By Mark Stone
What started out as a regular day for Michael Watts and Kurt Kretzschmar ended up changing the couple’s lives when Kretzschmar returned home from a long day at work. Overworked and unhappy, he was looking for a change. Watts — whose work experience focused on leading teams for large retail companies like FAO Schwarz® and Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. — decided that enough was enough. It was time to start their own business.
“We started Cocktail Caterers in 2007; my partner at the time — and now husband — has been in the catering business for over 30 years. He’s a trained chef from Johnson & Wales [University College of Culinary Arts], and he wasn’t happy working for other people,” Watts explained. “When he came home that night, I looked at him and said that it was time to venture out and take that next step.”
While opening a catering business in Manhattan during a financial crisis might have been risky, Watts and Kretzschmar chose to see it as an opportunity instead of a drawback. “Yes, it was the worst possible time to open a business,” Watts said. “It was one of the worst financial crises. But, sometimes when we see each other unhappy in our jobs, you need to take a chance.”
What makes Cocktail Caterers stand out from the very competitive catering crowd in New York City is its overall business plan. It does not own a kitchen or a car and does not have any employees — which keeps costs down for both the company and its clients. As a National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce-certified business, Cocktail Caterers places substantial importance on its work with NGLCC-NY. Its goal is to be working with all New York City LGBT groups and organizations for their events, celebrations, galas and holiday events.
“We work with another LGBT-owned staffing agency and an LGBT floral company, and we really work with people within the LGBT community,” Watts said. “We practice what we preach as a certified business, and we share with them. We always try to work with vendors that are LGBT-owned.” Those vendors include LGBT-certified Fourth Wall Events and 14 Stories.
According to NGLCC, LGBT-certified businesses are able to build relationships with America’s leading corporations, generate prospective business and clients and collectively team with each other for contracting opportunities. As the corporate world further diversifies its supply chain — becoming more inclusive — certification allows LGBT-owned businesses to differentiate themselves from their competitors.
An additional way that Cocktail Caterers distinguishes itself is how food choices and preparations are inspired.
Watts and Kretzschmar share a passion for travel, and each adventure brings about a new muse that works its way into the culinary offerings.
“We make what I like to refer to as food from our travels,” Watts said. “We visit somewhere; we bring back a spice, a meal we had, a presentation we saw. It may be as simple as a tray we saw somewhere, cookies displayed in Dubai, a spice from the spice market in Istanbul. We are always looking for inspiration and new creative presentations we’ve seen in our travels to set us apart from other caterers.”
Cocktail Caterers operates within the tristate area of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, catering a wide range of occasions, including corporate events, cocktail parties, weddings, gallery openings, fashion shows and holiday get-togethers. The bulk of the business comes from catering cocktail parties in Manhattan. However, the company’s goal is to cater more LGBT weddings in Brooklyn.
“We love a vintage-style wedding in a very relaxed social setting,” Watts said. “In the community we have a tagline — ‘Starting New Traditions.’ What we like to do at a wedding is an extended cocktail party. Most of our events are very social. Everyone is standing around, having a good time. We move from light bites to small hors d’oeuvres to small plates, and everything can be eaten standing up in a party atmosphere.”
But, the party business is not all about partying, Watts said. He asserts that a fundamental component of Cocktail Caterers’ – or any business’ – success is to “Network, network, network.”
He explained, “I get surprised all the time with a new business contact from someone I met a long time ago. I know networking is tiring. But, you put on that smile, get your cards in your hand and have a glass of wine to make it easier. Network your little heart out, because just when you think it doesn’t work, a person will call you and something will come through.”