For Paul Pellegrino, going into the catering business was a logical step. Before he became a caterer, he was an executive chef for several hotels in the Cayman Islands and US Virgin Islands. While he and his wife enjoyed living on the islands, their tropical existence fell short of being a paradise when their daughter became of school age, and there were no good schools on the islands for her to attend.
When Paul and his wife began to explore possibilities for relocation, Fort Collins stood out as an ideal place to raise their daughter. However, finding work as an executive chef in a college town like Fort Collins was difficult, and Paul was considered overqualified for most of the positions he applied for. That is when he and his wife decided to purchase All Occasions Catering from a friend of his brother. Because he had experience in the hospitality industry, moving into the catering business made sense and involved less risk than opening a restaurant. “Restaurants have an uncertainty of guests per day,” he says, “With catering you know how many people you’re going to feed and at what cost.”
“Restaurants have an uncertainty of guests per day. With catering, you know how many people you’re going to feed and at what cost.”
Since he purchased the business in 1996, Paul has dedicated himself to making All Occasions Catering one of the premier catering options in Fort Collins. As the name of his business suggests, one of the main draws of his services is versatility. He can cater a small corporate lunch, a large-scale fundraiser or an extravagant wedding, for free or for profit. In the summer of 2009 alone, he catered more than 60 weddings as well as a plethora of corporate meetings and luncheons. The largest event he has catered had about 3,000 attendees to feed, and he pulled it off without any major hitches. He employs his own wedding cake maker, and his wife assists with the event planning and design. They have unofficial partnerships with local rental companies, florists and design companies, so they can provide clients with everything needed to throw a successful event.
Paul and his wife and partner, Nenita
Paul makes a point to cater fundraising events for charity, and there are several fundraisers, such as the Alzheimer’s Association memory walk, that he caters every year. He believes that helping out the local charities will help to raise community awareness of the cause as well as promote his catering business. However, when new charities approach him about catering their fundraisers for free, it can be challenging to refuse. “I find it difficult to say no,” he says, “because all the causes are good, but there’s only so much I can do.” Because of his generous nature, Paul ends up donating a lot of time and money to charities. In 2008, the sum of his donations totaled $60,000, which was far above his annual charity budget.
In addition to his ability to cater a large diversity of events, Paul also brings a broad culinary knowledge to the table. “Coming from an Italian background to a tourist area [in the islands], I did learn a lot of international flavors and recipes,” he says. This diverse background allows Paul to tailor a catering menu to his clients’ desires, regardless of the type of food they want. If he does not have experience with a certain kind of food, he simply researches it and moves forward from there. He’s never really run into a situation where a client asks him for something he can’t do, although he can only go so far. For example, he has offered kosher catering in the past, “But it’s not that we’d have a rabbi in the kitchen blessing everything we make,” he says. “So there are limitations, but not many have held us back.”
Instead of his abilities, the client’s budget is usually the main limitation. That is why Paul makes a point of showing his clients what is and is not feasible. “That requires trust and working together,” he says, “and educating the client along the way.” When it comes to weddings and other events that can incur large expenses, Paul says, “We usually ask for a wish list and try to fulfill their wish list within the budget that they dictate to us. And if we can’t meet that budget, we state what it would cost to have this wish list come true. And at that point they either accept it, or we go into discussions together on what it is that they will accept and at what price we can do it for.” While Paul is the kind of guy who would like to make every paying client’s catering dreams come true, he also recognizes that he must budget his time and money and charge a fair amount for his services, especially because he is so generous to charities.
One of Paul’s best traits is his desire to make things work for his clients. Sometimes, clients may want something that simply will not work within the limitations of their budget and event space. Paul is not afraid to give these clients advice. “Almost every event,” he says, “we offer a form of consultation to help them achieve [what they desire]… [But] some of [their wishes] might be cost-prohibitive.” When that happens, Paul and his wife try to make suggestions to make the catering more feasible for the client. Of course, sometimes clients are not receptive, and in these cases, Paul says, “The final choices are in their hands."
“[Catering] takes an extraordinary balance of science, math, financing, creativity, logistics and stamina.”
Aside from the rare moments of vacation time that he enjoys, Paul’s favorite part of the catering biz is facing a challenge. Every event is different, and sometimes there are obstacles in the way. “One time we had 1,000 people to feed with 10 days notice,” he says. Other common obstacles include catering to locations that are hard to get to and dealing with the unpredictable Colorado weather. Instead of allowing difficult circumstances to get in the way, All Occasions Catering shines by rising to the challenge. “The show must go on,” says Paul.
All Occasions Catering's well-stocked, private commercial kitchen
And “show” is truly the right word. Some of the most impressive aspects of All Occasions Catering are the elaborate displays that Paul creates. He is an expert at carving detailed fruit gardens and putting together a colorful dessert platter. He also has a stockpile of uniforms, platters and chafing dishes so that he can find the right match for the occasion. While he can quickly produce unique and creative displays for clients who need them, the amount of time and skillful work he spends on presentation depends on the event and the client’s budget. “There are times when great displays are not necessary as long as it’s functional, food qualities at the time of consumption are good and the quantities are appropriate,” he says.
Providing food for so many events every year can be tiring, and as Paul describes it, is something of a “trapped labor of love.” He has a passion for the culinary arts, but it is a tough industry. “It takes an extraordinary balance of science, math, financing, creativity, logistics and stamina,” he says. It is especially hard during the busy summer months and the holiday season. One of the most difficult challenges he faces is creating an annual budget for a company that has a largely seasonal cash flow. However, ultimately All Occasions Catering is primarily concerned with making its customers happy, and that makes it worth it to Paul. “I try to recognize that there is a reason that I’m doing what I’m doing,” he says. According to him, that reason is helping others, whether it is helping charities provide food at a fundraiser or helping a bride and groom’s wedding reception dreams come true.