Comfort (Catered) Food
Author: Paul deVere
If you’ve got a kid (or grandkid) who plays soccer or baseball, or you’ve been to Wingfest or Sunset Cinema at Shelter Cove Community Park, you’ve probably seen the custom-made hotdog cart. Serving Hoffman’s German franks and snappies, with apron and paper butcher’s hat, is Carey Basciano, Youngstown, Ohio native and owner of Street Meet, a restaurant featuring “sidewalk sandwiches from America’s favorite street corners.” Basciano describes it as “a post prohibition, old-style family tavern.”
While the eatery has grown in popularity (it is home to the Cleveland Brown backers) the catering end of the business has also grown significantly. “I do about 70 outdoor events a year now,” Basciano said. But he points out these are definitely not black tie affairs. He describes the jobs he gets as more of a “church hall-type catering.” Which is just fine with him. In fact, that’s a fundamental part of his business plan.
Then, so is standing there at a soccer tournament selling hot dogs. “I used to work for an old Italian chef. He used to tell me all the time that if you’re not the rainmaker, if you’re not out shaking hands, you’re not driving business to your door. You get out there, he told me, and shake hands. It was the best business advice I’ve ever received,” Basciano said. “Being out there, meeting people, all of our catering business comes to us by word of mouth.”
Some of the outdoor events are also fund raisers for civic groups, like the Coastal Discovery Museum, the Sandbox and St. Francis Catholic School, Knights of Columbus, and the Island Recreation Center. While providing his services basically “pro bono, Basciano returns 20% of the proceeds from the catered events to the organizations. “That comes out to be about $5,000 a year. I’m no saint,” he laughed, “it’s just good marketing.”
Basciano started his career on Hilton Head as general manager of Harbourside Café in Harbour Town. During his 12-year tenure there, he heard people from all over the U.S. talk about their favorite neighborhood “street food,” like cheese steak, soft pretzels, Philly burgers. He wanted to create a restaurant and catering business that satisfied those cravings for hometown comfort food.
“Being here for the last 17 years, I saw a big basic need for a moderately priced caterer, like for high school graduations, family reunions. It fits so well with the menu we have [at Street Meet]. First, we had to get our storefront, the restaurant. Now, the catering. I said why not go out and do the ‘ethnic’ food we have here,” said Basciano.
His client list includes organizations from the St. Francis Knights of Columbus to the Savannah YMCA to families celebrating graduation and a wedding party with a Lebanese theme.
“There was this one graduation party at this lady’s home. We put the chafing dishes in the dining room. Friends brought in all the sides. We came in with holding ovens and put them in her garage. There were these big trays of chicken, ribs, mac and cheese. All she had to do was serve it. She fed 75 people. When it was over, she just took all the trays to the garage and we picked them up. No mess,” said Basciano.
His desire to feed large numbers of people at a moderate price was a quality he exhibited early on, and a trait he comes by honestly. “I liked to cook when I was a kid. My grandfather used to cook breakfasts for the Knights of Columbus [in Youngstown, Ohio]. My grandmother worked the soup kitchen for the Bishop,” Basciano said.
It’s that hometown food and service that people relate to when they think of Street Meet. Chef Rafael Palacios, who has been with Street Meet since it opened in November, 2005, and has been on the island since 1989, manages the kitchen and take out. Chef Will Richards, a 20-year islander, handles Meet Street’s “Dinner to Your Door” and “Catering to You” operations, though those lines blur when things get busy. “Like the tax free weekend. Employees didn’t have time to get lunch, so we went out there. They enjoyed it,” said Basciano.
He’s already established his retirement plan. Kids who were students at St. Francis or on a soccer or baseball team where his hotdog cart was center stage are now old enough to become hired help and assist him with all the catered events. “I’ll hang in there until I have a whole staff,” he said, laughing.
The hot dogs are from Hofmann’s, a company founded in 1879 in Syracuse, New York. It’s a family business, just like Street Meet. Authentic is a word to describe the product. Just like the guy in the butcher’s cap and apron, shaking hands at the hotdog cart.