When Brooke Costello and his (now former) business partner started Red Table Catering in 2005, they didn’t have a long-range vision for where they wanted the business to go.
“Really, we just loved the industry. We loved cooking for others, getting to meet people and the general excitement that comes when you’re in the midst of a big event,” admits Brooke. “Looking back, while our passion was what kept us going, it probably wasn’t the best way to start a business.” Still, they weren’t without relevant experience – both had many years in restaurants and catering behind them.
Word quickly spread about the talented team and before long, Red Table earned a reputation as one of Brooklyn’s best caterers. Brooke took on full ownership in 2014 and the business has been growing steadily since.
Red Table caters everything from smaller gatherings of 50 or so people to events with 1,200 people. “That was our largest event and it was great,” Brooke says, with the enthusiasm and energy that are critical to success in this industry.
Brooke works with local and upstate New York farms, distilleries and craft breweries to source many of the ingredients that go into their distinctive food and cocktails.
Another of Red Table’s competitive advantages is that Brooke and his team offer clients full-service catering, meaning that they take care of every detail, from event planning and rentals of tables, chairs and linens, through bar service, floral arrangements and, of course, outstanding food and beverages. He has a core team of about seven people that includes key kitchen staff and essential administrative, business development and event-logistics talent.
Thrilled clients and a clear plan lead to growth
Brooke says that during the 15 years that he’s been in business, he’s tried to learn as much as he can about running a successful enterprise. Among the courses that he’s taken are several through the New York City Department of Small Business Services. He also participated in the renowned Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses program.
When he needed a loan to help the business grow, it was Brooke’s accountant that first told him about Pursuit.
“This business can be very cyclical and sometime around 2017, we had a few slower months. Still, I had the opportunity to grow the business then and I didn’t want to lose that chance. I talked to my accountant, who knew about Pursuit and recommended that I get in touch,” explains Brooke.
He continues, “It was great advice, too. Pursuit made the application and approval processes really easy, we got funded quickly and I was able to achieve my goal.”
Brooke says that he’s also taken advantage of financial-management consulting services that Pursuit offered. “It’s helpful to get guidance that’s directly relevant to your business, which simply isn’t possible through a lot of classes and webinars.”
Fast forward to 2020.
“This year was shaping up to be epic,” he says. “We had record-breaking bookings and everyone was feeling great, not just at Red Table, but industry-wide. Then the pandemic hit and everything changed.”
Staying creative in the kitchen: Reimagining Red Table during and beyond the pandemic
For businesses like Red Table, the hit was particularly hard: For most caterers, all of their previously booked events like weddings, graduations, arts and theater galas and corporate receptions were cancelled or indefinitely postponed.
Fortunately, Brooke secured an SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) loan through Pursuit. “From my first loan through these most recent experiences, Pursuit’s been great, very fair,” Brooke says. “And, because we got funding quickly, we could take on some opportunities that came our way,” Brooke explains. For example, a corporate client whose services were classified as “essential” during the height of the pandemic expanded a pre-pandemic weekly lunch delivery to daily service for its staff who had to report to the office.
“That helped keep us going for the last few months but it was temporary, so we’re working on new opportunities. Still, it’s going to be tough,” Brooke admits, echoing concerns throughout the food-and-beverage industry. “We don’t really know what the future looks like. For now, it seems we can cater parties of fifty or fewer guests. But everything is very up-in-the-air and things could change at any time. The next two or three months are going to be critical for my business and, I think, for the whole industry.”
One area that Red Table has expanded into as a result of the pandemic is meal delivery services through the new website, Red Table Delivery. Brooke says that although he developed the Red Table websites himself, he’s planning on taking advantage of Pursuit’s offer for marketing and digital-media help to ensure that businesses are post-COVID ready.
And for Brooke, it wasn’t just the catering business that took a hit. “I’d opened a sit-down venue with a bar but now, I don’t see how that space can operate profitably, so I don’t think we’ll reopen as a full-scale restaurant again, at least not any time soon.”
To generate some income from the space, though, he’s offering takeout ice cream throughout the summer. “Things are hard all around and as people come back out, at least they can come here and get something fun,” he says.
And he remains optimistic that Red Table will find more opportunities and meet whatever it is that the “new normal” looks like.
For other business owners, he offers this advice. “To paraphrase Warren Buffet, find your market, find your niche and really think through the steps it takes to achieve your goals within that market. When Red Table started twenty years ago, we didn’t have a plan. Before you dig deep in your pockets – or anyone else’s – think hard about what it means to make a profit in your business and understand what it takes to get there. Then, make it happen.”