When thinking of wild wedding receptions, mournful funeral receptions, rowdy birthday parties, or any other type of celebration, one thing comes to mind that they all have in common; food. Those who conduct celebrations such as these typically hire a catering business to provide food for a number of occasions. That’s where Kathryn’s Katering comes into play.
Located at the intersection of route 222/73 underneath Redner’s Quick Mart in Blandon, Kathryn’s Katering has been around for about twenty-one years and is rapidly growing. Not only do they cater to your average wedding needs, but Kathryn’s Katering also partners up with the Reading Phillies Stadium. At every home game, Kathryn’s serves
food at the Deck, the Picnic, and the Pool, which are all major all-you-can-eat buffet locations fans can pay to get into. Kathryn Hess, the former owner of the catering business, has recently moved to sunny Florida to utilize all her time bathing in the sun and enjoying her retirement. Taking her place is Penny Tracy, her youngest daughter, whom I got the pleasure to talk to about the family business. Her and I chatted on the phone to set up a time that would be easy for both of us to squeeze into our busy schedules of work, school, and kids. Eventually, we agreed on meeting at her house located just down the street from mine in Blandon.
As I drove in to her driveway, I noticed she had just arrived home not long before me because her car was in her recently opened garage, but she was just exiting her car. She informed me that she had just taken her youngest daughter, Whitney, to a volleyball tournament and apologized for how her house currently looked. Her and I chucked as we entered her house. A huge middle-aged golden retriever named Chewbacca greeted me at the door with licks and a wagging tail that never quit. After I had taken enough of Chewy’s never-ending love, I noticed a sign above her cabinets in the kitchen reading: “Sorry, my house was clean last week.” That, I thought, was a perfect sign to represent a woman like Penny. It was witty, but at the same time, true. Her life is filled with the chaos of being a wife, mother, and business owner. From what I could tell, she does not have much time to be home, but she tries her hardest for her family. Although her house was a little unorganized, it felt like a home. As she straightened up the kitchen table for us both to sit down and chat, she offered me a drink. “Water, please,” I asked as she browsed through her refrigerator. After we both settled down in our seats with our ice-cold beverages, I began the interview.
How It All Began
As any other business, Kathryn’s Katering took time in order for it to blossom like it has. Getting established and making a name itself took lots of hard work. Kathryn and her husband put all their effort into caring for their catering business. Eventually, it was passed on to Penny, having to learn everything there is to know about running a business.
“When did Kathryn’s Katering open for business?”
“She started it about…. Well, I’ve been married for twenty years, so, about twenty-one years ago. We started from the restaurant. We had owned a restaurant ,which is currently Leesport Family Restaurant on route 61. Back when we owned it, it was called Hess’ Restaurant and the catering business stemmed from that.”
Wanting to know more I asked, “Why did your parents start the restaurant?”
“The reason that we started the restaurant was because, years ago,my dad had lost his job and my mom was working for my uncle down in Pottstown and they had an opportunity to run a restaurant.”
“Why did your parents decide to go from the restaurant to the catering business?”
“Because it was something…different”, she chuckled. She then added, “I mean, we did catering while we had the restaurant. We would go to different businesses and stuff. So, when we sold the restaurant, we just decided to go right into catering.”
“How did you end up underneath Redner’s Quick Mart?”
“Russell Miller, the guy who used to own the banquet hall we do now sold his restaurant two years before we sold ours and we knew he had the back room still. He still owns the whole building yet. He’s my landlord.”
“How were you able to get your name out to the community?”
“Word of mouth. We do have business cards, but it was mostly word of mouth. We actually did a job for WIOB.” Confused about whatWIOB was, she informed that it was a radio station. “We served at the ballpark, they served for what I think was Gary Allen. We did a couple concerts for them; Tracy Lawrence and Lone Star, and that’s how we got into the ballpark. Now, I do things for the schools like purchase an ad to be put in the Fleetwood High School yearbook, but other than that I don’t do any other major advertising other than the phonebook.”
“Did you ever plan on being involved in the family business?”
“No. I’ve actually been doing it since I was twelve years old,” she said trailing at the end with a laugh. “I actually was planning on never working in the food business after I graduated college, and yet here I am!” She laughed at the irony of the whole situation. “My brother and sister have degrees in food management and I’m the only one who does it.”
All About Catering
“What kind of food do you serve at Kathryn’s?”
“Pennsylvania Dutch food. Pennsylvania Dutch meatloaf, potpie, chicken. You know, that kind of stuff.”
Penny and her family have a huge Pennsylvania Dutch background. Her mother, Kathryn, was taught how to make Dutch food from her ancestors and decided
to pursue a career through her culture. What better place to make Pennsylvania Dutch food, right?
“How do you meet the needs of those who have allergies?”
“Usually, if they call and ask, we give them the ingredients we use. If we can make something to accommodate for their allergies, we will. We’ve already made plain chicken breast, for those who are gluten free. If we can help them, we will.”
“What kind of events do you cater for?”
“Obviously, we’ve done a million wedding receptions. We’ve done funerals, welcome home parties, bridal and baby showers. Funerals are actually a big business,” she said in a ‘who-would-have-thought’ tone.
“What kind of catering style to you prefer?”
“Buffet. Definitely buffet.”
In catering, there are two different types of catering styles; buffet and family. Buffet style is when the food prepared for an event is set up in a line. The caterers serve as much as the customers want while they walk through the line. Then, there is family style. Family style is when the caterers have to set up the prepared food in the kitchen venue they are located at. They then have to artfully arrange the food onto individual plates and carry them out to the customers. Once they are all finished eating, the caterers must clear the tables and wash all the dishes. I can tell why Penny prefers buffet style over family style.
“What do people take for granted about catering?”
“Well, they don’t realize how much is involved. If you call me up and say ‘I’m going to have a birthday party’ and I’m going to bring the food, most of the time I’ll think to myself, ‘Wow, I didn’t think it would take me this long to do whatever I’m doing. It’s more about measurements and you have to have more than you think you’ll need.
“Have you ever had an incident where you didn’t have enough food?”
“The only times we’ve ever run out of food is when we have more people than we’re supposed to. One time, we catered a sit-down meal. Early on when we first started, we did a family style and they told us 200 people but actually had 300. We were scrounging. But for the most part we’re right on the money or have more than we should. People try to get in more people than they should. We do have a reputation that we do have a lot of food left over, so sometimes people try not to order as much. Sometimes at weddings when cold food is a popular thing to serve such as cold cuts, we try to push to people that we only have enough for the number of guests they told us because if all we have is cold food, guests tend to take more.
“What is your favorite thing about Kathryn’s Katering?”
Immediately, she responded, “The people.” Penny is a woman who has a relationship with every one of her co-workers. All members of the Kathryn’s Katering family are a close-knit group, which is why business is booming for them. That type of relationship within an organization is the perfect recipe for success.
By: Melinda Gotzy