Caterer moves to expanded space in Canonsburg, preps new service
June 9, 2016
by Michael Bradwell
Patty Walker acknowledges the business of catering can be a short-lived career, given the many variables – from intense competition for clients to the quality of the food – that can quickly tank the enterprise.
Walker, 48, who launched PW Catering in the basement of her Eighty Four home a decade ago, has been meeting those challenges, creating a recipe for success that moved her to an expanded level of the business.
In mid-May, she made the transition to a newly renovated space at 151 E. Pike St. in Canonsburg, tripling the size of her operations because of her growing customer base, with a plan for additional growth through a new service.
“Our first day here, we had eight jobs,” Walker said during a recent interview. “We went crazy that day.”
These days, Walker’s list of repeat clients include several major corporations in nearby Southpointe – Mylan N.V., ANSYS Inc., Crown Castle Communications and CONSOL Energy Inc. She also is the exclusive caterer for Shady Elms Farm in Hickory, a popular “destination” venue for weddings.
“We do 30 to 40 weddings a year there,” she said. “Every weekend through mid-October, they’re having a wedding.”
But she’s also on board with wedding receptions at the area’s fire halls, noting PW Catering’s footprint covers a 20-mile radius that serves all types of clients.
The move to Canonsburg enabled Walker to expand from three food prep tables to eight, but otherwise she came well-equipped to her new digs.
“We only added three pieces of new equipment and another walk-in cooler,” she said.
Her husband John, an industrial controls specialist for Tri-State Supply, helped to wire the new site, and is sometimes pressed into service on weekends,
The business has seven people working during the week, but increases to 12 on weekends. She has one chef working on weekdays, three on weekends.
The secret to her success is remaining steadfast to some tried-and-true principles.
The tagline of PW Catering is “When taste matters,” and Walker views it as the key to everything else the company does.
“There’s still not a day that something goes out of here without me tasting it,” said Walker, who trained as a personal chef before going into catering.
Fresh food, made from high-quality ingredients, is also a must. “I wouldn’t use anything that is frozen or pre-made,” she said.
And when a client orders appetizers to be followed by a full meal, Walker’s standard procedure is to first send someone to the site with the appetizers.
“I drive in a separate van later with the main course, so the food is fresh when it gets there,” she said.
The other standard that tends to hold true for a service-based business is it’s only as good as its last job, something Walker readily appreciates, because word-of-mouth is critical to gaining more clients.
“It’s all referrals,” she said in describing how she’s built a business catering to corporations as well as to couples who are marking one of the most important days of their lives.
“I think it’s the personal service we provide” that led to the company’s sustained success, she said. “I still have vice presidents and presidents of companies calling me” to ask about particulars or for special attention to some aspect of their orders.
She’ll be applying that same attention to service when she launches a “dinners to go” segment of her business later this month, which she said will be called “Come Gather Around the Table.”
The service will enable customers to order ahead by 48 hours from a menu of entrees that includes dishes like meatloaf, chicken Marsala and spareribs, as well as side dishes, fresh bread and dessert for a complete meal at home. On the day they designate, customers can pick up orders between 3 and 6 p.m. at PW Catering.
“I hope it encourages the family to sit down together at the table,” she said, adding many of her corporate clients asked that she create the service.
While the service targets people between 30 and 45 years old with children, Walker said singles have also said they’ll use it. She said the primary focus is on working mothers who are also shuttling children to and from activities.
“There’s something about being a mother – it’s the hardest job,” she said.
The thought is one that’s spoken from personal experience.
Walker said her son Ian, 20, and daughter, Martina, 17, now work at the business during summers.
“I see them more now than when I was in the house,” she said.
PW Catering is located at 151 E. Pike St., Canonsburg. For more information, call 724-228-7258, or access www.pwcatering.com.