How Elite Catering changed its business model for the holidays

Elite Catering's BBQ meal to go for four. CONTRIBUTED
Elite Catering's BBQ meal to go for four. CONTRIBUTED

The holidays may be over and the spreads of rich, delectable food long gone, but now is the time to consider some of the best that the holidays had to offer.

One of the more impressive, creative operations that I saw this holiday season was Elite Catering.

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The company, founded by Renee McClure in 1999, has grown rapidly into one of Dayton’s best-known caterers. Still owned and led by McClure, who accurately and hilariously calls herself a “food fashionista,” the company has continued to fine-tune its craft while finding ways to infuse creativity and innovation into its business model.

The Elite Catering team. CONTRIBUTED
The Elite Catering team. CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

Credit: CONTRIBUTED

This year, Elite launched a new “Cravings to Go” menu for the holidays via its website, www.elitetogo.com, to deliver favorite dishes to its customers’ doorsteps. The meals were easy-to-prepare spreads that just needed an oven.

Meals include a traditional holiday turkey feast that served six to eight ($129), a holiday ham feast that served four to six people ($99), a mascarpone and fig stuffed chicken marsala dinner for four ($79), a goat cheese and pesto stuffed eggplant Parmesan vegetarian feast for four ($79), a filet dinner for four ($99), a braised short rib dinner for four ($89) and a Southern BBQ feast ($99) that served four to six.

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The meals were terrific, but the real creativity came in the form of order add-ons like fresh floral centerpieces, a decorate-your-own-holiday-cookie box, charcuterie and my personal favorite — praline bacon.

Let me take a moment to highlight this delicious salty savory piece of magic. Elite’s praline bacon is the local caterer’s No. 1 selling hors d’oeuvre, and for good reason — it’s glorious. This mouth-watering ambrosia is a perfectly crafted hand-held food that delivers a satisfying crunch with every bite.

Elite’s praline bacon. CONTRIBUTED
Elite’s praline bacon. CONTRIBUTED

This year Elite offered it by the pound ($29, one pound is 16-18 full pieces or 32-36 half-size pieces) for the first time ever. It’s a great gift any time of year that will leave quite the impression on whoever is receiving it, especially if it’s me. I kid, but it is definitely a favorite treat of mine. It’s great for parties, gifts, stocking stuffers, breakfast, lunch or dinner, winter, spring summer, fall and just about any occasion that you could dream up.

“We picked our most popular dinner items to pull together for this program. We focused on the celebration aspect and wanted our meals to look and taste just as you would expect from a high-end restaurant. We may be stuck at home, but that doesn’t mean we are not celebrating all the wonderful things we have to be grateful for,” said McClure. “We are in the business of large gatherings, and they have not been allowed to happen since March, so this was our pivot into something different to help keep the small staff we have retained, busy. It started slow, because nothing like this has been offered in our market before. There was a little bit of educating the corporate clients on what it was and how it could work for them. Now, we are full tilt and bringing in additional workers who had been laid off previously to help with the demand.”

In December the Elite team has been averaging more than 150 boxes a week. Thanksgiving was a huge week and they had to close Christmas orders a week before the holiday based on the volume of orders they received.

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“COVID-19 reared its ugly head on our event calendar in 2020 and once the fall hit we worked to come up with a solution to all of our holiday parties being canceled,” said McClure. “With many companies having their employees work remotely still, we thought we were developing this program for them to replace their holiday party. While several of our corporate clients took advantage of the program and sent anywhere between 19 to 178 boxes, depending on the size of their company, we were pleasantly surprised by the number of past clients taking advantage of the program for their own family meals and gifting needs. We have gotten to see so many familiar faces from weddings we catered eight and 12 years ago and honestly, that has been the best part.”

Ordering online was smooth and they added a way to give back. In a partnership with Premier Health and Miami Valley Hospital, they created a donation program where customers could conveniently feed a front-line health care hero just by adding it to their cart.

“When we were sketching this program out, we wanted to include some of our friends in the event industry as well other small businesses that could use the support. Mehaffie’s Pies has probably been the most popular,” said McClure, who emphasized the importance of shopping local now and throughout the year.

When it comes to food and creativity, McClure and her team have always been one to watch — now more than ever.

Dayton Eats looks at the regional food stories and restaurant news that make mouths water. Share info about your menu updates, special dinners and events, new chefs, interesting new dishes and culinary adventures. Do you know of exciting outdoor spaces, new exciting format changes, specials, happy hours, restaurant updates or any other tasty news you think is worth a closer look at? E-mail Alexis Larsen at alexis.e.larsen@hotmail.com with the information and we will work to include it in future coverage.

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