Just 18 months after winning the tender for catering at the State Library in Adelaide, Epicure Catering has been named Caterer of the Year. By Rob Johnson
It seems counter-intuitive to think anyone could find a niche at the top end of the busy catering market in Australia. But this is what Melbourne-based Epicure found when the company mobilised into the Adelaide Town Hall in 2004.
From that standing start, they’ve won the Savour Australia R&CA Caterer of the Year and Venue Caterer awards for their work with the State Library of South Australia. But as all good caterers should, Epicure’s executive manager, SA, Aaron Bond, gives half the credit to the client.
“It’s very much a partnership with the library—in fact, it’s one of the best client relationships we have,” he says. “Before we won the tender, there were occasional events in the library, and the library put the catering and venue management up for tender with a view to develop that business further.”
Bond was assigned to mobilise the Adelaide Epicure team via parent company Spotless and Epicure’s special events division soon followed in 2005. In April 2006 they won the tender for catering at the library, which complemented their existing operation at the Adelaide Town Hall.
Bond was previously in a food and beverage management role with The Mode Group in Sydney (another Spotless brand) providing him with a solid background to mobilise Epicure in Adelaide.
“I think the main value in winning the awards is the recognition for the team. They’re all elated. Their challenge now is to convert the win into sales. The fact we have won these awards gives clients confidence in Epicure.”
The way Bond describes it, the library as a venue was as much a factor in winning the award as the team he has working with him: Patti Sbrissa (event sales co-ordinator), Kylie Mansfield (sales manager), Kevin Grant (operations manager), Paul Bailey (service manager), Gareth Grierson (head chef) and Eddie Kovacev (sous chef).
“The award judging took place for a wedding in the Mortlock Chamber, which is the most majestic venue within the library, and is an exhibition showcase displaying the heritage of South Australia. Weddings in that area are becoming quite popular.”
In the heart of the North Terrace cultural precinct, the State Library is adjacent to the South Australian Museum, Art Gallery of SA and Government House. The venue includes the Circulating Library and the Treasures Wall in the Spence Wing. But wonderful artefact-filled rooms come with their own challenges for caterers.
“We operate there without a kitchen, because it’s an old building and doesn’t have the facilities that we need,” Bond says. “So we produce the food at the Adelaide Town Hall and transfer it over on the day. It creates logistical challenges. The biggest of those challenges relate to the kitchen environment. We have to set up a kitchen area. And we only have limited time to do it, because the area is a public space during the day.”
Epicure started in Melbourne in 1989, and built its brand-delivering catering services at many of Melbourne’s iconic venues and events, restaurant and cafe operations as well as managing many high-profile special events. Their venues in Victoria include the Arts Centre, the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, the Melbourne Town Hall, ZINC at Federation Square and Functions and the Members Reserve facilities at the Melbourne Cricket Ground. They have also catered at events such as the Melbourne Cup Carnival, the Formula One Grand Prix and Opera in the Market.
Not long after they began catering at the Adelaide Town Hall, says Bond, they realised there was an unfilled niche in the market for top-end caterers in town.
“Even though the market in Adelaide is quite different from Victoria, we believed Epicure had the product to offer to the discerning client,” he says. “Adelaide has embraced Epicure as it’s own as it continues to be a market leader in the industry.”
Although there was a competitive market for event catering, the team at Epicure focused on strengths already established in the Victorian market, and no-one sniffed about “out-of-towners” coming in to their turf.
“We do pitch ourselves at the top end, and there was no one else positioned at the same end of the market,” says Bond. “We really did find a niche but Epicure certainly supports community events within our venues as required.”
The big challenge was bringing the staff on the journey of establishing the values of the Epicure brand. “What we did was relaunch the Adelaide Town Hall operation under the Epicure brand,” he says. “Really, the biggest challenge was training the staff on the subtleties of the Epicure brand as they are hard to define but easy to see in practice.
Epicure explains that philosophy on the company website with the simple phrase, ‘nothing is too much bother’. Staff are considered co-producers of their service, going “outside the square’’’ to ensure that extra level of assistance. Service is friendly, knowledgeable and professional with a high level of personal attention to detail. Innovation and flexibility is at the heart of their approach, with a central interest in the food—menus change and adapt according to seasonal availability of produce.
“So the hardest part was probably bringing people up to speed on the new philosophy, which involves bringing innovation to food and service and having attention to detail at every level,” says Bond.