Culinary Capers Catering and Special Events
Eight days and 85,000 hors d’oeuvres, mini-meals, petite desserts and pastries. That’s the kind of challenge Culinary Capers Catering embraces.
When Nordstrom opened its Canadian flagship store in Vancouver, it didn’t want just one opening event, it wanted seven. To pull that off, the iconic fashion company turned to Culinary Capers.
“We do some mega things like going to Italy and catering the Olympics and going to Beijing and catering for five months during the Olympics,” says CEO Debra Lykkemark.
But the Nordstrom event, she says, “that was the craziest thing I’ve done lately.”
Over eight days, Lykkemark’s team served 7,800 guests at seven events, including the opening gala, at which they prepared more than 35,000 hors d’oeuvres and branded mini meals for 3,000 guests; an employee breakfast rally for 1,000 guests; and a “Beauty Bash” street party for 2,500 guests.
“It was spectacular,” Lykkemark said. “It was a lot of work, but our client said it was the best opening in the history of Nordstrom.”
A menu of services
Despite the name, Culinary Capers does more than food.
For instance, for Nordstrom’s grand opening, it served as the event planner and managed the production schedules, sourced all of the furniture, carpets and stanchions, brought in local entertainment and produced all of the floral arrangements.
It worked with the city to close a major downtown street for the “Beauty Bash”—that required a 65-page application and coordination with police, fire and traffic control—and obtained a building permit to build a scaffolding structure over half a city block for the main fashion show because no event tents were large enough for the job.
Perhaps most impressive is that while Culinary Capers was doing all of this, it was still serving its regular customers.
“We can’t turn away our other customers for a one-time thing, so the whole business ran as per usual,” Lykkemark says. “We do a lot of business every week, and we just had to add on this other huge component to it, but it was really fun.”
In addition to serving corporate clients, Culinary Capers is often asked to organize events like an enchanted, magic garden dinner that was part of a three-day vow renewal party Culinary Capers contributed to in 2014. For that event, Culinary Capers staff also hopped on seaplanes to assist the chef on the host’s private island for the days following the dinner.
After successfully catering in Beijing for the 2008 summer Olympics, the chef Culinary Capers worked with—a Canadian living in Beijing—asked if Culinary Capers would consider starting an outpost in China. Lykkemark agreed, and for eight years, Culinary Capers catered to corporate and private clients, embassies, expat schools and international car shows. A recent change in China’s catering regulations led to Culinary Capers withdrawing from China, but the experience overall was a positive one for the company.
Expanding Vancouver’s event options
That no-challenge-is-too-large approach has become Culinary Capers’ signature style.
Just a few months before the Nordstrom event, which earned Culinary Capers a 2016 International Caterers Association CATIE Award for “Signature Caterer for Multiple Day Event,” Culinary Capers opened its own event space, Waterview, on Vancouver’s downtown waterfront.
Lykkemark had been searching for a big event space for years when Waterview Special Event Space appeared in her path. Prior to Waterview, Vancouver had very few waterfront event spaces that could hold more than 100 guests.
Lykkemark had looked at other locations, but often they came with noise restrictions or required the bar close at 10:30 p.m. because they were not downtown. In late 2014, Lykkemark and her husband were walking their usual path along Vancouver’s seawall and noticed that the middle floor of an iconic downtown building, which at the time housed two restaurants and a yacht club, was up for lease.
“We just looked at each other and said, ‘this is it,’” she says.
Culinary Capers worked through months of building permits and construction and opened Waterview in May 2015. The venue holds 250 people in a 3,250-square-foot space with floor-to-ceiling windows and 280 degree panoramic views of the ocean and Granville Island Public Market, the heart of Vancouver.
A framework for the future
As the company looks to its future, Lykkemark wants to maximize the Waterview venue, by scheduling as many events as possible. She’s also working to give her management team the tools to run the show more independently, so Lykkemark can step back a bit.
“Because I started with just three people, the culture kind of just grew on its own, but now it’s time to really set a framework,” Lykkemark says.
Lykkemark has built the company around the principles of Gazelles International, a global coaching association for mid-market companies that is based off of founder Verne Harnish’s book Mastering the Rockefeller Habits: What You Must Do to Increase the Value of Your Growing Firm.
Among other aspects, Culinary Capers is currently integrating Gazelles’ “Topgrading” HR system, which aims to maximize the hiring process and acquire top talent.
Even after 30 years of business and growing the company from three to 80 core employees—that number grows based on season and events—Lykkemark sees herself as an entrepreneur.
“Doing all the different events that we do and all the different challenges we take on, you’ve got to be entrepreneurial or you wouldn’t be doing that,” she says. “You’d just stick to making what you’ve always made or doing what you’ve always done, which is not a bad thing sometimes. As long as you do it well and people still like it, why break it? But, personally I am always looking for the next exciting thing to accomplish.”