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Go Ask Mom

Raleigh caterer stays afloat by serving families with prepared meals, cooking classes for kids

Posted June 7, 2020 8:45 p.m. EDT

Courtesy: HL Catering Company

Spring is usually a very busy season for caterers like HL Catering Company. The business launched in Raleigh after owner Houston Loper moved to the Triangle in 2013 when he married his wife, Katie, a fourth generation Raleigh native.

"Katie ... spoke so highly of her hometown, and upon my first visit, I knew Raleigh would be an amazing place to move, not only to start our family, but to take my catering business to the next level," Loper tells me. "The food scene here and more mature palates have allowed me to push the boundaries and create elevated menus and food presentations beyond the norm for catered food."

Business was great for Loper, who first served corporate clients, but eventually added weddings to his work. He's catered large hospital galas, high-level political events on both sides of the aisle and professional sports events. But, in mid-March, business appeared like it would grind to a halt as the pandemic forced the cancellation of nearly everything. Loper, however, was quick to pivot, offering up not just prepared meals for families stuck at home, but also cooking classes, including a series of very popular classes for kids.

I checked in with Loper, a father of two young girls, to learn more about what he's offering and how it's enabled him to keep his business afloat. Here's a Q&A.

Go Ask Mom: The pandemic has required lots of businesses to pivot, including yours. What have these closures meant for your business?  

Houston Loper: We were in Las Vegas for the annual Catersource Conference with hundreds of other caterers across the country when it became evident that the United States would be affected by COVID-19. Everyone was leaving the various educational sessions to answer calls from concerned clients who were making the difficult decision to cancel or postpone their events, even before the shutdowns were announced.

Due to this, we began making plans immediately with our team and initiated our prepared meal delivery service as soon as schools were closed, even before the governor's announcement of the statewide shutdown. We continued to think outside the box to fill the needs of our community and decided to launch our adult cooking classes to give folks an opportunity to get together and socialize and our kids cooking classes to help entertain them during this time.

Given that we have been required to cancel all events during our most profitable months of the year, we expected a devastating financial loss. Thankfully, due to our quick pivot to the prepared meal service and cooking classes, we were able to continue to keep our full-time staff employed. While we are still taking a serious financial hit this year, we are thankful to still have our team intact so we can get back to catering events as soon as it is safe.  This time has proven to us the importance of diversifying our offerings, and especially since we enjoy them so much, we hope to continue to offer our cooking classes even when the pandemic is over.

GAM: One of the things you're offering is virtual cooking classes for kids. Tell us about those. How do they work? What ages are they best for?

HL: We love our virtual Kid's Cooking Classes! The classes are sold as a monthly package, and we meet each Tuesday at 4 p.m. ET. We send out a menu, ingredient list, utensil list and directions on Fridays and each household is responsible for getting their own ingredients.  During the class, I and my oldest daughter, Hattie, who is 5, cook together the weekly menu items.  We offer specific instructions on how best to cut, season, cook, etc. whatever is on the menu, and Hattie assists as needed.  The class is great for kids 10 and over to do on their own, and younger kids to do with the assistance of an adult. The best part  is that dinner for the evening is ready by the end of the class!

GAM: What kinds of dishes do you have the kids prepare?

HL: Chicken Parmesan with Sauteed Squash, Flatbread Pizza with Buffalo Cauliflower Bites, Taco Casserole with Homemade Salsa, French Toast Casserole, Chocolate Chess Pie, BBQ Chicken with Vegetables and Rice, Caprese Fritatta with a Avocado and Orange Salad with Citrus Vinaigrette ... to name a few.

GAM: And parents might be glad to hear that there's a focus on clean up too? How do you incorporate that into the lessons?

HL: We talk about the importance of organization and how being properly prepared and organized will help make cooking easier.  The cleaning goes along with this central part of cooking and making sure you keep things clean and organized throughout the preparation process.  We always try to clean up before we move onto the next step!

GAM: You've got two kids. Tell us about cooking with them. What do you enjoy most when cooking together with them?

HL: Mostly, I love spending time with them and seeing them enjoy something I love to do. I also love encouraging them to try different types of foods as they are more inclined to try food if they are part of the preparation process. And let's be real, as a chef I feel my girls should have a well-developed palate.

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