Catering To Your Company's Growth With A Second Biz - January 7, 2005
With a name like Art of Eating Catering, most people wouldn't guess that the Amagansett company did anything more than, well, catering.
Yet for the past 16 years, the company has also offered event-planning services, scoring major coups with clients such as movie stars Alec Baldwin and Christie Brinkley, and Southampton College. Art of Eating orchestrated the college's "All for the Sea" fund-raiser concerts with top performers like Bob Dylan and Tom Petty, raising more than $10 million since 1992 for the event.
Owner John Kowalenko has managed VIP tents, coordinated the efforts of celebrity chefs, restaurant owners, breweries and wineries.
But because the company's name highlighted only one portion of his business, anyone who didn't know the man behind the event automatically assumed that Art of Eating was simply an upscale caterer to the Hamptons set.
Friends told him that he needed to brand himself better.
That's why in April, Kowalenko launched Hampton Event Management, a new company whose name, Kowalenko hopes, will position him in front of the right decision makers.
Armed with the resources of a dedicated company, Kowalenko finds he can "better delineate resources that show we do things that a normal caterer wouldn't do, like creating themes, finding a location and entertainment," he said. It's easier now, he said, to show that his focus is no longer simply food.
To date, the re-branding has landed him a gig at the 2004 U.S. Open in Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, where he coordinated meals and events for about 50 different corporations on behalf of The Hospitality Group, headquartered in Chicago, Kowalenko said. "The event was the biggest piece of business we ever had. It was in excess of a quarter-million dollars. For us, it was a very good piece of business."
He's currently working on an event for the 2006 Winter Olympics. And he's pursuing a fund-raising event for a hospital in Ireland.
"If I were just a caterer," he said, he wouldn't have access to such opportunities. But with the new company, he is better able to highlight his resources for handling the critical details, such as parking, transportation and food service. Hampton Event Management "reflects the reality of what [Kowalenko] does, and more important, what he wants to do. It positions him better in the market place," said Mitch Tobol, owner of Port Washington-based marketing firm, The Tobol Group. Tobol also teaches entrepreneurship at the Scott Skodnek Business Development Center at Hofstra University. Having two separate companies works especially well in this instance, Tobol said. "A one-stop-shop," he noted, "might indicate that you don't do anything well."
Kowalenko hopes to get mileage from his new company, literally. He's letting clients know that his services have expanded, and that he's there to help them - not just in the Hamptons, but also mid-Island, out of state, and even around the world. He's reaching out to the Island's corporate sector, and hopes to handle their out-of-state events, too.
To support his efforts away from home, Kowalenko said he belongs to a host of professional associations nationally and internationally, including the International Special Event Society and the National Association of Catering Executives. Through these associations members can provide Kowalenko with resources he needs, such as a reliable electrician, even at the last minute.
Professional associations offer another benefit - job leads, one of which includes the event at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Italy, Kowalenko said.
And through Hampton Event Management, Kowalenko hopes to bring some of his tried-and-true concepts to other venues. Take the All for the Sea concert event, for instance.
"Concerts at colleges are not big money makers," Kowalenko said. But VIP and reserved seating tents at $350 a ticket or more bump up the fundraising factor. Kowalenko said he's meeting with area colleges that want to attract donors.
Rep. Tim Bishop, D-Southampton, a former provost of Southampton College, thought the program would work well at other colleges. "John and his wife [chef and co-owner Cheryl Stair] are exceptionally skilled," Bishop said. Kowalenko has the "tact and personable skills" required to pull off such an event, including working with 45 to 50 personalities and menus and people donating services.
But even when concepts are duplicated, each event would have an identity all its own, Cohen suggested. "Unlike other planners, [Kowalenko] captures the spirit of the event of each client. No two parties are the same," said Melissa Cohn, owner of Manhattan Mortgage and an Art of Eating client.
Kowalenko estimated that he invested $40,000 launching the new business. The company shares the same building as Art of Eating, and employs three full-timers, while the older company employs 10. And with his established sister company, he already has a database of clients and leads.
Without the new company, Kowalenko said he would have kept his focus strictly on the catering side. Now that he's armed with his new resources, Kowalenko is ready to take on more.
"We have a history of successful events with CEOs and owners," he noted. "We're taking that to the next level."
© Hampton Event Management International