With St. Patrick’s Day 2012 now in the books, one local café and catering company is coming off of what is, traditionally, one of its biggest days of the year.
Culinary Creations, which is located at 434 Rt. 206 South in Hillsborough, typically hosts a weekend full of traditional Irish dishes that provide good reason to celebrate the holiday.
“We always put our little twist on everything, but we stay true to form,” Andrew Pantano, owner of Culinary Creations, said. “All of our holidays—Mardi Gras, St. Patrick’s Day—we make sure that we’re following restrictions and guidelines used back (when the holidays began). We want to find out what (the tradition) is and where it started.”
Culinary Creations has been honoring such traditions and providing high-quality food since 1994, when the café portion of the business first opened its doors. Pantano stated that he always had plans to develop a high-end catering operation, but first, he and his employees had to get their foot in the door.
“We did a lot of investigation on income levels and growth spurts and, as a start-up, we were just a small, deli-style café," Pantano said. "I came from a lot of high-end restaurants and wanted to get involved in catering, but we needed to start showing off the quality of what we do. I opened up the café to get the word out about the quality of the food and draw in the foot traffic so we could open up the catering end, which is the end that we opened up three years later next door.”
Pantano, who is a certified chef who attended the Culinary Institute of America, noted that Culinary Creations does not specialize in one specific type of food; rather, it has chefs that specialize in dishes from numerous different cultures.
“We don’t really have a category where we specialize. The thing about catering is that you really can’t specialize in something,” Pantano said. "If you do, you’re very limited in your clientele base. If we were to slimline and say ‘I want to do one specific style of food,’ it’s going to limit our clientele base.”
“We try to be everything we possibly can to everyone,” he continued.
Pantano also mentioned that his business has ridden the waves of the economy for the past 18 years, always being able to rely on the strong client base developed at its inception when times have been at their worst.
“We’ve been very lucky that, when we started, it was before the prime (of the economy), so we built a very solid clientele base. Of course, we were doing outrageous numbers like everyone was,” Pantano said. “When it started to come back down, we came back to our strong clientele base. We’re very happy that we have that clientele base, because some people didn’t, and when they came down, they came straight down.”
Developing that base, Pantano said, was a result of starting the business in a down economy similar to the one our nation has seen in recent years.
“I don’t think it’s a bad thing to start a business right now. If anything, it’s a good thing,” Pantano said. "It’s just like when we started; (the economy) wasn’t prime. Maybe it wasn’t as bad as it is now economically, but it was similar. People weren’t spending money left and right. That’s how you build a very slow, strong clientele base, and that’s what we push in everything what we do. Let’s build with word of mouth, slowly.”