This St. Louis Catering Company’s Nearly 50-Year Tenure

If there was one visual to sum up the passion that drew Sam Orlando Jr. into the family catering business at Orlando’s Event Centers, it just might be a four-foot papier-mâché watermelon filled with fruit salad. But in terms of going the extra mile to make events memorable, the watermelon and its accoutrements (giant grapes, huge chicken legs and an oversized mega roll of Scott paper towels) are among his favorite memories.

That particular event was in the 1990s, the heyday of theatrically staged extravaganzas. The family business—celebrating its 50th anniversary this year—was hitting its stride and expanding. Orlando, who studied theatre in college, used his knack for drama to find his niche in his parents’ entrepreneurial venture at the same time. “Everybody finds a piece of it that they can call their own,” he says. “In life, that’s what you have to do. If you don’t like what you’re doing, you’re not going to do it well.”

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Orlando and his brother Mike, who run the business day-to-day, clearly enjoy what they’re doing. Co-workers also include their brother-in-law, cousins, wives, children and parents, the latter whom “don’t like to be called retired,” says their son with a laugh. “We still have family meetings every Tuesday morning that they attend.”

Those sessions have helped steer the business through changing trends and major expansions. Back in 1967, most catering was done off-premises. It wasn’t until the 1980s that event centers rose to prominence, and today, Orlando’s consistently reminds customers that the company caters at all sorts of unique venues, from farmhouses to downtown ballrooms and everything in between. “It has become an event industry. It’s so much bigger now than when I started,” says Orlando.

The honorary Orlando’s family has expanded to include employees like Denise Stevenor, general manager at one of the event centers who has been at Orlando’s for almost 30 years. Or Larry Dann, longtime executive chef who also attends Tuesday meetings when there’s a culinary topic.

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“This business is in your blood, or it’s not. It’s hard work, and takes a lot of hours,” says Orlando. His parents started out the catering operation from their basement, with five kids under the age of seven. “It’s a Cinderella story to create this. My dad was working as a bread-truck driver and selling produce on the side of the street when he started this business. He had the vision and entrepreneurial spirit to take it to where it is now.”

“As kids, we were the grunts who did the dishes and loaded the trucks,” Orlando reflects, remembering his early days in catering and event planning when he’d be resigned to drag all of the supplies home himself. “Then I got wise!” he says, laughing.

 

Orlando’s – Maryland Heights
2050 Dorsett Village Plaza
Maryland Heights, MO 63043
314.453.9000
orlandogardens.com

Orlando’s – South County
4300 Hoffmeister Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63125

Lodge
4398 Hoffmeister Ave.
St. Louis, MO 63125

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