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...


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