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Tuesday, October 21, 2014

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Kosher caterers finalize major merger

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Romano Giorgi, left, and Alan Serour shake hands on the merger of their kosher catering businesses.

MONTREAL — Two of Montreal’s busiest kosher caterers, Tradition Catering and Etmo Catering Services, have merged.

This is a marriage of experience and youth, and of two culinary experts who pride themselves on offering modern, high-end cuisine.

Tradition owner Romano Giorgi, 74, has worked in catering, mainly in hotels, all his adult life in Europe and North America. He was banquet manager at the Ritz Carlton Hotel for 16 years before opening Tradition in 1992.

Etmo owner Alan Serour, 34, is a professional chef who bought Etmo in 2010 from Harvey Leavitt after working for that business for over a decade.

It is a venerable company. The Leavitt family has been in catering since the late 1940s when Ethel Leavitt (nee Mirsky) baked cakes for her parents’ Mirsky’s Restaurant on Park Avenue, and her husband Moe oversaw the catered parties. Ethel Leavitt Distinctive Catering was launched in 1951, and became Etmo in 1967.

The partnership suits the needs of both. Giorgi, who has worked mainly with his daughter and his wife, is glad to be relieved of the stress of day-to-day operations.

Serour will benefit from the reputation for customized service the older man has earned, as well as his experience in nimbly handling dinners for 500 or more guests.

A name for the newly merged business has not yet been chosen.

Etmo is in the process of transferring operations from Chabanel Street in the heart of the old garment district to Tradition’s kitchens on Robert Burns Street in Côte St. Luc.

In recent times, Tradition has been handling an average of 30 to 35 events per month and Etmo about 20 and growing under Serour. Their clientele includes some of the Jewish community’s major institutions, such as Federation CJA and the Jewish General Hospital, and high-end private functions.

They frequently found themselves competing for the same jobs, so instead of trying to outbid each other anymore, they decided to join forces.

They expect to be able to handle 60 events a month, and up to 1,000 guests at a time.

Both Giorgi and and Serour have aimed to raise the bar in kosher cooking, creatively working within the requirements of kashrut and the rules of their certifier, the Vaad Ha’ir, which are among the most stringent in the world.

“After so many years in the business, the time was approaching for me to pass the torch, but in doing so I wanted to choose someone who would properly serve my clients,” Giorgi said.

“Alan combines the energy and passion of the young with the talent and experience of a seasoned chef. His reputation for working closely with his clients and for building strong relationships is what convinced me that, left in Alan’s care, my clients would be in good hands.”

Giorgi will, however, still be very active, bringing his characteristic Old World savoir-faire to the service side of the business.

Serour has increased Etmo’s business considerably in the past three years and was looking for new expanded premises when this opportunity was offered.

“We had substantially outgrown our current location and it was time for a move,” he said.

The relocation to the 8,000-square-foot Robert Burns premises is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

“The competition in kosher catering is very fierce,” said Giorgi, noting that the Vaad Ha’ir’s MK hechsher is on 20 caterers, all vying for a market that’s stagnant, if not shrinking.

However, Serour added that with their merger, the number of kosher caterers that can be defined as top of the line is now down to maybe two. (He didn’t name the other.)

Both men have been aiming to meet the increasing demand for kosher food that is the equivalent of that found at better restaurants. Clients are more sophisticated now about international cuisines, as well as nutrition.

The merger, they say, will allow costs to be kept down because of lower overhead with one base of operations.

The merged company will continue to operate the Exception Boutique, next to the Robert Burns premises, a store selling pastries and ready-to-eat dishes.

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