Palm Beach County is a party paradise. From lavish galas to beach parties to networking events where entrepreneurs and media mavens rub elbows with socialites and influencers, there’s always a need for decadent catered affairs. We had a chat with caterer Ken Keffer of the aptly named Ken Keffer Catering about running his business in Palm Beach, the secret to a stellar catered event and how COVID-19 affected his business.
Tell us about how Ken Keffer Catering was founded and how it’s evolved since then.
I started my business in 2010, so it’s been around for about 12 years. Previous to that, I was the catering director for another local catering company, and I had been with them for 10 years. They’re a well-known catering company in the area. After 10 years, I decided it was time to go out on my own. It’s been great ever since. Because I was the catering director for another company, I had a lot of connections by that point, with vendors and great people in Palm Beach. So it was a great transition and I opened my business with a fantastic client list.
So there was never a period when you weren’t sure if your business was going to work out?
Well, it’s been difficult the last couple of years, for sure, for everybody. But it’s been an evolving business. People and wealth come and go. We consistently grow about 20% every year — except for the last couple of years — and we expand our territory and evolve. It’s been a great experience.
What kinds of exotic flavors or inspirations have made it into your menus?
I wouldn’t say exotic. I spend a lot of time in Paris, and I take classes there when I can. I would say I have more of a French influence, but I also travel to Mexico a lot, as well, so that makes it into the menu. We’re caterers, so we’ll do just about anything. And I do a lot of research for my menus.
What sets Ken Keffer Catering apart from other Palm Beach County caterers?
There are some great caterers in the area. When I started in the business 20-some years ago, there were only a few top caterers in the area. Since then, people have started coming down from New York. We just try to stay one step ahead — we handcraft all of our hors d’oeuvres, research a lot of our menus. I’m a very hands-on owner, so I’m in the kitchen most of the time, and I try to be at all of the events, as well. I’m a very hands-on owner — I do all the shopping, I do all the menus. It’s my vision. My background is interior design, so even though it’s got to taste fantastic, it’s got to look like a million bucks.
In addition to the food component, what is the key to creating an exquisite catered experience?
Details — attention to the details — the presentation, the table settings, right down to the very finest detail. And the wines, the beverages. I do have a bit of a background in wine, as well; I used to escort wine tours in Napa and Sonoma Valley. I think just paying attention to all of the details is really important to me — making sure that the staff is on point, making sure that the service is proper. It’s a total experience. When we show up, we want to make sure that the guests are being treated as guests and that the host is like a guest in their own home, as well. When we leave it’s like no one was ever there; we clean up and put everything away. We just hope that the host can enjoy their party as much as the guests do.
How has COVID-19 affected Palm Beach catering trends and the way parties are hosted?
It’s been challenging, but I don’t know that there are a lot of trends. I tend not to follow too many trends, because Palm Beach is pretty classic and trends definitely do come and go. My clients know what they want. It’s usually a phone call or email. I don’t really advertise, honestly, it’s basically all word of mouth. It’s really worked for me.
As far as how we’ve been coping with COVID and making things a little safer. We do provide covers for our trays when passing hors d’oeuvres. Obviously, the staff is vaccinated; we have hand sanitizing stations; we wear masks when the clients ask us to. We have that sort of stuff available. I wouldn’t say that we follow any sort of trends, but we just do what the client asks us to do. And that’s been working.
What do you find most rewarding about being in the catering business?
It’s different every day. We get to go into some of the most spectacular homes and businesses. I travel a lot. And when you go to museums like the Louvre and see all these fabulous pieces of work by the masters, you’re like, “Yeah, you know this is on loan from one of my clients.” It’s fascinating the things that we get to see and experience. It’s enlightening, rewarding, educational, and it allows me a lot of freedom because obviously we’re seasonal. I get a lot of time off in the summer, which allows me to travel.
What would you say is your official catering season?
Our season runs October until Easter/Passover, depending on how it falls in the year. It’s dedicated by the social calendar up north and obviously the weather. We are here until the end of May, typically, but I will always come back for an event in the summer if I need to, and sometimes we do pick up some corporate stuff or weddings, although people aren’t really likely to get married in Florida in the summer.
Would you like to share any closing thoughts or additional info?
We’re just so grateful to the community in Palm Beach and Palm Beach County, who really supported us through the difficult times of the pandemic. I had some very special clients that really tried to help see me through by ordering food. We’re just so grateful for the opportunities to come into people’s homes, entertain their guests and provide them with a great dining experience. I feel like I’m so lucky. It’s been so difficult for so many businesses — and I’m not saying it wasn’t difficult for us either — but we managed to hang on, and it’s all because of the clients I do have.
To learn more, visit kenkeffercatering.com.