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Coffee Talk
Business Observer Friday, Aug. 16, 2019 2 years ago

Culinary firm scores big win with rowing tournament

'It was a lot more than we thought it would be,' one executive says.

Staff and managers at Metz Culinary Management, from chefs to servers, have served meals to tens of thousands of hungry people over the past 25 years. The company owns restaurants including a Ruth’s Chris Steak House and 11 T.G.I. Friday’s in Pennsylvania and New Jersey and is also a large-scale caterer, with corporate clients and schools and colleges.

That deep experience led Metz to recently apply for one of its biggest project ever: food-service provider for the 2019 World Rowing Under 23 Championships, held in Sarasota County from July 21-28. Based in Northeast Pennsylvania with a new 15,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility in Sarasota for work in the Southeast, Metz beat out several companies for the project. “We went through a lot of monitoring and vetting,” Metz Sarasota General Manager Dan Thompson tells Coffee Talk. “It was a lot of background to get to the point where we were picked.”

The catering contract turned out to be a big win for Metz — not just in revenue but also in lessons learned in how to do high-volume, pressure-packed, fast-paced logistics. One big one: Even after fine-tuned, plans remain prepared to shift focus to unforeseen issues, with lots of staff ready to go. “We kept planning and planning and moving pieces around,” Thompson says, down to how to use the dozen ovens at the Sarasota facility and what meals each of the six chefs will be responsible for. “It was a complete new logistics model we came up with.”

Even then, Metz Culinary Management COO Greg Polk says, “It was a lot more than we thought it would be.”

That came into play early on when rowing teams, flying into Sarasota-Bradenton from all over the world, were stuck at the hotel the first night due to lightning at the rowing/racing venue, Nathan Benderson Park. Thompson’s team at Metz scrambled and at 10 p.m. was feeding teams at the hotels. “We got to bed at 1 a.m. that night,” Thompson says.

Other teams arrived early, primarily to get acclimated to Florida’s humid summers. That took more adjusting on the fly. Metz sent employees from its Northeast locations to help with the surge.

Another challenge: Young athletes, especially in a grueling sport like rowing, eat a lot – some 8,000 to 9,000 calories a day. Metz created a team of employees to handle different meals of the day, all with a focus on protein and energy, without forgoing taste. 

Even with all the moving pieces, the project was a success, both Metz executives say. Feedback from the teams was particularly positive, Thompson says, including a Russian team coach who complimented Metz for its high quantities of almond milk and almond butter. “Every project going forward will be easier than this one because of what we learned here,” Polk says.

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