GIANT EAGLE SEEKS TO EXPAND CATERING REACH

PITTSBURGH -- Giant Eagle is making a big move into the catering business, with the expansion of a new subsidiary, Custom Cuisine Catering, to concentrate on building the food-service business here and in Cleveland.With 425 employees, eight kitchens and banquet halls in the two cities, Custom Cuisine is a full-service food company, created by the retailer in February 2001 to provide a variety of services

PITTSBURGH -- Giant Eagle is making a big move into the catering business, with the expansion of a new subsidiary, Custom Cuisine Catering, to concentrate on building the food-service business here and in Cleveland.

With 425 employees, eight kitchens and banquet halls in the two cities, Custom Cuisine is a full-service food company, created by the retailer in February 2001 to provide a variety of services including fine gourmet catering, concessions, and group and employee dining. Operating separately from the food-service departments at Giant Eagle's stores, the company offers a number of specialty dining services such as authentic sushi, ethnic specialties and themed event planning, according to Giant Eagle.

"It's a new opportunity for us," said Ann Marie Frattare, a spokeswoman in the retailer's corporate communications department. "There is potential for new job growth."

The expansion comes on the heels of the acquisition of the Bradley House of Catering, one of the largest independent catering companies in the Pittsburgh area. Giant Eagle completed the acquisition in June, after working with the company for six months. Well-established in the region, Bradley House is the exclusive caterer of the Syria Mosque in Cheswick, Pa., which has the capacity to host up to 1,000 people. In addition, Bradley maintains contracts in the state with the Regency of Comfort Inn Hotel in Harmarville, Pa., and the golf club at Chestnut Ridge in Blairsville, Pa. In business for more than three decades, the company also handles a range of events, including weddings, school and church functions, proms and meetings. Bradley also has a banquet facility capable of hosting more than 1,000 people in four rooms.

"The creation and expansion of Custom Cuisine Catering is a natural extension of Giant Eagle's business in providing prepared meals in its stores," said Richard Iams, executive director of Custom Cuisine Catering. "While it may be a textbook example of vertical integration, the company will provide a wide range of food services that focus on culinary originality and quality."

He added, "With food services that range from concessions to high-end catering, we will operate both freestanding and contract food services for all types of venues including museums, sports arenas, corporations and universities."

In fact, the Pittsburgh Sports and Exhibition Authority recently awarded an exclusive food-service contract to Custom Cuisine for the new 500,000-square-foot David L. Lawrence Convention Center, Iams said. The contract is a big deal, since seating capacity at the center could approach 18,000.

In the Cleveland area, Custom Cuisine Catering has provided food services for several venues, including the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the Cleveland Museum of Art, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, the Cleveland Clinic and the Cleveland Indians' Jacobs Field. Furthermore, the company is the main catering and food-service provider for Case Western Reserve University, the Cuyahoga Valley Scenic Railroad, Avery Dimensions and other corporations.

"I think that Custom Cuisine Catering is a perfect fit for these types of high-volume users," Iams said. "Our potential clients need an organization with the capacity to handle the diverse and demanding needs of today's food-service industry."

Giant Eagle's size and resources will help the company become "the provider of choice," Iams said. When Giant Eagle acquired Bradley House this year, one local observer noted the retailer's buying leverage would help the caterer significantly reduce food costs. Veterans of the catering and hospitality industries hold key positions at Custom Cuisine. With more than 20 years of experience in the food and beverage industry, Iams joined Giant Eagle at the beginning of 2001 as the leader of the catering company. Iams previously spent nearly 10 years with Marriott International, responsible in recent years for various operational, marketing and regional duties with Marriott in Virginia and Philadelphia.

George Bradley, the founder of the Bradley House of Catering, is Custom Cuisine's director of operations. According to Giant Eagle, Bradley has owned and operated some of Pittsburgh's finest restaurants. In 2001, he was chosen to serve on the food-service committee for the 2002 Olympic Games in Salt Lake City.

According to the company's announcement, Giant Eagle's supermarkets provide more than $50 million in sales annually in prepared foods, concessions and catering; and is the largest privately held company in the Pittsburgh area.