About five years ago, Ed Kis and his family’s longtime catering company, Great Lakes Catering, received a special request. They were asked to create a stuffing made of mashed White Castle hamburgers to accompany their homemade turkey for a Thanksgiving party of about thirty guests at a home in Lake County, Indiana.
“There really weren’t a lot of White Castles near their home,” he explains, “and there were a lot of family members that loved White Castle, so they thought the kids would really get a kick out of it.”
It was the first and only time Great Lakes Catering made the specialty order in the combined 150-plus years of experience throughout the family. Well-known for their carving stations of pork tenderloin/cinnamon-apple sauce, prime rib/horseradish sour cream and turkey/cranberry relish during the holidays, the casual fast-food delicacy wasn’t exactly their first choice for pairing with the main entrée.
“Actually, it didn’t taste too bad,” Kis admits. “It was certainly the talk of the table and, of course, that’s what you want at a family gathering—talking and living in the moment.”
White Castle stuffing may not be the most mass-appealing of side dishes, but the message is clear—local caterers are available to meet your needs and, more importantly, allow you to sit back and relax as the invisible team behind the holidays does all the work.
Strack and Van Til boasts their famous chicken, but the fresh food stores are increasingly becoming a popular choice for catering. Frantic holiday party planners may choose from the twenty-four different deli party platters that feed between twenty and forty people. Platter choices include chicken wings, taco fiesta, sandwiches, seafood, meats, cheeses as well as fruit and vegetable assortments, to name a few.
Catering manager Brenda Wright says Strack’s platters make a delicious, hassle-free choice for any celebratory event. And with average prices around $30, the platters are light on the wallet. “We can accommodate any need you might have,” she says. “In today’s economy, people need to work to make a living for their families and we can be a big time saver for people.”
Kis echoes Wright’s sentiments. “Often at home parties, the host and hostess try to do so much, and by the end of the evening, they realize they didn’t enjoy themselves and didn’t talk to all the people.”
Strack’s cooked fresh-to-order packaged meals are another convenient, yummy option. The eight packaged lunch and dinner choices include combinations of: country style chicken; sides such as sausage and kraut, mashed potatoes and gravy, mostaccioli, and coleslaw; vegetables such as green beans, corn or garden salad; and bread and rolls with butter. The packages, priced $6.99 to $9.99 per person, come hot and ready to eat.
Lori Daly, a Strongbow veteran of thirteen years, suggests hosting a corporate holiday function at a co-worker’s home instead of the office for the cozy factor. And, if the holiday months are too hectic, mark your calendars for January instead. “December is, as far as catering, our biggest month,” she says. “A lot of people hold off until January when everything is a lot calmer and everyone doesn’t have to rush around.”
With a plethora of loyal clients coming back year after year for the turkey and more over the course of the company’s 72-year history, Daly believes reputation is the number one factor to consider when hiring a caterer. “Our clients always come back because they know everything is taken care of and they don’t have to think twice about it. You really have to trust the caterers, especially if they will be coming into your home and running the kitchen for the evening.”
Wishing to keep your guests in the dark about the hired help? Kis recommends adding your own finishing touches to the meal. Try adding spare pine branches from a fresh Christmas tree to a glass bowl filled with extra tree bulbs in the center of the dinner table. The accoutrements add a fresh scent for very little, if any, money.
Simply adding fresh herbs like basil or parsley to dishes of the catered meal will also fool your guests, Kris says. “Use your own imagination through garnish and dress up even the most common foods.” Dusting off the family heirlooms and combining mismatched china completes the personalized touch guests know the help can’t re-create. Or, so they think.
“If you don’t tell people you didn’t cook, they would never know,” Wright says with a laugh.
For those looking for a more traditional at-home holiday meal, caterers have it covered. Strack and Van Til offers complete prepared-from-scratch dinners at three different price ranges. Option one at $79.99 feeds eight people and includes turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and gravy, vegetable, cranberry sauce, dinner rolls and choice of pumpkin or apple pie. The $99.99 option adds appetizers into the mix, while the $149.99 option includes turkey and ham main entrees with all the trimmings. The homemade-like meals can be picked up at any of the sixteen stores regionwide or delivered throughout Northern Indiana and the Chicagoland area. They even come complete with heating instructions packed in the boxes, with attendant services for additional costs.
Wright has witnessed holiday catering grow over the past five years of her 25-plus years in the business, especially for two-income families. “We’ve become popular over the last few years for catering for people on a budget who want quality, top-of-the-line food and services at economical prices,” she says.
From start to finish, caterers handle more than just the food. Daly’s staff at Strongbow delivers the food/drink and necessary supplies (even table clothes and china), sets up, helps serve and even cleans up afterwards. They’ve handled on-premise and off-premise catering from small simple-order parties to large full-blown served catered events. Bartenders and chefs are also available by request. “We will come and just take over and do everything,” Daly says. “We run by the motto, ‘If you do go into someone’s home or office, it should be cleaner than when you got there.’”
Great Lakes Catering offers full-service event planning. Staff helps you design and prepare a menu and decorate if needed. Put together the perfect meal from different varieties of appetizers, salads, entrees, starches and desserts or take your pick between numerous choices of lunch or dinner packages. “We can do as much as you want or as little as you want,” Kis says. “You can groom each package to your party and work with your budget.”
Great Lakes Catering offers year-round services at homes, rental facilities and corporate settings from Chicago to South Bend and up into Southwest Michigan. Kis says he prefers to allow his employees to take the holidays off. However, pre-prepared dishes or full meals can be picked up or delivered prior to the holidays complete with heating instructions.
Local caterers have prepared and served to groups as small as twenty-five people to large events totaling in the thousands. “There is no group too small or too large for us,” Wright says. “We can accommodate any size group. Large groups do not scare us.”
Strack’s services are offered on all major holidays during the winter months, including Thanksgiving and Christmas. Pick-up and delivery of catered requests are available during regular store hours, including Christmas Eve until 6 p.m. Services, however, are not available at Strack stores on Christmas Day. In addition, bakery orders may be delivered in conjunction with deli party platters or packaged meals.
Whether you’re a party-thrower extraordinaire or you turn into a Scrooge at the thought of preparing even the daintiest of feasts—why not leave it to the pros? Backed by catering experts, you’ll be prepared for your next gathering in no time. Daly says, “Our job is to make you look good, not make us look good.”