Thursday, November 20, 2014

Reminiscences of Max & Me Catering. Part Three.

The previous two parts of my story are very good prep for this episode, either read them now, or after you read this post. Or don't. This post will mostly cover planning our participation in catering over 25,000 meals in the two week period before, during and after the Republican National Convention of 2000 that took place in Philadelphia, based at The First Union Center.
Headquarters of the Union Pacific Railroad. Their history is great stuff.

The first client we had for the RNC was the Union Pacific Railroad and by mid May or so most of the menus and pricing had been settled on and contracted. Max had actually been flown out to Omaha to UP headquarters to see the antique rail cars we would be serving on and meet many of the folks we would be interacting with ahead of time.

The Electric Factory. Republicans once stampeded here.

I'm not sure of the exact date, but our second client for the RNC came to us through our Electric Factory connection. Rob Jennings, who was the defacto "hip" event planner for younger Republicans, was planning two events at the Factory. One event was with Lynyrd Skynrd as the headliner, the other featured Blues Traveler. The special event person for the Factory, Drew Pompilio, referred Rob to Max & Me for his catering needs and I was nominated to be the client contact and planner. We developed what Rob referred to as a "late night stoner" menu, with a VIP area for both. I believe both events were for about 1500 people each, and since they both started after the convention sessions (11pm), it wasn't yet becoming a situation where we had to assess whether we could pull it off or not, and since we were the in-house caterer for the Factory, we had to take the business anyway.
Veterans Stadium, The Spectrum and First Union Center all in a row, top to bottom.
Just to the right of the FUC is a huge parking lot where we would be set up for the RNC.

All the Union Pacific work was breakfast, lunch and pre-session, which would be over by 7pm. This is fairly constant when you cater for the political conventions. Unlike corporate and association conventions which almost always take place during business hours with parties at night, the RNCs and DNCs hold their sessions during prime time (TV's) and the parties are pre and post those time frames. From catering management standpoint it becomes very interesting to see how many guests you actually get for your events as there are dozens of others all over town, happening at the same time, vying for the same political heavyweights that your party is promoting. We found that consumption is way below what a typical party would have with the same guest count as many are hitting 5 to 10 events and may only have a bite and a quick drink at each stop. Kind of getting ahead of myself here as I'm still covering the planning stages of the RNC for Max & Me.
Tom and Dani Delay. They were great to work with, very professional.

The next client for the RNC came through Rob Jennings. He liked working with us and felt our menus and pricing were fair, so he referred to us one of his main clients, a man by the name of Tom Delay. Yes, that Tom Delay. The event planner for House Majority Leader Delay was his daughter Dani. She had been planning to use Ridgewells, the largest caterer in DC for all their events, but the pricing was astronomical (or so I heard). The next step was for me to give Dani menu proposals for 5 different events, the opening night party for the Texas Delegation to be held at The Curtis Center and 4 nights in a row at a special tent that would be erected in the same lot that the Union Pacific trains would be parked adjacent to the First Union Center, where Lincoln Financial Field now stands. So now we come to the point where we (Max, Jon and myself) would start evaluating whether we could handle all this business. A major factor that convinced us to proceed was that the Delay events were in the same location as the Union Pacific events and that we could use the same tent and equipment for all jobs. Also, since deliveries would be an issue and heavily influenced by last minute Secret Service dictates, we had no extra stops to add by taking on this client. In addition, the money was really good. The Texas delegation event was for over 1000 guests and each of the 4 nights at the convention were around 700 guests.
FU Center as the tents were going up for the RNC 2000, our crew feeding area was in a
small tent directly below the Comcast sign on the building. This picture was taken
close to where our encampent was. 
The next client(s) that we decided to take on, came via Jon and his stellar reputation for crew catering and especially feeding the members of IATSE, the stage worker's union. The clients were the producer of the Convention show itself, who's name escapes me, my remaining files, and my Google search; and the other client was Comcast, who was producing the TV feed of the event. This catering contract actually started two weeks before the Convention and lasted until one week after the Convention. It actually gave us a leg up on starting for the huge days of catering that were to come as we got to known the access points early and we were able to befriend the gatekeepers and all the many security folks from Secret Service to Capitol Police to local law enforcement and private security. The layout of our encampment for servicing the Union Pacific Trains and the Tom DeLay tent and train was right next to the main entry point for access to the First Union Center that not only was where all attendees had to pass security, but was also where our fleet of golf carts and our 'Gator" would have to pass dozens of times a day to service the crew feeding. Pre-convention most of the meals where served inside the FU Center, but as time got closer to opening and the meal numbers grew to 200+ for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night meal, the powers that were, decided to put up a crew feeding tent on the walkway on the north side of the building, which made our job much easier.
One of the Union Pacific Trains on site. Shows proximity to FU Center

There actually was one more client that we bid on a number of events for but only ended up getting one, which was the state of Utah's boat party in the Sunday night opening 50 state boat regatta on the Delaware river. So, the stage was set, we had done an exhaustive job in advancing the entire schedule of events. We planned to utilize our kitchens in Gardenville, at the E-Centre in Camden and our kitchen tent on-site to prep and finish the food. We rented two large trailers to park on-site, one refrigerated, one for dry storage. The biggest task was to round up enough staff to work all the events and we spent the prior two months getting commitments from folks who worked for other catering companies and restaurants that were slow that time of year. One advantage of catering the largest political events are that the conventions (August) and the inaugurals (January) are at slow times for the hospitality industry in many areas and thus part time/seasonal staff availability is highest. Many of the folks we hired for RNC would go on to be key employees in the years to come.
Two of our top chefs that started with us that summer. Bruce Migden and
Sunny Sampson. Bruce still works with us sometimes. Where are you Sunny?

A final phone call I received before the Convention, I believe it was on the Friday, came from a consultant to the Bush Campaign. He had been given our information by the folks at Union Pacific Railroad. Their experience with us so far had led them to recommend us for the most high profile important job of the whole Convention time frame. They wanted us to cater high end meals and bar service for the Campaign Train which would be leaving from Pittsburgh on Friday, the day after the Convention ended and traveling through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and ending up in St. Louis Missouri on Sunday. We would have to bid on 4 meals over 3 days and figure out how to get everything on the train before leaving Pittsburg. So in the midst of all of our last minute preparations, now we had to first decide if we could do it, then decide if we wanted to do it, then bid on it and figure out how the hell to do it! As Max, Jon and I discussed this, the viewpoint changed from "how can we do this?" to "how can we NOT do this?" Wow, this would be the real big time, on a national stage...

Thanks for reading. I'll try and get the next post done real soon.

1 comment:

  1. Nice job in covering the excitement of the scene!