DEXTER, Mich. – Catering companies are accustomed to making last-minute changes but it’s unlikely that Lori Shepard, founder of Simply Scrumptious Catering, anticipated having to turn her catering businesses into a dinner delivery service.
Started in 2003, Simply Scrumptious Catering has served Ann Arbor and the surrounding area for 17 years.
In March, as the COVID-19 pandemic started and talk of businesses shutting down grew, the catering company lost two months-worth of business in a day-and-a-half, according to Shepard.
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March, April, May and June are traditionally busy and she knew something had to be done right away to keep the business afloat.
“We had just hit our stride with our first great week in March and the world changed,” said Shepard.
She met with her team of chefs and within a few days, they had turned the catering business into a dinner delivery service.
“So we turned on a dime and quickly created a new business model, and we were off,” said Shepard, adding that members of the team agreed to self-isolate in order to reduce health risks.
Since March 19, the catering company has sent out a menu of meals every week to a mailing list of about 1,600 people. Customers place their orders for fresh meals over the phone or through email and Simple Scrumptious Catering delivers the meals for free.
The deliveries are contactless. Clients are called or sent a text message once the driver has dropped off the meals and returned to their car.
Meals are delivered Mondays through Fridays, but the catering company also offers a weekend meal package based on client needs
Naturally, challenges came with pivoting the business so quickly -- namely, anticipating what orders would be like and not knowing what the future would be.
Luckily, clientele for the Simple Scrumptious Catering dinner service grew through word-of-mouth. But the company also faced another challenge: food shortages. Shepard said that, like everyone else, the catering company was also affected by food shortages that happened during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has had to work with its suppliers to make sure it would have certain items in order to offer reasonably priced dinners.
The company also wanted to support local farmers so it bought fresh produce from Argus Farm Stop in downtown Ann Arbor and eggs from Harnois Farm in Webster Church Township.
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Since the chefs at the company are “caterers at heart” according to Shepard, creating something new for its clients every week keeps things exciting for staff but also for clients. Items on the weekly menu have ranged from Mediterranean Papillote Branzino to Ropa Vieja with rice and plantains.
Currently, the service predominately delivers meals to customers within Washtenaw County but it’s flexible and has taken meals outside of the county as well.
Regarding the meal delivery service, Shepard is “glad to do it.” She intends to continue the service for as long as her clients need her.
Simply Scrumptious Catering has also returned to doing some catering. Shepard said it had catered a few small events and now it can service larger parties and groups.
To meet the challenge of keeping guests and staff safe, Shepard has had to get creative. While all of her staff have a routine health check, use gloves and wear PPE, they have also had to change the way they serve food -- which Shepard said is an evolving process.
Shepard recalled that she used hula hoops as place markers at an event with a bar. Guests could stand in the hoops and place their orders while having a bit of fun.
“Because often, folks will come up to a bar and they’ll lean on the bar and talk to the bartender and place their order,” said Shepard. “It’s a point of friendliness but we need to think differently.”
Shepard also placed tables off to the side of the bar for drinks to be put on to further minimize risks.
“We’ve just had to rethink ‘how do we keep the food safe? How do we keep people from cross-contaminating from handling utensils and those kinds of things.‘ ”
For Simply Scrumptious Catering, part of this is to have servers take orders for buffet offerings and handle the food, instead of guests.
Then call also call 734-646-4586.
Visit the Simply Scrumptious Catering website for more information.