Hello, this is Ann Jones, Eggwhites Special Event Catering Director of Marketing and Business Development. I am here to have a chat with chef and owner, Gary Lampner, in honor of our 25th anniversary. Pretty exciting stuff!!
Gary: Yes it is!! 25 years this October!
So tell me, what sets Eggwhites Special Event Catering apart from our competitors?
I think the main thing is that being owner and Executive Chef of the company has really allowed us to lead the pack with off-premise catering. A lot of our competitors and folks in the industry are not operating from the perspective of a chef. So, here at Eggwhites, everything has always been created and designed with a food-centric angle. I think that really gives us a leg up when creating programs that are unique and have the depth and profile that people are looking for.
Excellent, but you do offer services beyond food, beverage and staff.
Yes we do! Eggwhites Catering is a full-service special event provider; definitely the heart beat of what we do is food and beverage. That is the heart beat of what we do. However, we offer all of the peripheral services that go along with catering, hence the “special event catering” designation. We offer a full suite of services including everything from décor, design, and entertainment; just about anything you can think of. Naturally, it is very common that we provide all of the equipment required for an event ranging from tables, chairs, linens, china, glassware and silverware.
What are your client’s first concerns when you speak to a new client?
I really think that clients want to have a sense that they can trust the people they are working with, so we are very intent on creating a strong relationship with the client--really understanding and digging down into what they are trying to achieve. So if it’s a program where there are a bunch of foodies and it’s Instagram-centric, then we definitely rise to that occasion. If someone is trying to create a huge corporate event on a budget, we are very good at being creative and putting together programs that not only are well executed and menus that taste great, but we are very good at creating menus that are cost effective as well.
You have a large repeat client rate. Why is this?
We do. Well, I think once again it goes back to the trust issue. Clients really have the sense that they are being cared for. We stay very close to the client, we really try to get into their heads and understand what is most important to them. It’s amazing. We are continually complimented for our ability to really understand what the client’s objective is. We want to know exactly what the client wants to feel like, what the guests want to experience--whether it is about food or just general ambiance – so we really try to understand what is motivating the client.
I understand that you have an amazing team of sales, marketing, operations and service staff. Tell us about your team and how they ensure great satisfaction.
We do have a great team and you can imagine after 25 years we have really earned a reputation for being one of the best. To be one of the best you have to have a very strong team, because you are only as strong as your weakest link. I know it sounds cliché, but it is true. So I try to surround myself with talent, with people who have the same level of care and kindness which is also very important, and I think lacking in the industry; people who have good chops, in other words, understanding the industry, having been in the industry in other positions. Every staff member brings their own talents and skills to the position. So I really try to identify talent in each of the team members that I bring on to create a cohesive team.
How have clients’ expectations changed over the years or have you found that their expectations have changed?
I find that clients are more savvy than ever. With the availability of information, resources, and ability to speak to multiple people via internet and social media, there’s a lot of information out there. So I think the client has become more sophisticated. I think also it becomes more challenging for us as the professional caterer to educate the client so that they can understand the differences between the companies that they are looking at. I think we have done a very good job of separating ourselves from the pack again, because there are a lot of people out there who are just doing it. You can have a great looking web site or a great looking business card, but without the history, the experience, the infrastructure, the physical plant, you’re not going to get a satisfactory result. I am always encouraging our clients to come visit us, we have a great state-of-the-art showroom and production facility, so I am always happy to tour our clients through our actual physical plant so they get a sense of who we are and that we are legitimate. Because there are a lot of people out there providing catering services under the radar, and for somebody who doesn’t understand what that could mean, there’s a lot of danger out there especially if you are planning an important party like a wedding or an engagement party, some kind of milestone event. So it becomes challenging to the extent that you really have to educate the client, to prove to them and demonstrate that you are not the same as XYZ catering company that’s out there.
Over the past 25 years, you have catered thousands of events. Which one is the most memorable?
There’s a handful of them. We’ve done some crazy and extreme parties. I think the most satisfying parties are the parties that I produce for people that are intent on creating an experience for their family and loved ones that they can cherish and remember for a lifetime. I get a lot of satisfaction out of seeing the results from our efforts and seeing the reviews from our clients who loved their daughter’s wedding or son’s bar mitzvah – some meaningful family event that you know will be remembered forever by the client. Personally, fun programs that we have done in the past have ranged from a Superbowl party with Snoop Dogg to crazy parties on yachts, large programs on the sand on the beach, BMW or automobile launches – so many, too many to list.
Where do you see the company in the next five years?
I think we are continuing to refine what we are doing. We are always trying to amp up our client responses in terms of their happiness, their satisfaction. We are always trying to improve what we are doing on many different levels whether it is in the kitchen by coming up with new, innovative menus and presentations. Many of our clients want to be the first kid on the block to experience a new type of station at an event. So we’re very creative in melding and crossing cuisines and styles to create very interesting programs. We continue with our education, always trying to stay right at the forefront of what’s happening out there in the world of food and the world of catering. So we are on a steady course moving forward, always trying to improve is the mantra, trying to do a better job at making our clients happier.
So what do you like about working in this industry in South Florida?
Well, in general, maybe not because of South Florida, although the water, trees and sky make it one of the world’s most beautiful locations, the reason why I love this industry is because of the dynamic nature. Every single party that we do, and we do hundreds of parties every year, every single party we do has its own signature, has its own menu, has its own logistical make-up, or has a new location. It could be a program that we’ve never seen or done before or a location that we never anticipated so I like the challenge of having a new and different program for just about every party that we do.
Is there a chef or chefs who have inspired and influenced you over the years?
So many. Ranging from Thomas Keller to Jean Georges to Paul Bocusse – all the greats, all the superstars. I have been following them for years and being classically trained I am always very interested in the origins of food steeped in classical French cuisine which is the basis of my training. It’s just amazing what is going on out there in the food world.
How do you personally define success?
Success for me really, taking it from a professional angle vs. a family level, I think of success within the context of what’s going on in my personal life and with my family. That’s what I consider being successful. Having a great family, a supportive wife, great kids and extended family. That is the definition of success for me. Professionally speaking, success is being able to provide a livelihood for my family without having to work for someone else. I get great satisfaction knowing that my clients are pleased with their events and that Eggwhites Special Event Catering has had a role in important occasions and milestones in people’s lives. I enjoy being the boss. I really enjoy creating my own destiny. I am definitely an entrepreneur, and I have very strong feelings and motivations about how I run my business.
It's nice to hear that you have a 360 degree view!
I think that’s important. I think a lot of people in this industry get stuck and it becomes all about their work and the reality is that you have to have a well-balanced life if you want to use the word “successful” in my view.
Are you a restaurant critic when you go out to eat? What is your biggest pet peeve?
So many pet peeves! It’s like being hit over the head with a sledgehammer when I go to restaurants. Little tiny things that might be overlooked by someone who is not in the industry, they hit me really, really hard. In the current world, there are so many levels and variations of restaurants that you can go to. For a fine, fine dining experience – if you are going to the French Laundry or to one of Jean Georges restaurants in New York City you will see that there is very little to talk about and complain about. If you try to go to what is considered to be a good restaurant in a local market, often they fall short because they are trying to be something that they are not, that they are not trained to be, that they have not elevated themselves to be, so I always felt that the safest thing to do is you either go to the finest dining restaurant where they have the goods and the reputation where you won’t be disappointed or you go to a restaurant that is more of a chain operation where the systems are so in place that the whole success of the restaurant is based on the way that it was designed. Everything in between to me is a little rough out there.
So it’s all about the foundation and the consistency.
For sure, and, talent.
In closing, it’s been 25 years so what is the biggest life lesson Eggwhites has taught you?
Well, maybe not a life lesson but I would say that I learned to become more tenacious than I ever have in my life. I have always thought of what we do as a Broadway performance. We have no option but to make every event that we produce a production. No matter what happens behind the scenes, we have to rise to the occasion. We have to be in place, we have to know our lines, the set needs to be staged, the lights need to go on. Nobody wants to hear about the problems that you are having. We overcome obstacles that are just crazy and this is consistent. So I would say that I have learned to be extremely tenacious and inventive when it comes to the world of off-premise catering where there are lots and lots of variables.
Excellent. Is there anything else you would like to add?
Can’t wait for the next 25 years!