Scott Williams knows why people are drawn to his catered spreads of smoked boudin, cracklin’-topped deviled eggs and andouille croutons with champagne Parmesan fondue.
“It’s about getting in there and digging in, making the food really part of the party,” said Williams, who runs T-Dubb’s Cajun Country Catering in New Orleans with chef Bart Bell. “People want a food experience, not just standing in a line for chafing dishes of hotel jambalaya.”
What Williams hadn’t quite figured out was how to get more of T-Dubb’s amped-up Cajun offerings under the noses of the event producers, wedding planners and conference hosts who gather hungry crowds in this town, and who have potentially lucrative contracts to feed them.
My House Social does, however, and that’s why Williams credits the New Orleans-based culinary event company with accelerating T-Dubb’s growth.
“When we work with them, all we have to do is cook,” said Williams.
The landscape of New Orleans food is now teeming with food trucks and pop-ups, specialty caterers and local sources for everything from whole hog barbecue to kombucha tea. There’s also a stream of corporate events, conferences and private functions coursing through New Orleans, and many spend big money on food.
My House Social is building a different niche in the New Orleans hospitality world by connecting the two. In the process, it’s helping new players access a cornerstone of the city's tourism economy and bringing different flavors to the table for visitors.
"Events are changing, what people expect and want from the food is changing, but it's a matter of how you can access it,” said Barrie Schwartz, founder of My House Social. “New Orleans is this destination for events because people see it as different and unique. I think it’s important to include the small businesses that help keep it different and unique.”
Brands and brides
My House Social works with destination management companies and event planners, handling the technical and contractual side of getting smaller food purveyors into the act. In practice, the company also functions alternately as menu and concept adviser, as hands-on wrangler for a loose network of food entrepreneurs and as translator between creative chefs and contract-bound planners.
“Let’s face it, I’m a back of the house guy,” said Micah Martello, a veteran New Orleans chef and frequent My House Social collaborator with his Fete au Fete food truck. “I’d be an event coordinator if that’s what I wanted to do. I want to cook.”
Serving dishes like blackened shrimp salad and cochon de lait Cuban sandwiches, Fete au Fete joins a roster of vendors that include both well-known names, like Café du Monde, and cottage industry contenders, like the small-batch baker Port City Pantry.
My House Social’s clients have become equally varied, ranging from brands to brides.
During one busy week in July, for instance, My House Social coordinated food for a string of destination weddings and parties for liquor companies in town for the Tales of the Cocktail conference while also deploying brigades of food trucks for a convention of fitness instructors (who, of course, feasted on beignets, bread pudding, chocolate crepes and artisan ice cream).
Roaming roots, changing tastes
If My House Social has a knack for finding what’s bubbling up for New Orleans food, that’s because it started at the ground level too.
The company took shape in 2012 when Schwartz began organizing food truck “round ups” to showcase the diversity of the city’s changing street food scene. Eventually, though, she saw greener pastures at events with built-in audiences.
“I realized what we were doing on our own wasn’t going to make or break a food truck’s business, but these bigger events could,” said Schwartz. “There wasn’t really a voice for these smaller vendors to bring diverse food to the world of private events.”
The company’s new focus aligns with changes showing up across the events industry. Rachel Avery, director of convention services and events for the New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau, said event attendees expect a higher level of food today, and planners are always looking for new ways to liven up their events.
“This generation doesn't want cookie cutter, they don't want typical, traditional convention food anymore,” said Avery. “But that’s hard for planners because they are working for so many different people, they have to take the safe route.”
Part of My House Social’s success has been to forge that safe route to different types of vendors, vetting them on the front end and bolstering their capacity by handling the logistics. The diversity of vendors they bring has been giving event planners an assist too.
Curator and coach
The trends and lifestyles that have shaped the modern restaurant scene impact the events world. Catering to special diets — vegetarian, vegan, gluten free — is now the norm, along with an emphasis on healthier choices. At the same time though, visitors and their hosts expect to find a taste of New Orleans in the mix.
“Event planners want people to know what city they're in, that this is New Orleans, even if their one meal might be in a big ballroom or event facility,” said Avery.
My House Social addresses the challenge by working with a wide range number of specialized vendors. They might park a barbecue trailer next to a grilled cheese food truck and pair them with a farm-to-table salad bar.
“They can be at opposite ends of the spectrum,” said Danielle Lee, the company’s chief operating officer. “That’s the beauty of working with multiple vendors, because you’re not going to find one that does all of that really well. We want people who are really focused on what they do best.”
Along the way, the company has also grown into a role that some vendors describe as coach and agent.
For instance, Becky Wasden and Stefani Sell started their company Two Girls One Shuck as a “full amenity traveling oyster bar,” with little more than a passion for oysters and a cheeky name. They’re a hit at weddings, and they set up for happy hours at neighborhood bars, but they wanted to raise the stakes.
“We’ve always had a high interest in these events you see happening around the city, but we didn’t know which channels to swim through to get into the corporate world,” said Wasden. “Did we have the right insurance, could we handle all the paperwork?”
My House Social helped them figure out competitive pricing for their services and opened doors to a fuller schedule of events. They recently provided an oyster bar at an event for more than 3,000 people, and they now draw on a roster of two dozen shuckers, all women.
“Now that we’re on the other side of it, it’s quite thrilling to get big clients, the big jobs,” Wasden said. “It’s been a fabulous collaboration because they get all the right people together.”
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