Recognized as an up-and-coming caterer by the St. Louis Business Journal, Balaban’s, led by managing partner Brian Underwood, has realized a growth in its catering operation of 1,000 percent over the last two years.
Underwood saw the demand for catering after Balaban’s, a staple on the St. Louis dining scene in the Central West End from 1972 until 2006, reopened five years ago in Chesterfield.
By 2012, Underwood had spearheaded the move to nearly double the restaurant and wine store’s footprint by adding a private Wine Room, which seats eight and houses the Library Wines from the original Café Balaban cellar, and event space which accommodates 80 for dinner, 100 for cocktails.
Larger scale catering really came into focus with the hiring of Executive Chef D. Scott Phillips as Balaban’s expanded into the adjacent space vacated by other businesses.
From a catering family – his father once owned the largest catering business in St. Louis – Phillips started preparing business meals for offsite corporate meetings and servicing clients’ holiday demands for their employees.
“Our range amazes even me,” Underwood said. “In-house, we accommodate weddings, rehearsal dinners, anniversary parties, cocktail receptions, business events for financial planners, private dinner parties and seminars for some of the city’s most well-known companies.
“Out of house, the Balaban’s team provides food for corporate breakfasts, box and buffet lunches, holiday dinners including the Thanksgiving turkey and Christmas dinners for up to 500 people.”
Underwood indicated that the restaurant and wine store currently sees a catering increase at offsite venues as well.
“From the catering lists at the Butterfly House and Malmaison, the annual fundraising event for the St. Louis Psychoanalytic Institute last spring, private school banquets and as the designated caterer for a regional winery, we find our catering business increasing 50 percent per year now,” he said.
Open seven days per week with one of the less pricey and more plentiful Sunday brunches in the area, Balaban’s, according to published reports, gets about 75 percent of its catering business from corporate events, with totals from corporate and private events reaching into six figures.
Clearly, Phillips ranks as a key element for the catering side of the operation.
“He knows how to organize the food so that it’s fresh and served in timely fashion. He definitely understands how to get food to the point of service at its peak, even for larger groups,”
For his part, Phillips said he likes to make medieval-themed food for 150 to 200 guests for cocktail receptions – different things rather than the standard meal.
Along with its booming catering business, Balaban’s has managed in the last five years to garner more than 30 awards while in Chesterfield and will celebrate the fifth anniversary of its reopening from Nov. 16-22 with a number of special events and giveaways.
Selected as the Best Wine List by West Newsmagazine from 2010 through 2013 (the 2014 awards come out next January), Balaban’s also has earned a “best of” award of excellence from the international Wine Spectator (only 883 restaurants internationally received this award in 2014), recognition from The World of Fine Wine as one of the World’s Best Wine Lists and a designation from St. Louis Magazine as one of the best restaurants in the city.