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Marigolds & Onions Catering: Cultivating Beauty and Depth
In the late '80s Al Salomon had all of his time being consumed with the ins-and-outs of his current employer, a Toronto-based catering company. Inside him, however, was welling up the desire to run his own catering business, as he longed for the creative control to cater events in his own unique way.
Finally, in the winter of 1991, Al and his business partner and chef, Stephen, took to the streets of downtown Toronto – in a tired old van – searching for a suitable and affordable kitchen space in which to begin the catering venture that was to become Marigolds & Onions Catering.
What’s in a Name
The search for a suitable space to lease was difficult. The two men had a small amount of investment capital, and couldn’t afford to risk wasting their modest reserve of start-up funds on a well-equipped high-rent space or a fixer-upper space that would require expensive facility inputs. During the trying search, the men secured the first half of the company name – marigolds – from Stephen, who grew the flowers organically in his apartment and used them to add flavor and color to food, referring to them as “the poor man’s saffron.”
A compromise in the search finally came in the form of a tiny, no-heat, no-AC space with the necessary kitchen equipment in place (i.e. a $7,000 hood installment) close to downtown.
“The guy said if you take a three-year lease, I’ll let you use my garage,” recalls Al. “We go outside and he lifts up the garage door and when your eyes got used to the darkness there was one thing lying on the floor: an onion. I said, ‘It’s meant to be.’”
And so the two men took the lease and also found the ending to their company name. There began Marigolds & Onions, a company now in its 20th year of business catering events across Canada and into the U.S., and enjoying increasing success that has seen the company relocate to a space four-times that of the fateful original.
Small Leads to Larger
Although the company has grown tremendously since its modest beginnings, the culture of the business remains the same and adheres to Al's philosophy that service knows no bounds.
Although the company’s niche has become “large events, done well,” Al maintains that Marigolds & Onions will still provide “the same level of service for a dinner for you and 10 of your friends. People ask what the minimum is and I say, ‘One. I have no minimum.’”
Alongside lavish elephantine events, Marigolds & Onions still caters “dinners at somebody’s house for two people,” and Al says that those cozy events are just as important as the big ones, as “that’s how we started,” Al emphasizes. Indeed, from a number of small jobs done well came bigger jobs and growth opportunities for Marigolds & Onions, and the company continues to treat even the most big volume job with the same attention to detail and personalized touches as an intimate affair.
But before business took off, in the wee beginning, there was Al, out of bed at 4 a.m. and heading to the airport with a handful of muffins to “cater” breakfast for the owner of a private jet. Yet, he was patient and built-up relationships with his clients and gradually the business grew. Now, Marigolds & Onions replenishes the food supply of the Rolling Stones’ private 747 when it lands in Toronto, where the band rehearses when on tour.
Marigolds & Onions' much-anticipated foray into big-venue catering came with a last-minute catering job for the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The caterers were called at 2 p.m. and asked to cover a dinner for 8 p.m. that night. With only six hours, Marigolds & Onions pulled off an incredible dinner and was invited to be an exclusive caterer of the venue.
Steadily the work and partnerships came in. Marigolds & Onions is now a preferred partner of the Royal Conservatory of Music, as well as the contracted caterer for the annual Rogers Cup Tennis Tournament – a massive job which involves serving 150,000 people in one week – and the company has catered the two-day Weekend to End Breast Cancer event in all its various city venues across Canada since 2003.
An Evolving Enterprise
In addition to flexibility in event size and style, Marigolds & Onions is open 24/7 to service clients on short notice, and the company always strives to provide fresh and unique catering. “I’m always searching for new ideas,” Al says.
One particularly popular idea of Al’s sprung from a Thanksgiving-themed catering event where the client wanted something “a little different.” He came up with the “Turkey-tini” – a cocktail glass filled with a scoop of mashed potatoes and stuffing covered with turkey and gravy and topped off with a skewer of cranberries (mimicking olives in a martini). “They went nuts,” says Al. “They loved it.”
The Turkey-tini idea has been converted into other themes and has been picked up by associates in the industry. Catering creatively has not only led to happy clients and industry mimics, but has led to the growth of a new arm of the business as well, one that reaches into wholesale food supply. Although currently only supplying one company with one item – sun-dried tomato and avocado filled spring rolls – Al knows there is potential for expanding this side of Marigold & Onions' servicing.
It's through such innovative servicing and event production, and standing for the highest level of respect with every client and all jobs that Marigold & Onions has created widespread success since 1991. Al knew what he’d put into his business from the very beginning of the venture. On that snowy day in late-March, when Al and Stephen secured the company’s first space, Al “cleaned the entire garage, went to the corner store, bought an onion, put the onion back in the garage and shut the door.” He knew then that he would focus on cultivating and growing something small in a personal way, from the ground up, patiently waiting to peel back the layers of the business in order to discover its true potential, and Marigolds & Onions Catering continues to provide only the freshest food and service to gatherings from five to 5,000.