By Janet Patton
At least once a week, Matt Falcone, owner of Bayou Bluegrass Catering, hosts a lunch inside Copper Roux off Broadway to give potential catering clients a look at his venue.
Among them, one sunny weekday, was Virginia Kerr Zoller. Afterward, she said that her family’s funeral home, Kerr Brothers, has decided to team up with Bayou Bluegrass to offer a new option to families — the celebration of life.
“What people want, for lack of a better term, is a party,” Zoller said. “They want a celebration. … In the next five year this will be very up and coming and we can offer them a ready-made venue. … We’re going to begin offering it this year. You can have a full service and then come here or just come here instead.”
Meanwhile, across town, Dupree Catering is packing up a corporate lunch of a salad bar, vegetables and entrees for 200.
“Our plans are to expand to corporations and we’re looking at contracting more for big companies,” said Azur chef Jeremy Ashby, who merged with Dupree Catering last year. “Right now we do lunch for Big Ass Fans five days a week and we want to do more of that.”
Downtown, Lexington Diner’s Ranada West-Riley often puts together breakfast and lunch for horse farm clients at the sales at Keeneland and Fasig-Tipton during the week and brunch for a drag performance on weekends.
A “catered event” used to mean a party or wedding but non-traditional business is booming, whether it’s a corporate cookout or dinner at one of the state’s premier bourbon distilleries.
You can see the growth in bricks and mortar, including venues for events in Lexington:
▪ West-Riley is opening a separate kitchen on Pasadena that she’s calling Creative Table Kitchen and Catering. It will handle her expanding catering business, as well as do chef’s table dinners and cooking classes.
▪ Azur’s Ashby bought into Dupree Catering, a name long known in the Bluegrass, to manage extra business. By combining forces, they’ve quadrupled annual volume, he said.
▪ Falcone renovated Copper Roux to give him a venue in addition to the Round Barn at the Red Mile. “I wish I’d done it years ago,” he said. He wants to be ready because a fellow caterer in Dallas told him the two biggest areas of growth are “same-sex marriages and end of life ceremonies.”
▪ Bluegrass Catering, owned by Jill Bakehorn and her mother, Judy, started multiple venues, including Barrel House in 2010 and Grand Reserve next door in 2013. In December they bought the rest of the warehouse on the Manchester Street site and moved their corporate kitchen there to give them more capacity.
▪ Selma Owens’ catering business recently moved from cramped space off Newtown Pike to the corner of Liberty Road and Henry Clay, where she also will be opening a cafe for lunch weekdays and takeaway treats.
▪ Cooper Vaughan had a catering business and kitchen for four years, but his business really took off when he and his partners opened The Apiary on Jefferson Street a year ago. “Now that we have a venue, brides are booking a year in advance,” Vaughan said.
Which proves that the mainstays of catering, parties and events, are far from dead. And one event, the 2015 Breeders’ Cup, meant a huge boom in business for many caterers.
“We had to turn away parties during the Breeders’ Cup and the holiday season,” Ashby said. “We did probably 40-50 cocktail parties the week of Christmas. … People come by and pick up hors d’oeurves and take home for party. Put them on your serving platters, and you’re done.”
The Apiary, a beautiful 125-seat venue created from a burned warehouse, has given his business a presence that draws attention, Vaughan said.
“The bread and butter for the venue has been weddings, rehearsals, corporate and private business,” Vaughan said. “From a catering standpoint, we’re very out of sight out of mind unless you need us. … Catering has always traditionally been in industrial parks.
“This totally flips that. … The venue has brought new customers. It puts you at the front lines of the search. If you’re just a caterer, you might hear from the bride two steps down the line, after they’ve found a venue or a wedding planner.”
Kellie Stoddart, co-owner of Seasons Catering, said that she and her husband, Michael, are giving thoughts to a venue.
“I’m seeing a lot of rustic looking facilities, that winery rustic look,” Stoddart said. “We could definitely use more space and have growth in our plan.”
West-Riley has growth planned, too.
“The catering business will probably surpass the diner — not this year, but the following. I can’t believe it,” she said. And down the road, more restaurants and projects are on the horizon for her.
“As far as a second location for the diner, I want to get my feet under me with this new business,” she said. “Catering is where the money is.”
Owens, who will open her cafe in late March, said that even traditional events today like to have more information touches, like a shrimp boil for 200 she recently catered.
“About 75 percent of my clients don’t do traditional wedding cakes anymore,” she said. They might have one for the bride and groom to cut but for their guests “they want assorted desserts or ice cream bars. Something fun.”