After trading her nursing scrubs for an apron, Sandy Korem decided to throw her chef’s hat into the catering ring. She never dreamed it would become the success it is today.
“I decided we wanted to be a daily necessity,” Korem said.
Twenty-five years later, Korem’s company, the Festive Kitchen, has branched from solely catering to food manufacturing and two food shops. For 13 years, one of those shops has resided in Snider Plaza.
With a legacy that has lasted a quarter century, Korem has a lot of experience and advice for being a favored caterer. This success helped her launch the Catering Coach, an elite coaching group that guides caterers and restaurateurs to take their business to the next level.
In order to remain in high demand, Korem says her company makes the service worth the price. That includes set-up, food preparation, and leaving the venue cleaner than when they arrived.
“A sign of a good caterer … you’re invisible,” Korem advised.
To accomplish this, Korem’s staff has been set up in garages, laundry rooms, and even restrooms.
Then there’s the challenge of meeting the finicky needs of clients, despite the peculiarity of the request.
“A lot of people don’t like their house to smell like food at all, so they won’t let you cook at their house,” Korem said. “You have to make preparations so the smell isn’t in the house.”
Korem recalled one particular event when the client refused to allow the kitchen lights to be turned on, even while Korem’s staff was cooking.
“We’ve been asked to walk dogs, clean the dead bird off the patio, even move furniture out of the house,” said Jodi DeLay, the Festive Kitchen’s senior catering producer.
Korem and DeLay agreed that those looking for a good catering company should look at the skills of the staff. With 38 full time employees and 20 part time wait staff, unless requested, Korem prefers not to hire a service.
From burning miniature Christmas trees floating in pools to water mains not working, Korem has seen her share of mishaps — necessitating the need to bring a fire extinguisher to each event.
DeLay recalled an instance where the staff could smell something burning in a house packed with 100 people. After searching the house, a staff member noticed the back of someone’s hair had caught on fire from a votive lit in one of the bathrooms.
The company’s motto “Don’t panic … punt,” is painted on the wall of one of its production kitchens, serving as a reminder that it doesn’t matter if a crisis is going on, guests will arrive no matter what.
Being a self-taught cook, Korem devoured food magazines and food shows, looking for the latest trends. Over the years, she has seen many changes in food tastes, but one quality has remained in all goods her company serves.
“Our food is recognizable gourmet,” Korem said. “We don’t serve anything someone would look at a plate and not know what it is.”
Korem often finds customers want a sense of consistency, as well.
“If we were to take certain foods off of our menu, there would be mutiny,” Korem said. “So we just change them a little here and there to keep things fresh.”