Catering firms ready for any swing in the economy

One on one

December 10, 1990

One on One is a weekly feature offering excerpts of interviews conducted by The Evening Sun with newsworthy business leaders. Lenny Kaplan is the chief executive officer of Classic Catering People, which has merged with The Catering People.

Q.With the economy going through a slow down, why choose now to merge the two catering enterprises, Classic Catering and The Catering People?

Neither one of our companies has really recognized or experienced the slowdown, and we developed the concept well before this became a truly apparent direction for the economy. We feel comfortable that even with a slowdown in the economy, the combining of our resources will allow us to combat any downturn in the economy as well as be ready and prepared for the upswing when that occurs.

Q. What type of growth do you expect from this merger?

We're hoping to continue at the present growth of Classic Catering, which was approximately 30 percent for each of the years that we've been in business. If we can sustain that kind of growth, we should be able to reach about $8 or $9 million in about 4 years.

Q. Is that in sales or profit?

A. In gross sales. It should only be in profit!

Q. When were both businesses started?

Our company was formed after we, my wife and I, left the Pimlico organization, and that was 1987, in October. The Catering People began approximately 10 years ago, started by Ansela Dopkin and her husband.

Q. How many jobs will the joint venture create?

If we grow as we hope to grow, we should be able to add approximately 8 to 10 full-time positions each year. At the present time, we employ about 150 to 200 people at various times depending upon the time of the year.

Who are your major clients?

We have a variety of the best-known corporate and non-profit organizations in the area . . . the Rouse Co., Johns Hopkins, the state of Maryland, the city of Baltimore, the C&P Telephone Co., Black and Decker, United Iron and Metal, Franklin Square, Maryland National Bank and Signet. I know I've missed a good 50 or 60 but that's the kind of broad range that we have in the community. We have non-profits such as Cystic Fibrosis and Kidney Foundation, the Baltimore Symphony, the opera company, etc.

Q. How do you market your services?

We do some print. Primarily it's word of mouth that's carried us for the first three years of our new existence. We certainly think that the word-of-mouth concept or process will continue to allow us to grow. We are also aware that the Washington market, if and when we enter that arena, will require print, some marketing, merchandising. We think we will be prepared for that. Yes, we will have to do some extended advertising. We're not certain what form that will take yet . . .

Q. When will the operations be consolidated?

Some time in the first two weeks of January. I've got to get through the December season first.

Do you expect other side businesses to grow from the merger?

A. We'll see what happens. Our ears and eyes are open to everything. We are constantly looking for more locations in which to cater that are exclusively ours. It's almost a definite commitment to open up the cafe at the Walters Art Gallery which will give us greater exposure in the market place. It will let people be aware of who we are, the kind of food that we serve, our attention to detail, etc. And that will also give us an opportunity to do some private events at the Walters in our space and as those kinds of situations develop, we'll be available to talk.

What advantage do off-premises caterers have over restaurants, which have gone into the catering business, and are more established since people tend to know more about them and obviously have tasted the food and at least know what they're getting?

Well, we have a restaurant too which works very well for us . . . Also restaurants are not large enough usually to take care of the large social events, weddings, rites of passage, etc. The corporate marketplace is in love with the wonderful facilities that Baltimore has to offer such as the [ational] Aquarium, the museums . . . the Peabody Library. And you need an off-premise catering company to deal with that. Now that can be a restaurant who can pick up and pack and load its own truck and become an off-premise caterer overnight. There's no magic to it except the magic is doing it well, doing consistently well, with the right, appropriate commitment to quality and having the staff and personnel to provide the service. So, that's probably why not a whole lot of folks get involved in off-premise catering.

What major changes have taken place in the catering business in the last ten years?

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