On September 12, 2020, Catering By Design celebrated it’s 30th Birthday!
Join us for a Q&A with Peter Loevy, Founder and President of CBD as he takes a look back at the last 3 decades.
When did you first get the idea to start Catering By Design?
A long- winded answer: I always knew that I would run my own business. As a young kid, I sold packets of seeds door to door (yes, that was a thing!) and my mother taped to a Band-Aid can how much for one packet (15 cents!) and so on. I had newspaper routes, a hot dog stand (The Great American Hot Dog Venture!) and ultimately started, after working in many restaurants, an off-prem catering company called Carriage Trade Catering. This is where I started learning how to cater since I really knew nothing. Proving this statement, I thought what a perfect combination it would be to have a gourmet shop and catering business. So, I bought a gourmet food market in a deal “that was too good to be true”. It was a brief and expensive stint that forced me to get a job. That fortunate disaster led me first to a corporate caterer then next to a high end off-premise caterer. Learning the two sides of the business was very helpful. More importantly, I discovered in myself a passion for design and how design integrated with cuisine. From whimsical to opulent, the use of floral, fabric and objet d’art captured my imagination. When I was working for the corporate caterer, I participated in an event for Governor Casey. It was held on one of the piers with many caterers. Across from me was a beautiful display with tables covered in hand pinned taffeta (yes, we all did that back then for every event. Crazy!). Their staff and food presentation looked so on point, sophisticated and professional. I knew that this was the style of company that I wanted to have. When I left to go out on my own, the concept ‘By Design’ resonated. How was I to know that everyone would hop on the By Design band wagon over the next 30 years?!
What was your original vision/mission for your company?
Our goal has always been to provide a personal boutique event experience individually crafted and designed for each specific client. Rather than catering “packages”, and telling the client what they can have, listening and sculpting each experience has been the most rewarding approach. Great cuisine with a breadth that spans the globe, presented with intentioned design and served with warmth and grace has been our hallmark. We have stayed true to this vision through the decades even while enjoying significant growth.
How did that vision/mission evolve over the years?
With growth, our infrastructure became larger allowing us to take on more business in a more organized fashion. This requires constant reinvestment in the company. Instituting catering software has been a game changer. It took everyone’s buy-in to make the move as well as making the necessary financial commitment to accomplish and maintain the program.
What has surprised you the most about the direction your business has gone over the years?
Catering can be profitable! For many years I viewed CBD as one of the most successful non-profits around. After making necessary changes a few years back its been encouraging for the whole team to see the results of their hard work.
Is there anything about CBD that has turned out exactly as you had originally hoped?
We have built the company that I vowed to become so many years ago (that company has been out of business now for close to ten years). There have been difficult times- none harder than now- but I am very proud for what we have accomplished.
Speaking of today’s challenges, how is Catering By Design faring during this pandemic?
It’s a struggle for all of us in our industry which is the hardest hit of all businesses. Government only now is differentiating the Events industry from restaurants and creating separate guidelines. I have been part of a Thursday call of many event professionals trying to move the ball forward to get us open again. Still, CBD has been more fortunate then some of my compadres. When COVID struck in March we became part of the Step Up To The Plate initiative to feed the food insecure. Since then, we have produced and delivered more than 100,000 meals. Though not profitable work, it’s gratifying to know that we have participated in helping so many others.
What have been the most unexpected obstacles CBD has had to overcome?
First there was 9/11 that hit business very hard then came the Great Recession. This pandemic surpasses all. Like other businesses, we have circled our wagons to weather the storm. Our core staff is intact and we are performing small COVID-responsible events. 2021 looks great! Our collective fingers are crossed!
How do you stay current with the ever-evolving industry?
We have an energetic creative team that shares in the creative process. No matter what the trend is, if you serve great food with warm caring service and make it pretty, people come back.
What brings you the most joy when it comes to CBD?
Having a team that has worked together for many years is the best part for me. We rely on and care about each other. The culture of CBD has always been that we help each other out. It’s a family, sometimes dysfunctional, but always working in the same direction. It wasn’t always that way. There was some pain to get to this point and required some personnel changes. We haven’t looked back since.
Knowing what you know now, what advice would you give to yourself 30 years ago?
You want to be a what?? A Caterer??? Probably the best prerequisite for pursuing this field is to have been dropped on your head at birth. But damn, if it’s in your blood it’s hopeless. I’ve made plenty of mistakes along the way and look forward to the new ones I’m about to make. There is no short cut. Experience is everything.
What are you most excited about looking towards the future?
I think one of the best things about Catering By Design is our ability to recreate ourselves when faced with adversity. Never more than now. We have been using the COVID set back to move ahead on renovating a new event facility, Clothier Hall in Wynnewood. The budget has doubled -shocker!- but it will be a beautiful venue situated on lovely grounds with plenty of parking. Seated capacity of 225. But wait, there’s more! A new trend in delivery food is ghost restaurants. Started in LA, these menus are delivery only by Doordash, GrubHub, etc. We will be launching DoHo, an asianish taqueria, by the end of October. A DoHo looks like a flour tortilla, but is made from bao bun dough. It’s supple, soft yet toothsome and is a great palette for Chef Roth’s fabulous fillings. I believe we have tasted every taco and bao bun in Philadelphia (and unfortunately, I look that way too) and our menu blows them all away. Meanwhile, I am working on changing our front room into a brick and mortar restaurant for DoHo if we can acquire a liquor license. I said I would never have a restaurant, but in the words of Kurt Vonnegut, “so it goes.”