A lot of catering companies make great food, and they consider that enough. Footers Catering in Denver, Colorado tries to do more than just feed people. By providing a unique presentation and venturing outside of the box, Footers helps turn an event into a memorable experience. Footers Catering will help clients with everything they need for an event, including food, floral arrangements, valets, DJs and even the dinnerware, tables and chairs.
To Jimmy and Anthony Lambatos, the father-son team that runs Footers, the word “catering” means much more than providing platters of hors d’oeuvres or sandwiches. Jimmy learned that a long time ago. “There is this huge gap between what catering is all about to us and what catering is all about to so many restaurants and fast food chains that say they cater,” Jimmy says. “To me, it’s always been like a circus almost. We’re the first ones to get [to an event]. We’re the last ones to leave. We set it up and break it down and move on to the next show.”
“We’re not just caterers,” Jimmy says. “We’re creating events.” Anthony believes that this is what differentiates Footers from other caterers. “Our coordinators can coordinate entertainment,” he says. Footers has full-time event planners on staff. In fact, two of the coordinators at Footers are known jokingly as the “Footers Brides.” They came in for tastings when they were choosing a caterer for their own weddings, and decided they wanted to join the team.
“There’s a lot of pride in working for something that your family has built.”
For Jimmy and Anthony, catering is truly an art form. “We’ve figured out how to embellish buffets,” Jimmy says. “There’s a creative side to catering that has always intrigued me.” When he founded Footer’s in the mid 1980s, a unique, artistic buffet might have consisted of chafing dishes and platters accompanied by ornate decorative garnishes. Now that times have changed, presentation is more important than ever, and caterers have to think outside of the box – and outside of the chafing dish.
That’s where Anthony’s fresh perspective comes into play. His goal is not to become the biggest caterer company in Denver, but rather to be seen as the best, through high-quality food and innovation. With that goal in mind, he has helped Footers to change with the times while still maintaining a high standard of presentation. “Our catering company, under Anthony’s direction, is going completely away from using the traditional equipment that caterers use, i.e. chafing dishes,” Jimmy says. Instead of the classic chafers and serving trays, Footers now uses more interesting pieces, like marble stones for keeping food hot, or martini glasses for serving personal-sized hors d’oeuvres. “We’re finding different vessels for food,” Jimmy says.
Although Footers is building its reputation as a caterer that offers more than just food, the taste of a dish is still what hooks potential clients. Tastings are an integral part of any catering business. Jimmy, who grew up on the east coast where caterers usually charge for tastings, is now committed to offering free tastings to anyone who is planning an event. “We use tastings as a marketing tool to make sure people understand what they’re buying,” Jimmy says. “The tasting thing has always worked for us.”
“Food tastes best when it’s served as close as possible to the time when it’s prepared.”
Caterers generally prepare a tasting fresh in their kitchen. But usually the actual event is going to be held at a different location. If the caterer is subpar, the quality of the food that arrives at an event can be very different from what the client experienced at the tasting. To ensure that clients are happy, Footers prepares almost everything on site. “Food tastes best when it’s served as close as possible to the time when it’s prepared,” Anthony says. “So we try to do that for all of our events.” This means that with Footers, what you taste is what you get.
Jimmy developed his culinary skills in the restaurant industry. He became a caterer by working his way up in a restaurant to a management position. After several years working as a manager, he decided he wanted to own his own restaurant. He found a partner and together they opened an Italian eatery called “Footers Restaurant.” Soon thereafter, Jimmy decided to expand into the catering market.
When Footers Catering was first getting off the ground, it wasn’t so easy to find clients. So Jimmy developed a plan. “I figured one of my marketing campaigns would be, when I saw a pregnant lady walk into the restaurant, to find out when she was due, and then we’d deliver dinner in the hospital for her.” The more people that tried Footers food, the bigger the customer base became. Footers cuisine was so good that one meal at the right time could convert someone into a client for life. “Over the course of the years, we ended up getting the christenings, and the graduation parties, and the bar mitzvahs, and now 30 years later we’re getting the weddings.”
Around the same time that the catering business was beginning to blossom, Jimmy and his partner also founded a sub shop called Quiznos. (Sound familiar?) But when he and his partner decided to part ways in 1988, Jimmy took the catering business and his partner took the restaurants.
When it came time to decide how to split up the partnership, Jimmy wanted to pursue catering, not only because the catering company had a big upcoming contract with the International Golf Tournament, but also because of the many advantages of running a catering business over a restaurant. “With a catering company, you know how many people are coming to the party, and how much to prepare.” Those known factors make it easier to control overhead costs.
Jimmy also enjoyed the social aspects of catering. He is a gregarious and energetic character who would be unlikely to turn down the opportunity to mingle with the crowd. He was always the face and figurehead for the business, and enjoyed the personal relationship between caterers, their clients and the guests.
“I learned a long time ago that you’re going to meet the same people on the way up the ladder as on the way down.”
Although he chose catering as his main career, Jimmy never lost interest in the restaurant business. For years he has worked as a consultant for Quiznos, helping the chain develop recipes. In fact, in 2003 he was in a Quiznos commercial
that aired during the Super Bowl. Strangers in the streets would recognize him as “that guy on TV without any pants.”
People often ask Jimmy if he regrets getting out of the Quiznos franchise before it exploded into a national chain. The answer is complex. Sure, he wouldn’t have minded having a chunk of that billion-dollar chain, but he is not the kind of person who lets it bring him down. “I’m not bitter about anything,” he says. “I learned a long time ago that you’re going to meet the same people on the way up the ladder as on the way down.”
Jimmy continues, unfazed, and is still involved in running restaurants. In fact, in 2007, after more than 20 years of catering, he opened his own fine dining restaurant – Baur’s – in the heart of Denver. He now spends most of his time managing it, and has given the catering reigns to his son, Anthony, who has quickly learned that running the family business has its ups and downs. “In catering, we do get that one consistent thing where we know how many people we’re serving and what they’re going to be eating that night,” Anthony says. “[But] we’re always ready for something to go wrong that is outside of our control.” The many things that could go wrong include weather, traffic, power outages or difficulties setting up the temporary kitchen.
Despite those variables, Anthony is glad to be continuing on his father’s legacy.
“I grew up saying I never wanted to work in the [family] business.” Yet after earning a degree in business and exploring his options, Anthony decided to team up with his father. “I think what motivates me is the opportunity to really shape how the business goes, and take something that he’s built and try to make it even better,” he says. “[T]here’s a lot of pride in working for something that your family has built.”
Jimmy and Anthony have an interesting dynamic. When it comes to business matters, they show very few signs of the stereotypical father-son bickering. As they talk, Anthony politely defers to Jimmy in all matters related to the history of Footers or running the restaurant, and Jimmy allows Anthony to discuss future business goals for the catering company. While they are two very different people, they have one important thing in common: career choice.
Anthony realized that growing up in the catering business gave him a head start. Over the years, he has absorbed much of his father’s knowledge. “I think I didn’t really have that appreciation [for how well I knew the business] until I saw what else was out there. You kind of take that for granted when you haven’t really seen a whole lot of other things.”
To Jimmy, who is hoping to retire some time in the next decade, Anthony’s decision to take over the catering company was opportune. “[It’s a relief,] knowing that I have somebody with another set of eyes looking over an operation that I built for 30 years, and knowing that it’s being well taken care of.”
Anthony loves trying to build the business, but he likes to balance that by taking days off to go skiing, travel and even coach a swim team in the summer. Jimmy, on the other hand, tends to spend his free time expanding his knowledge of the industry – whether by exploring wineries in Italy to improve his restaurant’s wine list, or simply doing some flower arranging, which is one of his favorite pastimes. “This is what he’s passionate about,” Anthony says. “This is what he loves. He is in his element when he’s catering, or at the restaurant.”
Although they each have their own strengths and goals, father and son have been able to work together to build a lasting concept. It seems that for both Jimmy and Anthony, Footer’s Catering has become something more than a paycheck or even a passion. It has become the means to a different kind of father-son relationship – a unique mutual respect that could only be fostered in a family business.