October 2012

Raising the Bar: Lowrey Group Chefs

Author: Linda S. Hopkins | Photographer: Photography by Anne

It’s been said that too many cooks spoil the broth; but the Lowrey Group’s award-winning chefs are working together more closely than ever, and the soup’s turning out pretty tasty. The Lowrey Group currently consists of a complete catering and event planning division, Celebrations Catering and Events, along with two of Hilton Head Island’s most enduring and endearing restaurants, Old Fort Pub and CQ’s. What the respective chefs have discovered is that through their collective efforts, the whole is even greater than the existing pieces and parts.

While the company’s restaurant and catering chefs have always functioned as a team in terms of supporting one another, the group is drawing closer as they recognize the power of collaboration. According to Bonnie Lowrey, each has unique and strong talents. “By working closely together to share ideas and resources, the chefs inspire each other and have a broader sense of what can be achieved,” she said. Reaping the benefits are the individual businesses as well as their guests and the community at large.

“It’s a constant journey of excellence we all are walking, and we’ve stepped up the process,” Lowrey said. “This is our way of helping to make our people better and the experience better for our guests.”

Extending a handshake
In a bold move to maximize efficiency and boost creativity, Celebrations and Sandstone, two of the island’s most successful catering operations have recently merged. “We competed with each other for so many years and one lost business to the other, which was really based on one’s strengths as opposed to a weakness,” said Chef Aram Haroutunian of Sandstone. “We looked at it as bringing all the strengths and efficiencies together. The response from our clients has been really great.”
Chef Andy Borgmeier of Celebrations agrees, pointing out that he is accustomed to larger parties and events whereas Haroutunian brings the perspective of more intimate in-home dining and personal chef-style services. “The amount of talent that Aram and I have together in the kitchen is second to none,” he said.

Pointing out the credibility of their combined efforts, Haroutunian said, “There’s no question that we will understand exactly what needs to be done and how to do it.”
The catering facility itself is a tremendous advantage and a distinction from other small catering operations or restaurants that caters. “This is truly a culinary machine that is full of state-of-the-art equipment, designed for preparing food,” Haroutunian said, emphasizing quality control and food safety. With an array of venues to offer and the staff to support the operations, Celebrations can accommodate any size group, from dinner for two to an event for 2,000, with the capacity to handle multiple events in one day and supply different menus at each location. The professional kitchen is also a valuable resource for USCB’s culinary students who train through the Volume Food Production class.

Building a wider web
In addition to the new catering partnership, restaurant chefs, Keith Josefiak of Old Fort Pub and Yuri Gow of CQ’s are equally excited about the opportunity to tap into the group resources. The collaboration allows them not only to share ideas, but also to order products that might not otherwise be easily accessed by a single restaurant.
“The ingredient pool is larger,” Gow said. “For example, suppose lamb from Virginia is available. I can’t personally order enough, but collectively we can.” The same applies to meats and fishes as well as specialty items, e.g. rare wild mushrooms.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to the guest or catering customer can be summed up in two words: variety and quality. “Because of the restaurant and catering affiliation, we are able to offer more styles,” Josefiak said. “We each have our own menus and own identities, but we feed off each other in meetings with products and development.

The chefs also keep one another abreast of what is seasonally available, including local seafood and produce. Josefiak and Gow talk several times a week, working together and sharing deliveries, he said. And like good neighbors, they are not afraid to run next door and borrow a lemon or a cup of sugar.

According to Josefiak, this “extending of the olive branch” is one of the greatest advantages of the collaboration. “We’re pretty independent, but there’s a brotherhood. When we need something, we’re there for each other,” he said. For example, if Celebrations is catering an event at Windows and they suddenly need a vegetarian plate, he can provide it in a jiffy.

Coming together with the restaurant chefs creates a nice synergy,” Borgmeir said. “You bring in all the business, all the reputation and all the goodwill, but without all the overhead. It’s streamlined for everybody.”

“It’s sort of a culinary think tank. The restaurant chefs get access to direct customer feedback. With catering, we’re projecting out in advance where they’re getting a lot of what’s happening for today,” Haroutunian said. “It allows us to think about where things are going in the future, both from a business standpoint and from a creative standpoint.”

Bringing it home
It’s easy to see how the business can profit from collaboration, but what may not be as apparent is how you might benefit or why you should care. The area at large is not only blessed by the group’s dedication to excellence in food quality and service, but also its community involvement through education, charitable events and its sustainability efforts. Lowrey is fully committed to developing relationships with area farmers and fishermen, which not only supports the local economy, but also ensures freshness and flavor. “We use as much local and regional seafood and produce as we can,” Lowrey said, “and we make food work for what it is. After all, eggplant is a beautiful thing. If you gussy it up too much, it’s no longer eggplant.”

In addition, B’s Kitchen, a division of Celebrations Catering and Events, is creating wholesome meals prepared in-house that people can pick up and take home—a concept that is reaching out to touch the school lunch program as well. B’s Kitchen is now providing lunches Monday-Thursday at St. Francis Catholic School on Hilton Head, with an emphasis on healthy eating.

“That’s an initiative Bonnie is taking. While there is a business advantage, I really believe there is much more benevolence behind it,” Haroutunian said. “She recognizes very clearly the tragedy that is happening with the kids. She wants to do something to help educate these kids, and we have the ability to do that.”

A higher calling
From sales to upper management, this group is constantly reinventing itself. “Complacency is not something that anybody feels comfortable with here,” Haroutunian said. “We are trying to evolve and adapt in a way that keeps us ahead of the curve without sliding off into no-man’s land. We don’t get what we call ‘fusion confusion’ in the culinary industry—trying to be so existential that we lose who we are at the core. We want to keep that identity, but continue challenging ourselves creatively. And that’s the thing that’s working.”

For Lowrey, it is an investment of money, time and energy into what’s important and who she is as a person and as a business owner as well as a testament to her values and integrity.

“I don’t know of another organization that has its hands in so many different aspects with the culinary piece being the core. But with the restaurants, the catering, the educational piece, the school piece, the home meal replacement, there are a lot of facets to it. There are larger restaurant groups out there, but I’m not sure there are any that have as much diversity of their core—of who they are,” Haroutunian said.

The chefs agree that what sets their collaboration apart from other groups is the symbiotic relationship between the collective staff. Leave it to the Lowrey Group to raise the bar!

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