In the past I have worked for Fortune 500s, government agencies, national charities and local 501c3s, but there is nothing quite like working with your family. Having a family business means everyone has to pitch in, that weekends and national holidays don’t always mean a day off, that you had better learn new skills fast, and that job titles don’t mean much, since everyone has their name on the door. It is a blessing that I count daily. It is also not for the faint of heart.
Pat Christofolo is someone who understands this all too well. She grew up working for her family and has carried that tradition onward. She is a legend in the Valley, but while restaurants and catering may be her business, it is family that is her life’s calling.
First and foremost, can I share that Pat greets you like a long-lost friend, even if you are newly introduced. She did the first time I met her and she still does. She welcomes with a hug, not just a hello. She wastes no time offering you a seat, something to drink, asks if the temperature is okay. That is just who Pat is. She wants to make sure that you are served, comfortable and at home. No wonder she has been in the business of serving people since the early 70′s.
Pat comes from a family of restauranteurs. Her father opened up the Italian deli Capistrano’s in Tempe in 1974. Pat started out by going in to work with her Dad every day. She watched her father give up a lot to start the business, but she also learned how customers respond when you give them what they are wanting. The deli was renowned for its hand-made foods and for delicacies in from New York that you couldn’t find elsewhere in the Valley. The work was hard, but gratifying and she says this exposure to the family business early in her life has shaped her family and own businesses as an adult.
By the early 1980′s Pat was a new mother and was looking to create a business that worked for her and her young son, Dustin. She started a sandwich shop, Out to Lunch, and then another and another. After a decade, she sold the business and ventured into catering. It has by chance that she was called for her first catering job when a law firm called wanting an omelette bar for an event they were holding. She started Santa Barbara Catering as a result. But the difference between a restaurant and catering weren’t lost on her, and Pat got involved with the International Caterers Association looking to learn more about trends, food styling, and how to build her business. She now serves as their President Elect. Her success did not go unnoticed. In 1997, Wayne Smith, the owner of the Farm at South Mountain, asked Pat to take over the Farm Kitchen. She then went on to start Quiessence and the Morning Glory cafe. Chef Greg LaPrad is now at the helm in those kitchens and Pat continues to run both Santa Barbara Catering and the Farm Kitchen. She is not one to sit still.
In the past year and a half she went into business with family once again. This time with her son Dustin, opening the House at Secret Garden.
She and Dustin have always been very close. They were bonded in a way that only a family that does business together can understand. It was very much shaped by the relationship Pat had with her own family growing up with their restaurant. She had watched Dustin in the kitchen over the years and saw how natural it was for him. She saw his attention to detail, his thoughtfulness about the food he was preparing, and importantly in the restaurant business, his palate and understanding of flavors. Her son has the same spirit and passion for preparing and creating good food that she saw in her father and herself. As any good mom, and business owner would, Pat made sure that if Dustin was serious about cooking that he learn the business. He worked in the front of the house at Quiessence and then went on to culinary school at the French Culinary Institute in New York and then in Italy. I wrote once about Dustin and what he is doing at House at Secret Garden. His years of growing in the family business have certainly served him as well. The culinary talent in that family is inherent. (You can read that post about Dustin and the House at Secret Garden here.)
Pat has always been passionate about cooking seasonally. She shares this with Dustin too. As a caterer she knows that to serve foods in season, means planning in advance. With events being planned sometimes up to 18 months in advance, Pat has taken care to educate her staff on what foods are in season throughout the year, so they can help their clients plan accordingly. She has seen the shift in customers education and passion about eating seasonally and having organic, local produce served. Pat was the first caterer in town to change to greener, more environmentally-friendly paper products. She says that it is not acceptable to not be interested in where your food comes from, or how it is grown.
Pat’s newest venture is Palette, the cafe at the Phoenix Art Museum. Just looking at the menu makes me hungry. Once again, Pat has taken her love of good food, her years of experience and her dedication to fresh, simple flavors and created an outstanding menu. Truffled wild mushroom macaroni and cheese alone is worth a trip to check it out. The Farmer’s Market Omelet on their brunch menu is another I want to investigate. It comes as no surprise that Pat has been able to turn a museum cafe into a destination dining spot. Palette is open during the day Wednesday thru Sundays and on First Fridays for evening events. Palette offers catering for special events at the museum from Santa Barbara Catering. If you are looking for a caterer somewhere else, Pat’s Santa Barbara Catering is the preferred caterer for many of the top event venues all over town. Just thinking about all she does is exhausting. I am not sure where she finds the time or energy, because Pat clearly gives every venture 100% of herself.
This past fall, Sean and I were invited to enjoy a evening at the House at Secret Garden for a dinner honoring local food producers. It was a beautiful evening with a fun mix of people who share our same passion for producing and enjoying good food. With Dustin’s incredible dishes coming out course after course, and Pat’s perfect touch for bringing people and food together, it was an evening we are still talking about. Pillsbury Winery, Crow’s Dairy, Hickman’s Family Farm, Black Mesa Ranch, The Meat Shop, Queen Creek Olive Mill were but a few of our dinner companions. If you wanted to know where local food comes from, it was all around the tables inside the Secret Garden’s Urban Barn. And like us, these businesses are not just local, many are also family ventures. Which made it all the more fitting that it was Pat at the head of the table, where the matriarch of Valley dining should sit.
To read more the evening, you can find the article The Arizona Republic wrote here. All photos courtesy of Santa Barbara Catering.
Reprinted with permission by Kate McClendon of McClendon Select