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A Caterer with Four Decades of Experience Offers Advice and Reflects on His Career

Steve Finley is founder and CEO of Finley Catering. With over 45 years of experience, Finley Catering is a family-run business with multiple world class ballrooms throughout the Philadelphia area. These venues include the Crystal Tea Room, the Ballroom at the Ben, Union Trust and the Ballroom at Ellis Preserve. Here, Steve answers your questions about his experiences and success in the catering industry.

How did you start your career in the catering industry?

Courtesy of Finley Catering

I started my career working in the kitchen of a “Hot Shop” at the age of 15. I always had a love of food primarily instilled by my mother who was a fabulous cook. In fact, as a young boy of nine years old, I built a food stand, selling everything from soda and popcorn to freshly grilled hot dogs.

After a few years of training at the Culinary Institute of America, I worked as a chef at various restaurants and a country club. I decided to go on my own at the age of 20 and signed a contract to run industrial cafeterias. One day, one of my customers asked me if I would cater a bridal shower for a coworker. From that initial bridal shower, I slowly branched out to other events and finally embarked on my first wedding reception. Thus began my career in catering.

Do you have a specific event that made you feel most proud?

There are two events that I feel are my proudest. The first event was a city-wide Presidential Summit for America’s Future in 1997. I catered the culminating luncheon at the Ballroom at the Ben. Among the guests were the current president and vice president, Bill Clinton and Al Gore, former president Jimmy Carter as well as many other dignities and celebrities. Another event was Philadelphia’s 2000 Republican National Convention. My crew and I set up housing, food service, transportation as well as activities for a group of 150 delegates and congressional people at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. This was a huge undertaking that required around the clock food and hotel services. This event was beyond my normal wedding/corporate business but one that remains one of my proudest.

What is one of the biggest lessons you have learned working in the catering industry for 45+ years?

Courtesy of Philip Gabriel Photography

What I’ve learned can be put into two words: work hard, work harder and continue to work hard. Along with my hard work ethic, I feel that surrounding myself with great people who also work hard is an added bonus since the industry is constantly changing. I credit my success to a strong, dedicated and hardworking management team that includes chefs, maître d’s, bar management and a competent sales force. Meeting weekly with this group of professionals has helped to grow the business. Their innovative ideas focusing on new trends in food, weddings and hospitality have been a driving factor for a successful business.