Change of Direction

How a Sarasota Catering Business Shifted Into a Meals-to-Go Operation

When the Covid-19 pandemic put a halt to much of Zildjian Catering & Consulting's events catering business, the company ramped up its takeout division.

By Cooper Levey-Baker January 12, 2021

In 2019, Sarasota's Zildjian Catering & Consulting decided to launch a new line of business. The company had been around since 2009, providing healthy, preservative-free, made-from-scratch meals for events around the area, but chef and owner Alyson Zildjian wanted to expand, and so she launched Fresh Food to Go out of Zildjian's kitchen on Beneva Road.

Through Fresh Food to Go, customers could now order individual dishes from Zildjian's menu and take them to-go. The new program allowed Zildjian to serve diners picking up a prepackaged meal or two as a complement to the company's larger catering services.

Last March, when the Covid-19 pandemic forced the cancellation of months worth of corporate lunches, weddings and family reunions, Zildjian's decision to open Fresh Food to Go suddenly looked very smart.

Zildjian Catering & Consulting chef and owner Alyson Zildjian with her husband, Mark, who joined the business in 2019.

"People were afraid," says Zildjian, "but everything is packaged and sealed, ready to pick up." The company's healthful offerings were also attractive to people suddenly more concerned than ever about their wellbeing.

To boost the newish service, the company launched an online ordering portal and ramped up its social media presence and is even working on a subscription service that will give a discount on certain items for people who pay a flat monthly fee. "We were in startup mode again," says Zildjian.

The Fresh Food to Go menu changes weekly, but typically includes one beef dish, one chicken dish, one fish dish, at least one vegan item, wraps, sandwiches and salads. The menu is offered every Tuesday through Saturday. Customers can either stop in and grab what they want or order ahead. The dishes are designed to be prepared quickly.

In addition to losing traditional event catering contracts, Zildjian has also taken a hit from the cancellation of many sporting events in the area. Through its Peak Performance Catering division, the company provides dishes designed to boost athletic performance to sports teams that are training or competing in the area. But with many college and high school teams having canceled their trips to the region, those business opportunities have largely evaporated.

Zildjian hopes Fresh Food to Go can help carry the business until the pandemic ends and crowds can start getting together again for parties and celebrations and rowing competitions. "Catering has come back slightly," says Zildjian, "but nothing like we've seen in the past."

Zildjian Catering & Consulting is located at 6986 Beneva Road, Sarasota. Its Fresh Food to Go menu is available 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Tuesday-Friday and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday. For more info, call (941) 363-1709 or visit the company's website.

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