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Up close portrait of an older male. Owner of the Plaza Catering Company

Gerry Walba – Owner “Plaza Catering”

🔉 Listen to Audio Excerpt:

This is Gerry Waba, owner and president of the Plaza Catering Company. Gerry, how did you actually get into the catering business?

When I was in college, I worked at a place called Anthony’s Pier Four, which at the time was the busiest restaurant in the world. After finishing school, an opportunity arose to start my own business. A friend showed me a restaurant that was for sale, which I found very interesting. One thing led to another, and I ended up purchasing the property. I have never looked back since.

How large is your business?

“We have roughly 2,000 active accounts.” 

We have roughly 2,000 active accounts.  I would say that approximately 80% of our total volume comes from about 20% of our customers.

When you were growing up, were you ever interested in or influenced by cooking?

To be honest, no. I was more interested in business. I was excited about what it entailed, how much I could learn, and how much I had already learned

How did you get the idea to bring your business to Government Center when you started the business? Was the plan to focus primarily on Boston’s businesses?

Yes, when we came to Boston, I had previously owned restaurants on the North Shore. The decision to come to Boston was mine alone. I had a partner, but I wanted to end the partnership and move to the city. We aimed to concentrate on corporate business because we believed that was where the potential was, and we were right.

When did you start your business in Boston? What year was that?

We came to Boston in 1993.

What was the competition like back then?

We had a prime location near the courthouse in Government Center, which was one of the three or four best locations in the city. Initially, catering was not our primary focus; it subsidized the business. As we started to grow, I realized the potential of catering, and it eventually led our business in a different direction.

You moved your business from downtown Boston to Kendall Square in Cambridge. What year was that?

That move happened in 2012.

You had been in Boston for 20 years. What was it like to make such an enormous business decision?

It was actually a very easy decision for me. We had outgrown our space and no longer needed a prime location. I was primarily interested in catering, so I looked for a suitable place for that. A very good customer, who worked for a pharmaceutical company, told me about a space in Kendall Square. It was perfect, and we ended up getting the best of both worlds: the facility we needed for our growing catering business and a good location for the restaurant.

Your business is essential for businesses in Boston. You provide delivered, catered food for their corporate events and must have hundreds of loyal customers you’ve worked with for decades.

Yes, some of our clients have been with us for as much as 35 to 40 years. It’s amazing how significant food is to the office, whether it’s for theme meals, pride celebrations, Christmas, or anything in between. There’s always something to celebrate. We have a great team and excellent marketing people, which is why we’ve been able to grow.

What does your typical day look like?

My day starts pretty going very early. As I get older, I keep trying to cut back, but I haven’t succeeded yet. I get up early and focus on getting everything set for the day. This involves mapping out the tasks for the kitchen, delivery, and office managers, and promoting certain things. That’s pretty much how my day goes.

In 2020, COVID-19 happened. By June of that year, there were officially 2 million cases in the US. How did COVID affect your business? All businesses were shut down, and employees stayed away from their offices. How did that directly affect you, and how did you survive?

The immediate impact was devastating. We were completely shut down for about two weeks. Our landlord was very understanding and gave us a break without us even asking, which made things easier initially. When we returned to work, we were operating at only about 5% of our normal business. It seemed hopeless, and for the first time, I thought it might be over for this kind of business. However, my crew, most of whom have been with me for a very long time, came back with enthusiasm and dedication. We watched our business gradually build up, and by 2022, we were busier than ever, a trend that has continued into 2024. It was looking grim, but my crew’s resilience turned things around.

Do you now see the move to Cambridge as the best decision, especially from the COVID standpoint?

If I hadn’t made that move, we wouldn’t be here today. We wouldn’t have a business. Being in an area with pharmaceuticals and labs that had to remain operational saved us. I knew it was a great move when I made it, but in retrospect, it was the best move I could have made.

How have you adapted your way of thinking, considering business today is so different from the pre-pandemic world?

The main difference is that the office today is more of a social gathering place than just a venue for meetings. We used to cater mainly for meetings, with sandwiches comprising 90% of our business. Now, that’s probably down to 30%, with the focus shifting to social gatherings. We’ve increased our offerings of hors d’oeuvres and platters. Our marketing team, which is very creative, has done a great job adapting to these changes. We’ve figured it out and continue to thrive.

To learn more about their catering services for your business visit the Plaza Catering Company website: Plaza Catering Company

Plaza Catering Company is located at 157 6th St, Cambridge, MA 617-227-1333

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