Two local caterers merge, set sights on D.C. market

November 14, 1990|By Cindy Harper-Evans

Two well-known local caterers said they will merge today to address the need for a large off-premises caterer in Baltimore, capture a portion of the Washington market and offer some of the popular features catering companies in larger cities do.

Together, The Catering People, founded 10 years ago by Michael and Ansela Dopkin, and Classic Catering, started in 1987 by Gail and Lenny Kaplan, will have annual sales of more than $5 million and more than 200 employees, making the new company one of the largest off-premises caterers in Maryland. All employees will be retained, the principals said.

The new company, The Classic Catering People, will be based in The Catering People's year-old commissary in Owings Mills. Although the merger is effective immediately, operations will not be consolidated until January, said Mr. Kaplan, chief executive officer of the new company.

"We recognized that to truly become more global we needed a larger resource to move forward," Mr. Kaplan said in explaining why the companies decided on the merger.

Competition among off-premises caterers is growing, and restaurants have begun getting into the business, said Marcia Harris, executive director of the Maryland Restaurant Association, which recently started a separate unit for the off-premises catering trade.

The Kaplans and the Dopkins said that as separate companies, they often found themselves in bidding wars against each other for area business. Combined, The Classic Catering People's corporate clients include the Rouse Co., the Johns Hopkins Hospital, the Walters Art Gallery, Legg Mason, T. Rowe Price, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and Baltimore Gas and Electric Co. The company also provides catering for other social events.

The size of The Classic Catering People will allow it to provide services for large conventions and groups, Mr. Kaplan said.

"We want to be able to compete with Washington caterers as well and expand into York, Pa.," Mr. Kaplan said, noting that the closing of the Bethesda-based Ridgewell's Catering's commissary in Philadelphia also offers an opportunity.

Plans for the merged operation include adding about 75 full- and part-time employees within the next year, increasing audio-visual and decoration capacity, starting a rental operation for tables, chairs and linens, and opening a tasting room for clients.

"We are looking to Philadelphia and New York caterers as our models" for growth, said Ms. Kaplan, whose father founded the popular Pimlico Restaurant on Reisterstown Road and is marketing director of the new company.

The Kaplans also own the year-old Polo Grill, a 150-seat restaurant in The Inn at the Colonnade across the street from the Hopkins' Homewood campus.

"Today, this is production; this is show business," said Mr. Dopkin, vice president of finance at the new company. "Everyone can give you food, and everyone can give you service. It's presentation that makes the difference."

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