-Mart in Quakertown. Quakertown is the gateway and closest shopping to where we lived in Durham Township in the far Northeast corner of Bucks County from 1972 to 1982. We moved there from Monterrey County (Pebble Beach, Big Sur) California where we had lived for a year and a half, and had moved there from the Rittenhouse Park area of Philly. Arriving in Bucks County was this wild family of 6, soon to be 7. Vegetarians, rock & roll promoter/restaurateur dad, hippie chick eastern religion seeking mom, 420 friendly, Jewish heritage, coming to an area with a majority of German ancestors who had farmed since settling there, and thought I might be an American Indian because I often wore my hair in a braid that went halfway down my back. Culture shock?

Perhaps the quintessential experience that made us aware that we were no longer in California was Q-Mart. This place actually used to scare me. It seemed like the people were characters descended from the Grapes of Wrath families I was reading about at the time. It was very funky and not appealing to me then.

Fast forward to the 21st century and it is called the Quakertown Farmer's Market. I love this place now, a combination of 120 indoor, permanent vendors and 400 outdoor flea market vendors. It's a great place to buy almost anything really cheap. If you haven't been there, check it out. I'll be there at 10a when it opens, meet me there this morning and I'll buy you a $1 pair of sunglasses!


What's all this have to do with catering? Nothing, but it's my blog. I hope you all have a great Father's Day.

Love & Harmony

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Battleship New Jersey

I love the Battleship New Jersey. Very fond memories from my Max & Me Catering days (pre-Libre Management) of how we were able to become the leading upscale caterer on the USS NJ, and how it became a very important part of our growth strategy.

When I joined Max & Me in March of 2000 one of my very first tasks was to write the proposal that would get us the exclusive backstage and VIP catering contract at what was then known as the E-Centre (became Tweeter Center, now Susquehanna Bank Center). As we began catering that season, my brother Jon and I began to realize that the expanding Camden Waterfront would be a fertile area to expand our sales. We were able to cater some great events for Opsail that year and some other Camden fundraisers, but we always set our sites on new venues and we realized that the coming arrival of the USS NJ would be a great addition to the growing list of venues where we could work.

Long story short. The Battleship arrived, the contract food service company that quietly got an exclusive badly mishandled an initial event, and the event planner for the grand opening called me a week prior to the event to see if we could handle the catering for 1500 including Senators, Governors, Congresspeople and other dignitaries. We pulled it off without a hitch and became one of the 5 or 6 caterers on their approved list. We were able to get the most high-end catering work, and had a nice year and a half run, until Aramark came in with all they had, including a very substantial front end investment and became exclusive in mid-2003. Since this happened just as we were opening the National Constitution Center, it was actually a blessing because the volume we were projecting to do at the NCC was dwarfed by the actual numbers. It required a huge amount of our overall company resources to keep things at the level we needed at the NCC, thus a new exclusive at the Battleship where we HAD to do all the events and not just the cream we had been skimming off the top would have been an operational holocaust.

This post is already growing too large to get into some of the crazy stories from the Max & Me Catering Battleship days, I will share some of those down the road. The point of today's post was an intro to this phenomenal piece of floating history, a little about the event I went to last night, and an invite (must be approved) to an event on the USS NJ next week.

ISES NJ South had an excellent event on the Battleship last night, it was their annual changing of the guard or installment of new officers and the program was a great panel discussion on utilizing Unique Venues for special events. The program was moderated by EVERYBODY'S favorite person in our industry, my good friend Jim Cohn. On the panel was Jimmy Z from AC (James Ziereis, VP Conventions Caesar's Entertainment); Elizabeth Ahles (Director of Events, Battleship NJ); Stacy Steffen (Facilities Sales Manager, Adventure Aquarium); and Michael Young (President, Activities a Top Tier Event Planning Firm). Food was provided by Andreotti's one of the two caterers on the Battleship now. The panel discussion was interesting, insightful and the moderator kept it to a reasonable amount of time.

This brings me to the most important part of today's entry. One of my clients is the great catering company Feast Your Eyes, they are the other caterer in the dual exclusive that the USS NJ now offers it's clients. Owned by the husband and wife team of Skip Schwarzman and Lynn Buono, Feast Your Eyes has been one of the top area caterers for over 20 years. They bring a great deal of culinary excellence, event management savvy and overall integrity and authenticity to every job they do. Check out: Feast Your Eyes website
The combination of FYE and Andreotti's will bode well for building sales on the USS NJ, they both do high quality work, are smart marketers and can service all segments of the diverse clientele base that books the Battleship.

This coming Wednesday June 22nd, Feast Your Eyes is hosting a promotional event to introduce their clients and prospective clients to the Battleship and some of their delicious offerings. It is a select invite and the event is complimentary. If you would like to attend, please email me: and I will see if I can get you on the list. Event goes from 4:30p to 7p.

Happy Friday Y'all!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Catering news for 2011 so far. Part One.

Now that I'm past the Great Chefs event I will start to dig into some of the meatier topics about the business and status of catering in 2011. I want to start with discussing some of the big news in the Philadelphia Region as far as catering for the current year so far.

Earlier this year Compass Group changed it's operating unit in Philadelphia from Restaurant Associates to Wolfgang Puck Catering. To hear some in the know tell it, essentially one day they were RA, the next day everybody got new uniforms and they were Puck. I will devote a future post to some more in depth analysis of this, but I am sure there are more significant changes that came and are coming as far as menus, staffing, etc.

Max & Me Catering, the firm that I used to be a part of, acquired Culinary Concepts, their venue contracts and infrastructure. Jim Israel has apparently stayed on to be in charge of business development for this division of Guest Counts Hospitality, which is the name that they have changed to from Libre Mangement, for their overall holding company. They also own and manage Cuba Libre Restaurant and Gourmetro Catering.

The biggest impact on our industry will be from the expansion of the Pennsylvania Convention Center which had it's grand unveiling in March. This bodes well for all caterers as I have always felt a rising tide does lift all boats.

Not many know this, but The new Barnes Museum on the Parkway gave it's food service contract to Aramark, in partnership with Marc Vetri. I hope to find out soon exactly what this partnership means and how much effect Mr. Vetri will have on food quality for the restaurant and catered events at the Museum.

An important development for me is a changing of the catering guard aboard the Battleship New Jersey. Aramark abandoned ship, and one of my clients, Feast Your Eyes Gourmet Catering is in a dual exclusive deal with Andreotti's Viennese Cafe. I am very happy to be representing this great piece of American History again and I will sign off with this, as I am leaving for the ISES South Jersey event tonight aboard the Battleship. I will write about this meeting tomorrow, it features a state of the industry panel between some very connected and important folks in the special event world.

Thanks for reading and sharing,
Harry 6/16/2011

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Well done Marc Vetri and Team!

The Alex's Lemonade Stand Great Chefs event was better than I expected, and I had great expectations.

The venue, Urban Outfitter's Corporate HQ, was perfect for this type of event, huge open space with lots of really nice architectural detail, one of the old Navy Yard buildings that they recycled into a serene environment that is great to hang out in. When I first saw this space about 5 years ago, I drooled at the possibilities for it's utilization as event space, but UO keeps this very limited, as it is their home base.

Bringing my daughter Katie to this event gave me a second level of enjoyment, taking in all the offerings and chatting with people myself and showing all this to my daughter and trying to help her enjoy it. Luckily she is a foodie, she will be going to school to study this industry, and she is very social, thus I had very little to do to help her enjoy the evening, other than walk around and introduce her to people I know and wanted to know.

I wanted to introduce Katie to some strong women in the business, so the first two chefs we spoke to were Jenn Carroll of Top Chef renown and Gabrielle Hamilton the best-selling author, owner of Prune in NYC and a favorite chef of other chefs like Anthony Bourdain and Mario Batali. I have known Jenn for about 15 years when we both worked for Derek Davis at Arroyo Grille. I think it may have been Jenn's first kitchen job, she did salads and apps as I recall. She made this excellent crispy sweetbread dish, very yummy and non-threatening for the sweetbread novice. Jenn is a sweetheart, and I hope to see her go off on her own in the not too distant future. Investors get ready.

I first met Gabrielle when she was about 10 or 11, a budding juvenile delinquent and the youngest sister of my brother Jon's good friend Simon. Over the years, I have been friends with all of Gabrielle's 4 siblings except her, it's just that I never spent time with her being 8 or so years older. She was serving the Hamilton family famous dish, shrimp with anchovy butter, this was my second favorite item of the evening.

Other food highlights included John Besh's shrimp and grits (the grits were the best part); Michael Solomonov's beef cheek with cauliflower puree; Ken Oringer's daikon and crab roll; Shake Shack's burger; and the crispy pasta shell with this wild chopped antipasto like topping that was served by Batali's Exec. at Del Posto, Mark Lardner.

Best in show, by my subjective analysis, was Barbara Lynch's (Boston based) paella croquette with a chorizo topping. Perfect event food, easy to eat, amazing flavors, lightly crispy, very different. Great job Ms. Lynch. Larry Magid, of Electric Factory fame, agreed with me on this one. The most mentioned favorite when I asked others was Besh's shrimp & grits.

We met some other famous chefs including Jose Garces, Aaron Sanchez, Drew Nieporent, Marc Vetri, and Jonathan Waxman. As we were standing in line for the shrimp & grits (the only line of the evening), we chatted with Wanda Sykes, one of my favorite funny people.

From a caterers perspective the event was virtually flawless, from an event planners view there was one potential glitch I saw, but I will have to get back to you on, as I left before what I predicted to Katie had a chance to happen.

I also will do a wrap by Friday on how much the event raised, total number of guests, answer to above prediction, etc..

Enjoy this beautiful day.

Love & Harmony.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Alex's Lemonade Stand's Great Chefs Event tonight.

I am so excited to attend this event tonight, and really proud to be bringing my daughter Katie who just graduated from high school and is bound for Johnson & Wales University in Denver. She will be in the Hospitality Management Program, focusing on Special Event and Restaurant Management. This is such a perfect event to take her to, and it will further motivate her for college and her career.

I really enjoy attending and producing this type of event and it is a very unique form of catering from the perspective of the event organizer and the individual restaurant or caterer that participates. It is also very difficult to pull off successfully by the standards that most caterers judge themselves. Factors such as having enough food and beverage, keeping lines short, keeping the flow of the event so that guests can access all areas are difficult when there are dozens of individual food and beverage suppliers and many of them are not practiced in transporting, preparing and serving their products in an off-premise situation.

In my days at Max & Me Catering we developed some great techniques to make these events succeed from our perspective. Some of the similar events I headed up at Max & Me include Governor Rendell's Inaugural Ball in 2003 for almost 12,000 guests; The Red Cross's Red Ball (they still do this at the Please Touch Museum) and Mayor Nutter's Inaugural in 2008. I look forward to seeing how they do tonight. I will report tomorrow on my experience.

There are still tickets available at the door tonight for $300, it benefits a great cause and here are just a few of the chefs that will be there serving their food: Jose Garces, Jen Carroll, Tom Colicchio, Marco Canora, Gabrielle Hamilton, Aaron Sanchez, Daniel Stern, Sue Torres, Jonathan Waxman, Micahel Solomonov, Drew Nieporent, and the host Marc Vetri. Wow. 

See you there?

Monday, June 13, 2011

The whys and whats of Catering & Me.

For quite a few years now different clients, associates and friends have suggested that I write a newsletter to share some of my accumulated knowledge of the catering business. I have always liked the idea and put it on my to do list where it would rise and fall in priority but never make it to publication. 

Then about a month ago I met with a very respected friend in the event/meeting planning business who I had not seen in about two years. I shared with this person some of the opportunities, trends, changes I was seeing in the catering and special event venue world. This led my friend to suggest that I write a blog. As I left the meeting I realized this was a much better way to proceed with sharing my information than a newsletter, and I began compiling story ideas.

Once I had some ideas on initial posts, the hard part became where to start. I figured "what" and "why" would be as good a place as any to start. The above begins to cover why I started this, another important "why" would be why would anyone want to read this? I hope to make this blog interesting and insightful, and for those that don't know me, I will gradually fill you in on my background and why some feel that it qualifies me to be a good information source on these topics.

Quick bio. My first job at 10 years old was alphabetizing the mailing list for the original Electric Factory at 22nd & Arch in Philly. My dad, Jerry Spivak, one of the founders of the business, paid me $1 per hour. I got half way through the letter B (about 2 weeks of work) before deciding that my school work took precedence. Since then I have worked in Restaurants in every capacity besides server, and have been a partner in one. Total restaurant experience, about 20 years. In 2000 I joined the team of Max & Me Catering and spent 8 years there as GM, then minority partner, then business development/off-premise sales.Since 2008 I have been consulting with local caterers as well as executing the catering portion of some major events outside of the 215/610 area codes. I spent about a year and a half working with Starr Restaurants Catering division, I was an outside contractor focusing on venue development and sales and I was hired full time in January of 2009. Right now I am consulting for a few different caterers and restaurants that want to do catering. I also am pursuing some other related and non-related lines of business that I may or may not share information about on this blog at some point.

I covered the "whys" and partially covered the "whats" of this blog, the other part of what is this: what is catering and thus what is the scope of total information I plan to write about.

According to Merriam Webster here is the definition of cater: 

1. to provide a supply of food
2. to supply what is required or desired

Both definitions hint at the broad, potentially huge field that catering encompasses. I think I like a definition that combines the two. Something like "to provide a supply of food in a way that is required or desired". 

I look forward to posting regularly and to getting comments from anyone who reads about Catering & Me.

Harry 6/13/2011