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Catering business supports community meal program

If you’re looking for someone to cater your next business function, Home of Our Own Catering in Sudbury will fill your stomach with good food and your heart with goodwill.
Home of Our Own Catering, the social enterprise arm of Meals on Wheels in Sudbury, offers catering for business luncheons, networking events, and large corporate events. From left are Kelly Zinger, executive director of Meals on Wheels; Crystal Ayers, co-ordinator at Home of Our Own Catering; kitchen helpers Stella Pelland and Heather Brainard; lead cook Marie-Anne Ayers; and kitchen helper Dawn Larkman.

If you’re looking for someone to cater your next business function, Home of Our Own Catering in Sudbury will fill your stomach with good food and your heart with goodwill.

Launched just over a decade ago, Home of Our Own is the social enterprise arm of Meals on Wheels Sudbury, the non-profit organization that provides healthy, fresh food to those who are otherwise unable to access nutritious meals.

Meals on Wheels receives about 49 per cent of its funding from the government, but must raise the rest through client fees and fundraising. Staff realized there was lost potential in the kitchen, which went idle after 10:30 a.m. once the food had all been prepped and meals had been delivered to clients, said Kelly Zinger, Meals on Wheels’ executive director.

“We use Home of Our Own as a revenue source for Meals on Wheels, so profits earned from the catering events that we host go directly back into Meals on Wheels programming to help keep costs low for our clients,” Zinger said.

A rebranding in November 2014 gave Home of Our Own a new website, a new logo, and a new menu, bringing with it a significant increase in revenue. That year, the organization boosted its profits by 158 per cent, earning almost $20,000 more from caterings than it had in 2013.

Zinger said the organization is growing so quickly it had to hire four people in 2015 alone, and it’s now looking at plans to expand its kitchen and office space.

“By choosing us, people are also supporting the community,” Zinger said. “It’s not just for profit generation; it’s also to support the people in your community that need help.”

More than 400 people are currently using the service, which has become more costly over the last four years, as food costs have risen by 36 per cent.

Home of Our Own will accommodate everything from finger foods for a networking event to a full sit-down dinner. A staff of six, led by co-ordinator Crystal Ayers, can prepare a hearty meat chili or roast beef and gravy, shepherd’s pie or salmon loin with dill sauce, minestrone or Mediterranean pasta.

Clients can also make food requests from off the menu, including to meet special dietary needs.

“If there’s something that isn’t on the menu that they would like to have, the majority of the time we can most definitely accommodate them,” Ayers said. “We’ve done that on several occasions.”

Last year, the organization catered an Indian wedding for more than 100 people and received high praise from the hosts for its presentation of traditional butter chicken and vegetarian fare.

Client satisfaction is the organization’s priority, whether that client is receiving food at home or attending a formal business dinner, noted Zinger.

“We want our clients to get the best possible food for what they can afford and make them healthy, independent individuals in our community,” she said.

“It’s the same philosophy we use toward our catering company: we want people to get the best value for their money, fill their stomachs with good food, and we want them to come back for more — and that’s through customer service.”

Or, as Ayers puts it: “I would be seriously disappointed if somebody left an event that I catered hungry.”

Because of its hearty, nutritious fare, Home of Our Own has secured clients like Hydro One, Kenworth trucking company, Maple Tree Preschool and the Lions Club.

Last fall, the organization secured a contract with Health Sciences North to provide meals for its Withdrawal Management and Safe Bed Program, which means Home of Our Own now operates seven days a week, 365 days a year.

While the majority of Meals on Wheels chapters have their meals prepared by foodservice companies, the Sudbury branch is one of 10 in Ontario that has its own kitchen, which means all meals are prepared from scratch.

It was one of the first to develop a catering service through its kitchen and has served as models for other chapters to do the same.

It’s aiming to have a growth plan in place by mid-2017, but what that will look like — an expansion of the kitchen, or a move to an entirely different facility — remains to be seen.

In the meantime, Home of Our Own will continue providing nourishing meals of substance, said Zinger.

“It’s taken years to jump our hurdles and figure out what works and doesn’t, and where we belong in the catering business,” Zinger said.

“We found where we belong, and customers and businesses out there have realized that this is what we do well.”