This story was originally published in the February/March 2015 issue of Chattanooga Magazine.
Too many parties or fundraisers? Not enough special places? The dates are all taken? These are serious problems for event planners, brides, associates of retiring executives—anyone who needs help with an event now. With two venue spaces, a full service catering company and enthusiasm to spare, one regional company provides clients with a variety of unique and customized services to make special events successful.
“We are different from other catering companies because we are a one-stop shop so to speak,” says Tara Plumlee, CEO and owner of A Silverware Affair. “We can provide all the food, linens, and venue space. We are also one of the only companies in Chattanooga that has a liquor license to sell and serve. Honestly, we pretty much do everything but rent tents!”
Plumlee definitely knows the ingredients to be successful in the world of food and beverage. Her father owns Rib and Loin BBQ and she began waitressing at age 13. After finishing her undergraduate degree at Baylor University, she returned to Chattanooga to get her MBA with an emphasis in entrepreneurship at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. After working for a while in commercial real estate, she opened a restaurant in Atlanta and began catering from it and, A Silverware Affair was born.
Since then, her company has grown exponentially. More than just a catering business, A Silverware Affair is part of Plumlee’s larger company, The Catering Companies, LLC. They cater events in Chattanooga, as well as Knoxville, Nashville and Atlanta. The company consists of A Silverware Affair, The Car Barn venue space on Heritage Business Court, and The Mill venue space off East Main Street in downtown Chattanooga.
“After starting with A Silverware Affair, which was only a food and beverage catering company, I realized we had more clients than we had venue spaces to hold their events. I recognized that there was a need for more venue space options in the area,” says Plumlee. “It dawned on me that we should have our own space. I wanted to offer something different and special for Chattanooga.” After acquiring The Car Barn six years ago and then later The Mill, Plumlee was certainly able to fulfill her goal of bringing something unique to Chattanooga. Both venues operate independently by catering their own events and having their own distinctive styles and menus, which range from simple and elegant hors d’oeuvres, to buffet spreads and inspired food stations. If clients aren’t able to find exactly what they want on a menu, they are welcome to work with Plumlee’s staff to create their own personalized menu to suit their style and event.
“We really enjoy working with brides and other clients to help showcase their personality through the menu,” says Plumlee. “We did a wedding for a couple who had met in Belgium so we had a waffle station with all sorts of toppings and then French fries, or frites, wrapped in Belgium paper cones. It’s fun for us to be able to stretch our culinary prowess to be able to recreate a client’s vision. And to see the look on their face when their vision becomes a reality at their event is just awesome.” While weddings dominate the catering market on weekends and during popular wedding months, like in the summer and fall, A Silverware Affair is also very experienced in handling corporate events, class reunions, and private parties of all kind.
“Because we have our own venue options and also are very knowledgeable about other venues in the area, it is really nice for clients to come to us and get all the information they need in one meeting,” says Plumlee. “If their style doesn’t fit our venues, we can suggest something else and still cater the event through A Silverware Affair.” For repeat clients, this is a great option because they can throw a distinctive soiree every year using a different venue space or different theme, while still being able to work with a company they trust. “Our clients really do build a rapport with us,” says Plumlee. “Along with a lot of creativity, we bring years of experience and reliability to the table. We don’t let our clients down.”
With a fulltime staff of 20 bartenders, chefs, servers, and planners, along with around 30 additional people during prime event season and a fleet of vehicles, Plumlee is able to handle multiple events at once. Many of the staff members are cross-trained, meaning they are experienced in all elements of the event process: planning, food preparation, and working on-site at the event.
“This is really important, because if something does go wrong, there is always someone else who can jump right in to the situation with the same expertise so the issue never becomes a problem for the client,” says Plumlee.
Pleasing the client is definitely a top priority for Plumlee and her staff. Shirley Camp manages the companies and also works directly with clients. “Oftentimes, especially when working with brides, they may feel a lot of pressure and stress before the event because they want everything to be just right. They may get hung-up on little details. I always reassure my brides that we are taking care of everything and to not let anything ruin this day because it’s going to be the best day of their lives,” says Camp.
Kaitlynn Pereira, who handles sales for The Car Barn, The Mill and A Silverware Affair, also loves working with the clients. “That’s my favorite part of the process. I love sitting down with them, figuring out what they really want, and then doing my best to make them happy,” she says.
In the catering business, much of the labor and planning often goes by unnoticed until the time of the big event. The process can even be a little thankless at times, but not for Plumlee and her enthusiastic staff.
“A lot of what we do here is behind the scenes. We may work with a bride or client for a year or more in planning all the little details for one three-hour event. It’s a lot of work! But when a person is just so appreciative and says we have completely exceeded their expectations by the end of the night, it’s a great feeling,” says Plumlee. “We love being able to help clients create their most wonderful memories. It makes all the work worth it.”
Photography courtesy of A Silverware Affair