What do you serve a president?
That was the question that David Pellon had to answer recently.
Luckily, the director of catering for New York Hospitality Group knew what that question entails.
“We’d done different things for President Clinton back in the day so we had an idea of the protocol,” he says.
In its most recent Oval Office-related effort, the hospitality group – whose divisions include The Great American BBQ Co., Sam’s of Gedney Way and Caperberry Events – had catered former President Bill Clinton’s appearance at Westchester Community College last year, Pellon says.
But the roots of the group founded and run by Peter Herrero go back decades, as it has served countless high-profile clients and designed events where upwards of 1,500 meals were served.
No matter, Pellon says. This Democratic National Committee fundraiser held Aug. 29 at a private home in Purchase was still “very exciting.”
“We were very happy to be chosen for the event,” which he says he quickly realized was “a big one.”
And it went off without any glitches, even though organizers had warned of a possible last-minute cancellation.
“They said ‘Hey, look, if anything happens in the world…,’” Pellon says.
Some five weeks in advance, Pellon was contacted by the host, who had heard good things about Great American BBQ and wondered if the company would be interested in the event.
Pellon was passed on to DNC representatives and began working on the top-secret event that would eventually serve some 190 guests, plus Secret Service and local police personnel.
With a classic American barbecue requested, Pellon and his team crafted a menu featuring hot dogs, hamburgers, barbecue chicken and “our famous slow-roasted barbecue pork,” with baked beans and corn on the cob as sides.
“I had asked if there was anything special they would like to see for the president,” Pellon says.
No, he was told – and also learned Obama’s schedule would be so tight that he would likely not even get to eat.
The décor, Pellon says, was designed to create an atmosphere he likens to “a little bit of a higher-end barbecue.” The red, white and blue theme would be given an elegant, not clichéd, interpretation.
“We did nice flowers in big Mason jars,” Pellon says.
In addition to the menu and décor, security had to also be addressed in advance.
“We used all of our original staff,” Pellon says, noting each employee’s details had to be submitted for “clearance.” Some four chefs, a dozen servers and a couple of captains would be on hand, but Pellon wasn’t worried about the background checks.
“We try to find people we know are good,” he said with a laugh, adding that many have been with the company for years.
The buffet would conclude the event, which also featured photo opportunities with the president and then a speech, all playing out under several tents.
“There were a few of us that were allowed in the main tent when he was giving his speech,” Pellon says.
He listened intently as Obama spoke of the youth vote, unemployment and the Middle East.
Pellon says he was struck by the presidential “aura,” something he also observed with Clinton.
While the Great American BBQ company may cater nearly 300 barbecues each season, creating an event attended by President Obama will remain a highlight.
“He’s a symbol of our country,” Pellon says.
And everyone knows Americans love a good old-fashioned summer barbecue.
Here’s hoping the president at least got a doggie bag.
For more, visit nyhospitalitygroup.com.