Entertaining

A New York Catering Company Shares Its Craziest Stories

They are even wilder than you think
A New York Catering Company Shares Its Craziest Stories
Photo: Courtesy of Sunship Films

At Riviera Caterers, we have had our fair share of fun (cough: crazy) experiences. Our business model pretty much guarantees it. When you work with large businesses—which we love to do—they have strong visions about how they want their party to roll. It's our job to make it happen, come what may. 

The Hurricane Sandy Miracle

We started our business right after Hurricane Sandy, the 2012 superstorm that devastated New York City and much of the Eastern Seaboard. My family's Brooklyn catering facility was among the casualties, so Bobby Stern and I joined forces to launch business in Manhattan, targeting bold-faced names and major brands.  

Esteemed Scottish label Hendrick's Gin was our first big account. They hired us for a three-day event to serve no fewer than 2,500 people. The venue was Manhattan's Beekman hotel, a gorgeous downtown high-rise that just so happened to be undergoing major renovations. There was no running water or electricity, and the makeshift floor consisted of plywood boards. We ourselves were without a kitchen due to the storm, so we had to get creative. Obviously.

The stakes were high. We knew this event could serve as a catalyst to help us merge into the Manhattan market. So we did what we had to do. We tapped into the building's water lines and pulled power from major generators for electricity and heat. (Did I mention that this event was in the middle of December? It was below freezing outside and in.) We rented an off-site kitchen and created a custom menu that complemented  all the ingredients in Hendrick's Gin (such as cucumber, coriander and juniper berries). Our serving staff was outfitted in fur bomber hats, which came in handy on a 30-degree day!

Even with the cold, and with all of New York City recovering from Superstorm Sandy, 2,500 people still came and had one helluva party. We pulled off a mega event with no electricity, no water, no heat and barely a floor!

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Mission Impossible: Floating Barge Edition

We booked our first big gig with Nike soon thereafter. Nike is the king of the event space, producing the most interesting, out-of-the-box events. Every year, they celebrate national Go Skateboarding Day, and in 2013, they decided to take a floating barge and turn it into a skate park.

Allow me to repeat that: a floating skate park on the Hudson River.

We (quickly) realized we were going to have many of the same logistical difficulties as we'd had for Hendrick's. No running water, no electricity, and being that we would be situated atop a moving barge, we had to take a moving floor into consideration.

We built custom, barnlike tables that perfectly matched the theme of the event. We failed to realize, however, that we had made them too big to be carried onto the barge. We tried every way possible, but they wouldn’t fit on the ramp. We came to this conclusion a few short hours before the event began. Bobby decided it would be best to get a Bay Crane to hoist the tables onto the barge. Finding an emergency Bay Crane service to come and hoist our equipment onto a free-floating skateboard park was, ahem, a challenge. Miraculously, we pulled it off.

After everything was loaded onto the barge, we were graced with our rather unique kitchen area: an 8-by-20-foot shipping container with no windows. We set up our mini kitchen in the shipping container and strapped everything to the walls, so no tables or ovens would fall over while moving. We served all the food on custom skate decks to 500-person crowds two days in a row, while the world's best skateboarders showed off their skills for a Nike SB sneaker launch.

The Celebrity Chicken Wing Heist 

We always get the most interesting requests from our celebrity clients.

One of these individuals, whose name we cannot share, requested we bring chicken wings from a specific New York City restaurant to their event. The challenge began when we realized the restaurant was actually a comedy club, which did not open until evening hours. The event was taking place during the day, so we needed to convince the club manager to open the kitchen early so we could pick up the wings in time for the event. After a lengthy conversation, the club agreed. But when we gave them the specific order, they told us those particular wings were no longer on the menu. We knew we could not go back to the client with this, so we went to the comedy club to talk with the manager and chef in person. They eventually went to the grocery store and purchased the ingredients to make this one-off request, and we successfully delivered them to the client in time. Moral of the story? Celebrity clients get what they want.

The Million Dollar Cup of Tea

We also organized a conference for a company with a very discerning executive who liked to drink a specific kind of tea. His team made sure we had the tea and a special tea kettle in each of the 13 rooms he was conducting interviews in, just in case he wanted this tea at any specific moment. The 13 kettles and tea amounted to thousands of dollars, and the executive had exactly one cup. It was the most expensive cup of tea I have ever served.

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