Monday, August 27, 2012

Best of My Blog, Season One Volume Two

My nephew in front of his dad's cookshop.
I spent the past 4 days helping my brother Jon at his recently opened business, Chive Cafe & Catering. Located adjacent to Peddler's Village in Bucks County, Chive is a great place for breakfast and lunch. One of Jon's goals is to have the best sandwiches in Bucks County and he is definitely a contender if you listened to the comments of his guests. 

And of course I must mention his catering. As most know, Jon was Max's partner at Max & Me Catering way before I joined the team. He was as responsible for the growth, quality and success of the business as Max was, it just wasn't his name on the door. In positioning Chive's catering, Jon will hold to the same high quality standards he had at Max & Me, but he is aware of the new reality of the catering buyer's need to be much more budget conscious than many were from the mid-'90s through 2008.
My buddy Erin Lambert with Duff from TV Food Network
This summer started with the Great Chefs event and though I didn't blog about it this year, I did last year. Check out last year's post, which made it into my "Best Of" list: blog #3 Well done Marc Vetri and team!

Gratuitous use of celebrity photo
What's the picture have to do with the next "Best Of" post? Nothing. It's about the Fourth of July celebrations last year: blog post #13 Fourth of July grubbin'. I have read that to sell magazines you put either a celebrity, a dog or a baby on the cover. I'm 2 for 3 so far.

Okay, 3 for 3. Should be best read post yet.
Here's an interesting post I almost forgot about. This is very good stuff for caterers and event planners as I reproduced a blog from Mike Roman, the acknowledged number one consultant for the catering industry and guru to many of the top catering companies worldwide. It covers how to advance prepare for a catered function, and there is a link to an article showing what can happen, even if you have all the talent in the world, if you are not well prepared: blog post # 15, Interesting Info from others

Watchin' the river flow. 
Why do all these pictures have nothing to do with the blog posts? Why is the sky blue? I thought it would be fun to share some cool shots from my summer travels. The next "Best Of" is one I wrote for Mardi Gras earlier this year. As you will read New Orleans has a big spot in my heart and I hope y'all will think good thoughts for NOLA and hope it is spared any damage from Isaac, the approaching hurricane. Here is blog post #26, Mardi Gras Mambo.

Same river (North Fork of the South Platte), 30 miles downstream.

I have to include the next post even though it's not about catering. It's me up on my soapbox preaching. Don't just read the post, check out some of the comments in blog post # 30, Do the right thing

Denver's Colorado Convention Center
The final post in my "Best Of" collection is the most important one for me, blog post # 36, PhillyVenueFinder.com, take the video tour! PhillyVenueFinder.com is my website, currently in development that will help connect event planners, caterers and great venues. This video was very reasonable to produce and if you are a venue operator or caterer that would like one for your own space or collection of spaces, contact me to find out more. 

Thanks as always for reading. Please comment and share this if you would.

Harry 8/27/2012








Wednesday, July 25, 2012

First Annual Best of My Blog, Volume 1

One excuse for no recent blogs. Mountains to climb, Mt. Evans CO 14,264'
I was going to do this on the first anniversary of my first blog post but I didn't get around to it. That was back in mid-June. I think it will be good for those of you who are just starting to read my blog to look over some of the old posts. I have selected some of my favorites for you here, with brief recaps, and links to the original posts. A new post is coming, probably tomorrow, lots to catch up on: travels, events and new projects. It's been a great summer so far, hope you are enjoying it too.

First blog post, June 13, 2011. Link to blog post #1 This post discusses why I started blogging and what I intend to cover. Back in the dark days before I figured out how to put pictures in the blog.

A great new venue, featuring farm to table at it's freshest!
This blog post from October 11, 2011 is where I explain what I do for a living in the world of catering and special events. Learn how I can help you find the best venue for your event, and many more self-promotional pieces of knowledge that you really need. Link to blog post # 20

Here's a fun post from August 3, 2011: Link to blog post # 18, I called it "Random Notes" and covered many topics and events from last summer.

Opening poster, the original Electric Factory.
Link to blog post # 17, The Electric Factory One of my favorite places to have a party or corporate gathering. I grew up at the original Electric Factory at 22nd & Arch Streets. Met Janis Joplin. First job, alphabetizing the mailing list, $1 per hour.

Everything's better with Bacon. Nothing to do with this post
A nice long post, catching up on missed time, Link to blog post # 23. This covered my trip to Colorado taking my daughter to college and many of the fall events I didn't get to write about earlier. Lots of redeeming social value here, read it please...

Girard College's Founder's Hall. A non-exclusive venue.
A final post to revisit, this one is the first exploration of the world of exclusive catering contracts.Link to blog post # 32 This is a very important issue for our industry and there are many pros and cons that I begin the cover here and will do so in more depth in the future.

That's it for volume 1 of  the best of Catering & Me, look for volume 2 next week. These were all selected by me. By all means let me know if you have a favorite via the comments section below, or email to me, harryspivak@gmail.com.

Have a wonderful Wednesday.
Harry



Monday, June 11, 2012

PhillyVenueFinder.com, take the video tour!

Andalusia on the Delaware.
To see the most updated version of the really cool virtual site inspection video that I produced click on this link: video tour now please. There are ten venues featured in the video and were chosen for their variety, usability, and perhaps most important for planners, not one has an exclusive catering contract.

Electric Factory
PhillyVenueFinder.com will be a live website in the next few months, for now the link will take you to this blogpost. If that is how you got here, contact me for more info at email below.

For more information and to book an event or actual site inspection, contact me at harryspivak@gmail.com, if you need my cell number, email me. Also, if you own or manage a venue and you would like a quote on producing a virtual tour for your place you can contact me as well.

Girard College, Founder's Hall
Special thanks to Rich Levering whose idea this was, and Colin Comstock of Arsenal AV, the gifted videographer and editor, and all around good guy. Oh, and Rich is a good guy too.

Thanks,
Harry

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Innovative Catering Concepts, cookin' at The Barnes

ICC's truck unloading under the Barnes' iconic overhang
About a month or so ago, my good friend Tia Triplett asked me to coordinate vendors for interesting food booths on the terrace at the new Barnes museum on their free ticket Memorial day weekend. Tia is the on-site GM for 1st & Fresh Catering the food service provider for the museum. Due to the extremely heavy load of catered events and opening their restaurant and coffee bar, they needed some relief for their staff and that is why they decided to subcontract this project. Tia chose me to do this because of my museum experience and my knowledge of what the best vendor solution would be to make it special for the guests. My immediate thought was to involve all my catering clients, but since only one of them has an ongoing vending component to their business model, I decided to work on this with Rocco Gallelli, Joe Divon and Steve Mastero, owners of Innovative Catering Concepts.

Field kitchen and grill station
Rocco and I developed the menu with Tia's guidance and we decided to go with three different food stations. One station I dubbed "Rocco's Grill" which featured huge burgers with gruyere and caramelized onions, 1/4 lb. all beef dogs with great toppings and lots of deep fried goodies. The Sampan Restaurant station had edamame wasabi  and pork gyoza dumplings along with chicken and beef satays. The third station had an excellent mezze platter from Bitar's (Philly's best Middle Eastern fare), veggie crudite and wraps. Rocco also brought in a water ice and pretzel vendor. It was a very enjoyable weekend, although very hot, and it was great to see the new museum inside and out. The staff for 1st & Fresh and the museum were great to work with, and provided us with everything we needed to do our work with graciousness and the hospitality attitude. They even had an air conditioned service kitchen just to the left of where I took the above picture that was ours for the weekend, in addition we had use of a large mobile kitchen they had been lent by the Toby Keith Tour.
Jules and Liz, serving lemonade and mezze

Jack & Jerry, cheffin' up some dumplings.
Jack put his hat back on after the picture.
I had recruited a few of my daughter's friends to work the event and they did a great job. Rocco called them "The Jonas Brothers" and Katie and their other friends got a pretty big laugh out of that.
Bar inside the Barnes run by 1st & Fresh Catering
Since I like to think of myself as a student as well as a consultant in the catering industry, I was very curious to see up close how 1st & Fresh is doing so far at The Barnes. A major opening like they had with huge high budget/profile events every day in a new building is extremely difficult, I know from my experience at The National Constitution Center. From every thing I have seen and heard from 1st & Fresh employees that I know from other catering companies, museum employees that I knew previously and others in the industry they are succeeding and doing a great job. The management is smart enough to bring in help when needed and I thought it was very astute to bring in Great Performances from Manhattan to staff most of the two opening galas. GP is known as having some of the best, well trained staff in the business, and to utilize them rather than one of the Philly based temp companies on a very busy catering weekend gave them much better staff than any other option available. 
View of Barnes terrace, our food booths are left, right and straight ahead
The Barnes has great event spaces, I think my favorite is this terrace. With the overhang it is protected from the weather and has great views of the Parkway. I think the capacity is about 600 for a cocktail party.

It was a great weekend for me, experiencing a new treasure for Philadelphia and learning more about the interesting world of food vending from true masters of this branch of catering, Innovative Catering Concepts. ICC is also excellent at full service and other types of catering, but whenever you may need an expert solution for your street fair, carnival or festival they should be your first call. And don't forget the Jonas Brothers too.

As always thanks for reading.
Harry
5/30/12



Thursday, May 24, 2012

Six days on the road...

Charlotte NC Skyline 
One of my favorite songs is the Taj Mahal version of this classic road song. I listened to it about three or four times on my recent trip to Charlotte NC and Tampa FL. It's on one of my i-pod play lists that I named "Kind of Country" It was just a coincidence that I was on the road from last Wednesday to this Tuesday. Six days on the road.
Center of Charlotte. Tryon and Trade Streets.
Two blocks from Time Warner Cable Arena where the DNC will be held

Bechtler Museum and Knight Theater in the "CLT"
I went on this journey to scout venues and catering options for the upcoming political conventions. When I get to a new town I usually start to walk all over, and talk to as many people as possible. Get my bearings, learn about what I may not have picked up in my readings before getting there, and most important, find venues that I might not have found without happening upon them. I fell in love with Charlotte. I spent time in NC as a teenager and I remembered the genuine warmth and hospitality of the people. There is lots of corporate investment in Charlotte and besides the natives there are many transplants who all seem to have melded nicely into the culture and ways of the south. Charlotte is quite compact and there are great event spaces both in the heart of the city and in the two hip neighborhoods I explored, the South Park and NoDa areas. My new friend Jeff Conway who owns four Ruth's Chris Steakhouses in NC and SC showed me around and helped guide me in my "Venuepalooza" whirlwind of site inspections. I went to a really well produced Green Festival on Saturday morning, and when I left later that day I felt very confident that the venues I had found would fit into the plan I was developing for my clients. On to the Tampa Bay Area.

Beautiful shot in downtown Tampa
After arriving I met Warren Dietl, owner of Puff 'n Stuff Catering for lunch at a great restaurant in Winter Park Florida (near Orlando) called Prato. After lunch and a few very nice cocktails, Warren took me on a tour of his operation nearby, very impressive. He is the largest upscale caterer in Central Florida and I am very lucky to be affiliated with such a forward thinking owner. After departing Orlando I stopped briefly in Downtown Tampa for my city immersion than bee lined for the beaches, about 45 minutes away.
Madiera Beach between Clearwater and St. Pete beaches

After I shot the sunset, I turned around and shot my shadow!
I'm a beach and sunset lover, and I couldn't resist a swim and a nice hang on the beach. Rented a cheap ass motel room and crashed heavily in preparation for the continuation of Venuepalooza, Tampa edition. Drove back to Tampa very early Monday morning to miss the traffic and had two full days of scouting. I found many great options including the Yankees and Phillies Spring Training facilities, beautiful theaters, warehouses and museums, but as I left I did not feel near the sense of satisfaction as I did in Charlotte. Long story on why and much of it is confidential. I will perhaps share this at a later date.

Cool event space contained in this impressive structure
Headed home and am now digesting, organizing and writing up recommndations. Six days on the road and I finally made it home last night. Enjoy: Click for Taj's SDOTR!

Harry
5/24/12

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Favorite Cooking Shows

I love to watch cooking shows. I started with Julia Child and the Galloping Gourmet s a child, and instantly fell in love with the Food Network when it started. I got to collaborate on some Book & The Cook events (remember that?) with The Two Hot Tamales when I was at Arroyo Grille in the late 90's, and in the kitchen at the time was a budding new talented chef by the name of Jennifer Carroll.

These days my favorite show is Rick Bayless's Mexico, one plate at a time, and I really like the competition shows, Top Chef, Next Iron Chef, and Chopped.

Here are two lesser known cooking shows I hope you enjoy as much as I do.



Okay, next blog post will be back to covering catering world. There is lots to cover including the opening of the Barnes Museum and a new Facebook group, Philly Catering Stars. Also, I am compiling my thoughts for  chapter two of "Do the Right Thing", so today let's all do some good.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exclusive Catering Contracts, an exploration begins...

Battleship NJ, once exclusive, now semi-exclusive. Contact me for details
The concept of exclusive catering contracts is a topic I have planned on writing about since I began this blog last June. It is a very interesting subject, the pros and cons are numerous and the consequence of exclusivity can make or break a catering company. My personal feelings and analysis of exclusivity has evolved over the years, and I will mostly withhold my own thoughts until I have covered the topic a bit more thoroughly. I would like you, the reader, to draw your own conclusions.

Sigma Sound Studios, an iconic Philly venue, exclusive to Feastivities
I would like nothing more than lively, spirited feedback on this and I will include good comments in the coming posts on this topic. This one will be short and sweet with only a brief exploration of the topic. I have a very busy day culminating in a very exciting dinner in DC with the Creative Coalition.

Why do public and private special event facilities seek exclusive catering partners? There are a number of reasons and here are some of the most relevant.

Revenue. Many institutions feel that the amount of receipts they can collect from their special event business will be greater if they bid out the exclusive contract and balance the selection decision with the best operator that has the best financial offer. Since an exclusive building essentially becomes a mini-monopoly, if a client needs to have their event in that facility, the caterer is not concerned with bidding against a competitor and will almost always charge more than they would if they were bidding on an event against others. Because of this, caterers will typically offer a higher percentage commission to the venue when they prepare their bids to become exclusive.
Electric Factory. Not exclusive, but a preferred list. Contact me for booking.

Facility protection. Museums especially, often prefer to deal with one food service operator when there are concerns about damage to their building from the wear and tear of frequent events. If you have a week where there are three events and three different caterers and damage is not discovered until a week later then it is very difficult to figure out who did the damage. Also, the exclusive caterer takes ownership of the venue and is usually more careful and respectful of the building and its contents.

Restaurant requirement. Many cultural institutions have in house restaurants and these are very often difficult situations for an operator to be profitable. By requiring the caterer to also operate the restaurant(s), the profits from events can be justified to offset the potential loss for the restaurant. Another rationale is that multiple operators in the same facility cause operational headaches, especially due to many venues having precious little space devoted to back of the house area for food service.
The new Barnes Museum, an exclusive venue opening Mid-May.

What can you add to this discussion? Comment on the blog, email or Facebook message me. I really want to hear what you have to say, especially if you are a planner of major events. The next post on this topic will explore some of the arrangements that are not exclusive, short lists, open sites, and everything in between.

Have a wonderful day.
Harry

Friday, April 13, 2012

Coming Soon!

For all your venue and catering sourcing needs. 
Service is free for event planners, DMCs, and anyone 
looking for the right space to have a party, meeting, shindig or festival.

Need help now?
Call or email me: 
harryspivak@gmail.com
610*955*8001

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Do the right thing.

This blog post has been brewing in my brain for years. When I decided to go to business school and focus on the hospitality industry for my career, a very big part of my motivation was not financial but humanitarian. I had been out of high school for 5 years, had a few interesting jobs, a few crappy jobs, went to three different colleges for one semester each, ski-bummed for two winters, and felt I was beginning to learn enough about the world to decide on a path.

Being a child of the '60s I had always wanted to do something to make the world a better place. As an adolescent, civil rights/poverty and the environment were the big issues for me. At one point I contemplated law, another thought was marine biology another was solar energy engineer. Then as I watched the world and learned more about how it worked it seemed to me the people who had the most potential influence both good and bad were the entrepreneurs. So I returned to school at CU Boulder, got my business degree (magna cum laude by the way) and had planned to join my father's business, make money and do charitable projects. Well those who know me, know that path was severely altered and eventually (15 years later) I ended up in the wonderful world of catering and special events which I now love.

Along the way I realized if you did not have gobs of money to give to charity, there were still many things an entrepreneur could do to make the world a better place. One thing I realized is very important is providing a good living for your employees and creating an environment where people like to get up in the morning (or evening in our biz) and go to work. Another important aspect is being a good corporate citizen in all matters surrounding your external environment. A third key principal is doing what you can for worthwhile causes, even if it's not cash but goods and services, influence, marketing and PR, etc. So here I am in 2012, working my rear off to reestablish my presence and financial solvency and all of a sudden this week comes along and forces me to write this diatribe before I can get any of my real work done. The brain just has to be purged.

So what led me to this point? My Facebook friends probably know already. The Five alarm fire in Kensington that occurred on Monday night was just three blocks from my apartment. As most know two firemen were killed in the aftermath of the blaze, and as I took a walk that morning I looked into the faces of at least a dozen firefighters who had just found out the tragic news. I cried. I got mad. Really mad. I took my anger to Facebook and tried to spread the word as best as I could. Then Tuesday and Wednesday I had to get back to work.

So now I get to the point I am trying to make. The absentee owners of that building did NOT do the right thing at all in their management of their ownership of that building. When I say "do the right thing" you could say that is totally subjective. Yes, but in most instances I believe that presented with evidence an overwhelming majority will agree on what is right and what is wrong. Is firing someone two weeks before their wife is about to give birth doing the right thing? No. Is firing someone during the holidays for reasons other than illegal doings doing the right thing? No. Is letting a building deteriorate to the point that the Thomas Buck Hosiery Building did before the fire doing the right thing? No. Just this week I found out a former business associate did not pay me a mutually agreed upon amount for a executive recruitment project. Is that doing the right thing? No. Lying, cheating, stealing, misrepresentation, are they the hallmarks of a righteous businessperson? NO!!!

So. What can be done? Many have said to me "Harry, that's the way things are always done in Philly" My response is so what, we have to do better. In my youth Philly was a boring, barren decaying city. Look at what we are now. Completely revitalized and exciting with much better things on the horizon. So what can we all do to improve things? Here are two suggestions.

Do the right thing. Don't cheat people to make a little extra money. Recycle. Be aware that you are sharing this planet with many others and that the Golden Rule goes a long way. Work together with your competitors to make your industry better. Smile. Let merging cars in. Don't be rude, Philadelphians are infamous for this. Don't fire people without truly giving them chance. Be true to your word, not just contracts. That's just a few suggestions.

Second suggestion. Maybe more powerful. Try to do business with those companies and people that do the right thing. Seek out vendors and collaborators that win awards for best employer or most environmentally conscious. Do they cheat to get ahead? How active are they in charity support? Is it for PR or for real substantial support? Ask around, Google them, read their Facebook and Twitter posts. Find the best, because economic Darwinism works faster than biological Darwinism.

One of my favorite questions in life is this: do they ends justify the means? Many justifications for horrible acts are based on the ends justifying the means. My personal take is no, the ends never justify the means. Why? You never get to the end, that's why, because the end is death. There was a bumper sticker/t-shirt a few years back that said: "the one who dies with the most toys wins". I could not disagree more. The one who dies with the most people saying the nicest things about them is the winner because that person's children and children's children will be forever proud of them.

No pictures today, I wanted the words to stand on their own. Hope you got something out of them.

Peace & Love,
Harry

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Meeting Metropolis Part 2

Innovative Catering Concepts, a high capacity mobile food experience
Here are some images of my catering clients from the event today. Above is Innovative's mobile food trailer which differs from most food trucks you see as they can feed up to 1000 people per hour where most trucks max out at around 100 per hour. It's a real kitchen on wheels and can be wrapped in a client's logo if desired.
ICA Caterer of the year, Feastivities Events
The folks from Feastivities are promoting two of their exclusive venues, Sigma Sound Stage, the iconic studio where some of Philly's best music was recorded and the Stotesbury Mansion, a classic venue on Rittenhouse Square.
Yours Truly promoting my new website: PhillyVenueFinder.com
The new website will be up soon for all your venue needs. Look for my venue video on You Tube in the next few days.

Feast Your Eyes served Fresh made Honey Lavendar Ice Cream, YUM!!!
Front and Palmer is Feast Your Eye's home base and a really cool venue, if you have not been there yet, you should go take a tour.

The Pennsylvania Marketplace Trade Show was a very well produced event and I was extremely impressed with the effort and expense all of the exhibitors went through to help promote Philadelphia. Very proud of our city and our hospitality and event community today. Thanks to all who made this happen.

LOVE,
Harry















Meeting Metropolis at The PA Convention Center

LOVE was in the air last night!
I'm packing all my brochures, books, and nick-nacks, stocking my event emergency kit and preparing to hobble off to the Pennsylvania Marketplace Tradeshow. This is one of the signature events that is part of the three day Philly LOVEfest called Meeting Metropolis. An incredibly talented group of event planners, PCVB, PACC, and GPTMC staff are hosting this three day Grand Opening of the Convention Center expansion. There was a phenomenal opening reception last night with great food, diverse entertainment and Major League networking. I am very lucky to have been invited.

I will try to post again later today, let's start the day with some more love: All you need is love. Click it, enjoy it.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Spring Fever. Catersource. Philly Events.

Spring in the Rockies
Is there anything better than Spring as it begins to unfold? When my daughter was little we used to stroll around our neighborhood in Blue Bell and hike in Bucks County and I would point out to her the earliest subtle changes, and then the increasingly obvious "Signs of Spring". As as she got older it became a  little joke and cute reference to her childhood: look Katie, "Signs of Spring". I returned from my trip to Vegas (Catersource Convention) and Colorado (visiting Katie) last week. Weather in Colorado was beautiful and I recalled a quote from one of my University of Colorado professors: "Spring in the Rockies is a phenomenon that occurs with increasing frequency from January to June", anyone who has spent time there knows how true that can be. Here in Philly it looks like this week will be a nuclear explosion of Spring, temps in the 70s, St. Patty's Day, March Madness and many great events on the horizon. Bring it on!
Feastivities wins ICA "Caterer of the Year" Catersource 2012
This was my first trip to the Catersource/Event Solutions Convention since 2006. The growth of the Convention has been spectacular and it is so much more rewarding and enriching than ever. The trade show alone is reason enough to attend, but for me the best part is getting to know caterers from all over the country and beyond. I am extremely grateful to Meryl Snow and Carl Sacks for getting my tuition paid at CS 2012 in return for helping with the Catersource Consulting Unit's free client consultations. I am so excited to go visit all my new catering colleagues that I met from Alaska to The Florida Keys and Arizona to Maine. I just counted and I have business cards from caterers in 24 states, 3 Canadian Provinces, and the Bahamas.Catersource video, watch it! The Consulting Unit is an extremely talented and diverse group of catering professionals from around the country and I look forward to working with them on future projects.

Caterlight, a great new product 
The trade show was probably three times the size as it was in 2006, and they had to move it to the Las Vegas Convention Center to accommodate all the exhibitors, it took me almost five hours to cover the entire trade show. New products and services are always what interests me the most and there were many very cool innovations, and of course lots of food and beverage products to sample. I was reminded how the alcohol beverage producers have yet to really grasp the buying power of the catering industry. As active as they are in so much marketing and promotion we see on a daily basis, they were mostly absent at the trade show and other Catersource events.

As mentioned, I left Vegas and flew to Colorado to visit my daughter. It was spring break, but she had just been hired at the restaurant she really wanted to work at, and had been scheduled every day of my visit. Unfortunately this kept us from skiing/snowboarding, but we had a great visit. Hoping to head back soon, maybe before the snow melts.

Red Ball 2012 at Memorial Hall
Return to Philly and I begin attending and helping plan many events. Red Ball this past weekend was really fun although they seem to have really fallen off in the number of top restaurants that participate. No where near the stature of restaurants that do Great Chefs, Feastival, Achievabilty or even yesterday's Brewer's Plate event. Restaurateurs are asked to do so many of these events these days, and they are very expensive to do right. It was nice though to see the Please Touch Museum fully decorated and hosting a premier event.

Award Winning Simeone Museum, site of Fresh 2012 

Great stuff on the horizon. I'm most excited about the Meeting Metropolis and the Pennsylvania Marketplace trade show at The Pennsylvania Convention Center. Look for my booth. I will be promoting the coolest special event venues that are not exclusive to one caterer. I am producing a special video for the event. If you are a planner, let me know if you would like to attend and I can try and get you a pass.

Many other great upcoming events include Fresh, to be held at Simeone Auto Museum, one of the absolute best venues in the area for large scale events. Dr. Simeone and his team recently won the award for "Museum of the Year" by the International Historic Motoring Awards in London. I am also looking forward to an event called Food for Thought, to benefit the very worthwhile charity, Achieveability. Coming in later April, date TBD, I will finally be hosting an event for the event industry at The Electric Factory. Busy times.
Can't wait to host y'all at The Factory.

Don't forget, all you event planners and others looking for a cool place to have any type of function, I can be your best resource. Call, email, text or flag me down at an event. Look for my new website coming soon to your laptop, i-pad, or smart phone: VenueGuy.com!!!

That's all for now, maybe this will be the month I can finally get my blogging act together and post more than once.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Mardi Gras Mambo

Mardi Gras Indians
"Down in New Orleans where the blues was born, it takes a cool cat to blow a horn" Those are the opening lyrics to the song "Mardi Gras Mambo" Here is a sweet version: Hawketts do Mardi Gras Mambo. I have a long history with New Orleans and I just woke up and felt the need to share on Fat Tuesday 2012.

I graduated from the University of Colorado in May of 1985, after I went and helped my mom move from Massachusetts to Mill Valley California, the plan was to move back to Philly and find a job. Once arriving, my brother Jon and my cousin Adam had begun crafting a plan to take one of our families restaurant locations in Bala Cynwyd, and turn it into our own place. They made a deal with our uncles, which let us get in for a very small investment, and then they decided that we should do a Cajun-Creole restaurant as the cuisine was very popular, we all loved it, and there was only one other similar place in the area at the time. Also a high school friend, Max Hansen, was cooking at Manhattan's premier Cajun-Creole place, Memphis. The very same Max Hansen who later founded Max & Me Catering. So we drafted Max and began researching how to do an authentic version of New Orleans in Bala Cynwyd. Adam came up with the name Bala Rouge, and we took trips to NOLA to gather art, music, recipes and food and beverage suppliers.

I am pretty sure we opened on November 17th 1985, the date my daughter would be born seven years later. It rained every day the first two weeks we were open, needless to say business was slow. We had planned to open slow to get the kinks out and then begin doing promotions after the New Year. We were very close to pulling the plug, but in January we began to get reviews and they liked us. Daily News, Stan Hochman review
We had live crawfish flown in from NOLA 2x a week! Nice.
We then planned a series of Mardi Gras events leading up to a big party on Fat Tuesday. We started booking live music a couple times a week, Reverie (featuring Gerald Veasley on bass!) and Mitch Williams were two favorites. The good reviews kept coming: Inquirer review, and we were suddenly doing well enough to start drawing small salaries. We served great food and made lots of people happy for almost two years. There was a substantial offer to buy the place so all of us decided to move on in September 1987. Some of the menu items we were known for included: Pecan Snapper, BBQ Shrimp, Blackened Redfish (of course), Catahoula Crab Crepes, Excellent Gumbos, Fried Oyster Caesar Salad, and Adam's great homemade Southern Desserts. We had a long varied specialty drink menu with many New Orleans classics including Sazeracs, Hurricanes and Ramos Gin Fizzes (or as Justin called them "egg thangs"). Oh yeah, we had a friend record us great tapes that we played constantly, our theme song became "Mardi Gras Mambo"

FONO Poster
Fast forward to 2008 and my next major NOLA project. As I was exiting Max & Me Catering in March of that year, I was offered a consulting position to work on two major parties for the Democratic and Republican Conventions that summer. The client was the Friends of New Orleans (FONO), and the parties were to be held at two very special venues, the Fillmore in Denver (2500 guests) and First Avenue in Minneapolis (1800 guests); where much of Prince's Purple Rain was filmed. The purpose was obviously for raising funds and awareness for Katrina relief. The event producer had been a long time client and friend and had the idea that instead of paying a caterer, he would pay me to coordinate all the food that was donated from NOLA, find a kitchen, hire local staff and bring in a few of my best catering folk from Philly to help run the events. I got to work with some great culinary professionals during the course of producing these events including Ralph Brennan a great restaurateur, Pierre Hilzim, owner of Kajun Kettle Products and Cade & Ingrid Nagy from Catering by Design in Denver. Here is a culinary focused press release about the FONO events that appeared on The National Restaurant Association's website: NRA website post. I calculated that we saved FONO close to $150,000 by doing the catering this way.

Minneapolis' Iconic Concert Venue 
The music for these events was an incredible ensemble of the best of New Orleans. One of the musical highlights was Randy Newman doing Louisiana 1927, here's an actual clip from the event: Randy Newman FONO benefit Denver. There was also a reunion of the Meters, Mardi Gras Indians opening the show and singers Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball and Marva Wright, among dozens of other artists. It was a very uplifting project and I was very happy to be a part of it. I have to mention my right hand person for the whole shebang, and I could not have done it without the interpersonal and organizational skills of Jen Stitz. One of the nice by-products of doing these events was it gave me a methodology for essentially creating a catering company outside of my home area. We reproduced this type of arrangement in DC for a few Obama Inaugural events. It also gave me a nice template and resources to create New Orleans themed events.

When in NOLA, visit Ralph Brennan's Restaurants
For authentic New Orleans ingredients and prepared items go to: Kajun Kettle Foods

What other way to end this post than to say, for today, laissez les bon temps rouler!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Piazza NYE Party, from my perspective.

Piazza Party People Partying Properly


Brains of NYE, Brian Nagele, Sofia & Jen
Happy MLK day y'all and Happy New Year too. I had to start my blogging year with my own personal recap of New Years at the Piazza. I'll try to give some insight on what it took to produce this extremely successful event. Ever since the Piazza opened I have viewed it as a very viable large event venue and had looked forward to someday being involved with something big, cool, fun and profitable there. Piazza management wisely turned the event over to four of the anchor restaurants at the Piazza to promote and produce the event. I was lucky enough to be hired to coordinate food & beverage service in the 20,000+ square foot tent. The owners of King's Oak, PYT, Raw and Gunner's Run were the event promoters/producers, and their diverse talents, connections and staff was a huge contributing factor to the event's success. This was truly an all-star team of event and hospitality professionals, but to succeed the team is more important than the individuals, and with six weeks from green light to doors open there was dozens of compromises and consensus that needed to be reached to keep moving forward.

One of the first major hurdles to producing the event was getting the tenting from concept to budget to finalization and the gang at Event-Quip was extremely professional and worked with us as a true partner. Alan Pavlik, you are the man; never a train wreck when your team is on the job! Many on the production team wondered why a tent was so expensive until they saw the dozens of 3000 pound concrete weights trucked in and meticulously positioned for a whole day of set up on the Wednesday prior to NYE Saturday. 
Pitchin' a half acre tent ain't easy, unless you are Event-Quip!

3500 Guests need lots of lubricant to ring in the New Year!
Many other challenges and decisions were hashed out in  a fairly democratic and collaborative fashion. How much vodka? What kind? How much Brugal rum (yum)? How many BTUs of heat would be needed, based on the unexpected warmth? What menu items should each restaurant produce? How much would people really eat at an event where everybody seems determined to drink their money's worth? How big should the main bar be? Where do we get lounge furniture at our budgeted amount? How did we decide all this stuff? Lots of experience. A decent amount of research. Twice weekly meetings. Compromise, compromise, compromise. Many thanks to our first year sponsors: Red Bull, Svedka Vodka, Origlio Beverages, and my favorite Brugal Rum. It's tough in this economic climate to step up and commit to sponsoring a first year event, and these market leaders reaped great benefits from their involvement.
Steanmroller Picnic and Jewelz Dancers

The paying "talent" was as impressive as the paid talent!
The entertainment was stellar: from all the DJs who played in each of the restaurants and the tent, to Steamroller Picnic, the headliner to the dancers from Jewelz who added a sultry edge to the evening. One beef I often have with NYE parties is not getting the countdown right. We had a pre-arranged solution for that, we followed Dick Clark's Time Square Ball on the Piazza's huge video screen, 7-6-5-4-3-2-1 Happy New Year!!!                                                   

From sliders and fries to sushi and champagne. 
Soon it was time for clean up and recap of what we did right and wrong to better plan for next year's bigger and better NYE at The Piazza. As most who know me are aware, I don't do something like this for one shot only. A good deal of my motivation for this event was to build for the future, not just NYE and large ticketed events, but to help show off the Piazza as a venue for private corporate, social and fundraising events. That is a major reason why I am writing this blog today. If you are an event planner, and you want to bring your clients something new and VERY special, call, text, email, or Facebook me. I can help you make your next major event happen at The Piazza, in the heart of Northern Liberties the hippest neighborhood in Philly.

Thanks for reading,
Harry