Open letter to Catersource

First off I want to say that I LOVED every Catersource conference that I ever attended. I admit to being a Mike Roman groupie and proud of it. I also know that back in the day the conference came upon bad times because of an economy downturn. New management took over, with Mike still very much a part of it, and it was still ‘my Catersource’ and I learned something from every single one.

Mike Roman passed away unexpectedly, I was devastated as were so many others, but his legacy lived on under Pauline Hoogmoed and Linda Kerber-West, Jack Milan, Bill Pannhoff, Meryl Snow and a handful of dedicated human beings that cared deeply about our industry. I do not know the guts of Catersource or how it runs, but I think I know its heart and what Mike wanted for all of us.

I made so many friends at these conferences, that even though I retired, selling the catering business to the kids.. I still needed to have my fix. I called Pauline Hoogmod, I volunteered myself for behind the scenes help. She graciously welcomed me in. Then Pauline left and I was saddened once again, she was my face for Catersource besides Mike, now what?

Linda kept me on, thank goodness and even made me an Ambassador. I didn’t and still don’t know the inner workings of how this business works. I was only a volunteer, Linda eventually handed over the reigns to new people that came onboard last year, and they took it back to Nola.

Working for free tuition was great.. I got to connect with all my friends. I made so many new ones as well, showing new conference attendees how to get around and pick the classes. Working with Jack Milan, omg he is one of the greats and a staple at every conference! My daughter LOVED Bill Pannhoff and always attended his classes.

The show guide was our bible and we poured over it carefully, picking out which classes to attend, and back up ones (just in case). We built our million dollar business from the ground up.. thanks to Mike Roman and Catersource. Catersource was a well oiled machine that kept giving us what we needed, we were engaged and learning.

Behind the scenes Linda kept everything on an even keel, even reprimanding me once.. sniff sniff. Jack Milan was a stickler for details as well. I didn’t measure up to his way of tying knots in fishing line for a display he was doing with Emily Ellyn, but lord, he was sooo patient. I helped Emily with some trees she was making for her class and redeemed myself.

I sat on the floor with Roy Porter helping him cut PVC pipe for table leg extensions. I enjoyed all of this and learned things to take back and share with the kids. The 25 year anniversary in Nola was very expensive for me, Catersource did kick in with expense money but not nearly enough.. but I was still a happy camper.

Back in Vegas the next year and under new direction, my third year as Catersource Ambassador, I finally got paid for my services. This was a really nice change and made me feel important, I actually got paid to do something that I loved. Management had now changed (Linda was gone) and even though it all seemed the same, I felt a difference by the end of the conference.

Bill Phannoff was gone, wasn’t he part of the guts of Catersource? It seemed a little more disorganized than usual but new management was probably in a learning curve. Here’s a thing about what I’ve learned in life so far.. if it ain’t broke don’t try fixing it. So there were some hiccups but I enjoyed my new status as a paid Ambassador.

The powers that be.. decided I wasn’t needed at last years conference in Nola. I was in good company though because Jack Milan wasn’t there either. Bill Pannhoff was also a no show again, as well as a few other regulars from the Catersource of years past. I miss all these people and those that contacted me said it wasn’t the same without us. Even though I’m sure they were just being nice, it did make me feel better.

I wasn’t needed at this years either, although I offered to do it for just a compted room. So this brings me to why I’m writing all this. Some of this years Catersource attendees have come back to me with some disturbing comments. I’m only sharing this because I think that Catersource has taken a wrong turn somewhere even without the virus.

One person even said that it was for them, a waste of time and money. If Mike Roman was here today, he would refund those that were unhappy. From the opening party to the tradeshow, it was the most disappointing conference ever. I have nothing to lose by writing this, and being a former Catersource Ambassador, I think this should be addressed.

Is Catersource a thing of the past? Are you getting rid of the old to make room for the .. what? This conference was designed for lowly caterers like myself to learn and elevate the art of serving food. Learning on all levels and meeting others like ourselves, knowing we weren’t alone.

Sharing knowledge for the greater good. Mike Roman gave a written guarantee that if you weren’t satisfied with what you learned and thought it was not worth it.. he would personally give you all your money back. To all of you reading this, I took him at his word, and that is why, even though we couldn’t really afford it, we attended that first conference over 20 years ago, and every one since. (well a family wedding took precedence one year)

That is the truth and we never looked back..