The owner of the esteemed Cali catering company, Abigail Chilton, entered into the business in 1995 after an idea for creating cute, healthy box lunches for childrens’ parties segued into full-service catering.
Now, with a list of high-profile catering events and guest lists that can top in the many thousands, Chilton’s events have catapulted Alligator Pear Catering to new heights. The company specializes in international cuisine with a California twist, combining exotic flavors with the clean, fresh tastes for which the region is famous.
Chilton shares how she’s meeting the ever-growing demand for innovative menus, delivering perfection and staying true to her signature approach of catering without chaos.
It was Chilton’s early love for food that found her at The Restaurant School in Philadelphia. After she moved to Los Angeles to work in the executive kitchen of Occidental Petroleum, her aspiration to branch off and be independent without getting in too deep began to stir. The box lunch catering idea, born from that desire, gained exposure to bigger catering opportunities for weddings, graduations and holiday parties.
“I really took baby steps. I remember that when I was ready to grow, I put an ad in an L.A. magazine. I was prepared to handle the big response and all the calls,” says Chilton laughing. “Two months passed before I got my first call…I thought, ‘okay, so this is how it works.’ It was so discouraging.”
It’s all in the details
But eventually the calls did come in, forcing Chilton to build a dependable team. It takes 15 full-time employees and 150 part-timers to orchestrate and deliver perfection at Alligator Pear.
Working with Jordano’s Account Executive, Alma Ambrose, Chilton is confident that she can bring Jordano’s her new ideas for client menus and have those ideas deployed in the most cost-effective, creative ways.
“I spend a lot of time creating newness. Alma takes these ideas and makes them happen. She’s finding ways to help us stay cutting edge and is fabulous in incorporating the best products into our plan,” says Chilton who creates every single menu from scratch.
As an owner and chef who pours her heart into every event, Chilton’s small beginnings have led to colossal catering events. In the spring she will orchestrate a myriad of annual commencement receptions over two days at the University of Southern California for graduates and their families, totaling over 12,000 guests. Above all the pressure, she remains humble, thankful and passionate about staying the course and making every event special for her clients.
Alligator Pear’s advice
From catering alongside celebrity chef, Giada De Laurentiis, for the Royal Family to serving top talent at the American Idol after parties, Chilton offers smart tips to help you achieve catering success.
Embrace the challenge. Catering is grueling work that demands long hours. That’s why Chilton emphasizes that you have to love it to keep doing it. She says to remain passionate about her work, she must stay challenged. Chilton says the best part about the high-profile events Alligator Pear caters to is that they challenge her teams to be better and forces them to gain new skills to successfully accomplish those events.
Break it down. Chilton advises caterers to control the size of big events by breaking it down into segments. “If we have a sit-down for 800, we break the flow of service into sections to manage it by teams,” she says. “This way we can take on a massive project and simplify it.”
Change with the market. When the market changes, Chilton suggests you shift your work model. For her that means taking into consideration healthier, sustainable cuisines and special menus like gluten-free and vegetarian that are in greater demand.
Shoot for perfection. No matter the price point of an event (low or high budget) Chilton says the goal is consistently delivering great quality and aiming for perfection. This requires constantly keeping on top of timelines and making sure quality is maintained.
Listen to the client. “I went back to school and earned a master’s degree in counseling. It’s been invaluable in training me to listen to the nuances of my client’s requests such as likes and dislikes, general ambiance and cadence for their event, preferences and budget parameters,” says Chilton.
Have resolve. Chilton has seen people come and go in the industry; it is physically, emotionally and mentally demanding. She encourages caterers to stick with it when times are tough and believe you will be a success, “I knew I had it in me.”
Stay connected with the community. “It’s important to give back to and have a face in the community. We have provided meals at the mission, support local charities, are involved with the local Chamber of Commerce, and showcase our flavors at food and wine events,” Chilton says.
Stay unified. The corporate culture at Alligator Pear, Chilton says, is one where they work hard and do it in a calm fashion. “We’re going to be under pressure, but we’re decent people and we’re going to treat others respectfully and, ultimately, that sets the tone for the event and ensures that we present ourselves in a way that rings true to our core values,” she says.