Planning a gathering can lead to a checklist of to-do items. Whether it’s a corporate meeting for 50 or a wedding with 250 guests, food is a necessity that rises to the top of the list. Fortunately, the Fox Cities hosts a variety of restaurants offering catering options.
“I think it’s just the accessibility factor. It’s easier, they don’t have to worry about it,” says Desiree Geffers, co-owner of Freshii in Appleton, of why catering has become a booming business.
Doris Ng, owner of GingeRootz Asian Grille in Appleton, has found her clients respond to the convenience factor as well and noticed an uptick of her catering services within the last four years. She also notes it gives customers piece of mind when they can entrust a business to take on a portion of their event.
The ability to accommodate varied dietary restrictions also is a bonus. While each establishment has their own menu selections and timelines, Fox Cities residents have many options when it comes to cuisine.
Broken Tree Pizza
Keith Schreiner, owner of Broken Tree Pizza will bring his pizzeria to you. Schreiner started Broken Tree as a catering business 1 1/2 years before opening his brick and mortar restaurant in downtown Neenah.
“We started with catering because we thought it would be a good way to build a name for ourselves,” Schreiner shares. “Wood-fired pizza is best served and eaten as quickly as possible when it comes out of the oven.”
While Schreiner does have a catering menu, he is flexible on working with customers as long as their request is within reason. He has a brick-faced, wood-fired oven on a trailer that allows him to be mobile and stretch, top, and make pizzas onsite. The interactive experience offers visual appeal and has proved a great fit for corporate functions, parties and weddings — including rehearsal dinners, the meal following the ceremony and as a late-night snack.
“It’s like coming into our restaurant here, but could be in their backyard,” Schreiner adds.
After 27 years as a UPS driver, Deborah Wichman retired and traded in her delivery route for delivering food. She started Debé, a corporate catering business based in Neenah, seven years ago. In September 2015, Wichman opened Café Debé in Appleton.
“It was a hobby to start with,” Wichman shares. “I didn’t know where it would go. I was open to whatever would happen. … As it got bigger, I had to define it to make a go.”
Wichman makes and delivers box lunches, cold sandwich platters and full-service buffets. All sauces are made from scratch. And her breads and desserts are baked fresh daily.
“Some people know exactly what they want and some of my really good customers say, ‘I need hot or cold lunch for 50 people on Wednesday,” she says.
“We’re one of the few places that let you choose exactly what you want in the box lunch,” she adds. Her offerings also run the gamut from Mexican to Italian.
Cinder’s Charcoal Grill
For something meatier, Cinder’s Charcoal Grill brings the heat to their clients. Serving up beef brisket, pulled pork, ribs and of course, their famous steak sandwiches as well as other offerings, the restaurant has catered weddings, picnics and corporate events.
Cinder’s brings all the required equipment with them in a trailer and catering van, along with awnings when necessary.
“It’s just different. It’s different than some of the other caterers offer,” shares Kelly Matelski, catering specialist. “It’s boom, it’s on that bun and it’s down the line. … We do it right there and cook it in front of you.”
Matelski likes to have fun with decorating and coordinating her staff’s attire to the occasion. She adds that Cinder’s specialty is to go onsite and provide the same quality and charcoal flavor they’ve offered through catering for 15 years.
“We can do anything and everything with our catering,” says Geffers who notes Freshii has been doing a lot of business meetings and seminars for health care providers.
While there are a number of individual serving options such as salads, wraps, bowls and burritos, shareable fruit trays and vegetables with dip are available as well. Freshii also offers a Group Salad Bar that provides three “bases” from different types of greens and quinoa, two protein options, five toppings and three premium toppings from a number of items, and includes three dressings from 17 choices.
“You kind of create your own salad bar. That’s one of my favorite things to do,” Geffers shares, adding chocolate-covered almonds seem to be a requested snack item. “It’s nice to have that burrito and that little sweet treat after.”
GingeRootz Asian Grille
For something a bit unexpected, GingeRootz offers full-service or limited service catering with individual plated, classic buffet and family style options.
Family style is the most requested as it provides an interactive experience. “It’s that engagement that everybody is trying the dish together,” Ng notes.
While they have catered private events, the majority of their catering operations are corporate in nature. The restaurant began offering catering services seven to eight years ago due to requests from customers, says Ng, adding that two years ago a catering department was created and a van was purchased to accommodate the increase in business.
Often, GingeRootz’s customers don’t even look at the menu.
“A lot of customers generally put it in our hands,” Ng says. “More than 50 percent of the time they say, ‘You do something, you run it by us and we’ll OK it.” Customer favorites include Crystal Shrimp, General Tso’s Chicken and Crab Rangoons.
Heirloom Kitchen Co.
As the co-owner of Heirloom Kitchen Co. in Brillion, Tracy Darling prefers to use the goods of area farmers and growers on her menu. Because of this philosophy, she is able to control quality and buys smaller quantities more frequently.
“You get good at going, ‘OK, I have parsnips, what am I going to do with them?” Darling says. She makes her bread from scratch and also pickles, cans and freezes in-season produce to prolong what she has available.
Wedding and rehearsal dinners are the main catering events for Heirloom Kitchen Co., but they provide box lunches, picnics and corporate events as well.
“People are great at accepting suggestions and learning what’s possible,” Darling shares. “Food is a perfect tool. It sets the stage for a lot of good things to happen.”
Mojito’s Mexican Grill & Bar and Sangria’s Mexican Grill
For events needing a South of the Border flair, Sangria’s has been offering catering for seven years. More recently Mojito’s, Sangria’s sister restaurant, began catering operations as well.
“It was a natural transition because it was successful for Sangria’s,” shares Shirley Vazquez who owns the Appleton restaurants with her husband, Luis.
“We really try to find out what their event is about and build on that,” Vazquez explains. “Maybe people think it’s glorified delivery, but it should be a custom party event.”
Vazquez offers several options for catering. From a taco bar to à la carte items, entrées and desserts — even margaritas by the gallon.
Sally Peck describes the catering options Village Hearthstone offers as “a reflection of what you’ll see at the restaurant and still a reflection of who is throwing the party.”
“It could really be anything. It could be a wedding — to a family party,” shares Peck, director of fun and general manager of the Hilbert restaurant, of the events she has catered. “The focus has really been in the last two to three years where we’ve found a great need for it,” Peck says.
For now, Peck is seeing a more casual, down-to-earth approach to dining with more thought and heart put into it for weddings.
“These days, budget has changed a lot,” says Peck. “The budgets are different and the values are different. They (couples) don’t feel like they have to please everybody. … You’re spending a lot of money to throw a party for your closest friends and the food is important.”
What started as an opportunity to increase visibility, has grown into a profitable venture for WeatherVane Restaurant owners Pat and Julie DuFrane. The Menasha breakfast and lunch favorite has been offering catering for four years, seving both corporate and family events.
“I never wanted it to take away from the restaurant,” Pat says. “We could make it a full-time job if we wanted to, but we chose not to.”
The restaurant is currently open, but under renovation that is expected to be complete in early June.
“This expansion will be very good,” says Melanie, the DuFrane’s daughter and manager of the restaurant. “More room for more options. … I can’t wait.”
“We’re just really excited to get the ball rolling and see what the future holds on all of this,” Pat says.