Catering with a sense of humor - East Valley Tribune: Business

Catering with a sense of humor

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Posted: Sunday, July 24, 2005 5:41 am | Updated: 8:33 am, Fri Oct 7, 2011.

The room is filled with rows of colorful Hawaiian shirts, Mexican sombreros, long, black capes, elaborate dresses, roulette and card tables and bells and whistles and other fancy stuff.

The room next door is filled with ovens, grills, refrigerators, sinks and shiny, copper serving pans.

And standing in the center of all this is "Stuart," a six-foot tall, blood-shot-eyed monster wearing a long, black cape and an ugly grin.

No, this is not The Twilight Zone.

It’s the working and storage areas at Special Moments Catering & Events, a company at 1845 E. Baseline Road, Tempe.

"We keep Stuart’s head covered because he’s scary," said Al Taylor, president and executive officer of the familyowned catering company.

Stuart is a popular attraction at Halloween parties.

Taylor, 52, a retired Tempe police officer, his wife, Michelle, 50 and their children, Brad Taylor, 25 and Dawn Garza, 29, own and operate the company that began as a small, gift basket service more than 20 years ago.

"We started our business with a $300 loan from the Police Department’s credit union," he recalled. "Yes, it’s paid off."

Today, the company has grown tremendously, serves gatherings of up to 900 or more people and offers their clients special themes for parties, including Murder Mystery Parties, Casino Parties as well as catering traditional weddings and smaller luncheons.

Prices range from a minimum $150 for a small gathering, for example, to as much as $25,000 for a major event.

Special Moments Catering & Events recently served lunch to a group of East Valley employees who were preparing to attend a "Phantom of the Opera" performance at Arizona State University’s Gammage Theatre.

Appropriately, its female employees wore old-fashioned gowns and the chief server, The Phantom, swirled a black cape and had his face partially covered with a mask.

The Taylors, natives of Warren, Mich., moved to the Valley in 1972. Al Taylor, then serving as a Military Policeman in the U.S. Army, was stationed in Yuma. His wife, then a nurse and music teacher, established a home — and small business — in Tempe.

"I started by baking and selling special cakes for birthdays and other events and making gift baskets," said Michelle, who worked full-time at the catering business while her husband worked full-time as a sergeant with the Tempe Police Department.

"Our children learned a lot about the catering business as they grew up," said Al Taylor, who retired with the rank of lieutenant in 1996 to devote full-time to the family-owned company.

"We made no demands on our children about getting involved in the company," said Michelle, who like her husband, also earned some extra income between serving gigs by playing guitar and singing mostly folk songs.

"We only required that they complete college and then decide if they wanted to join us in the company," said her husband, who was assigned as public information officer for the Tempe police for many years.

Dawn, now the mother of three children aged 1, 10 and 11, received a degree in marketing from ASU and Brad also graduated from ASU with a degree in finance.

Both brother and sister are applying their education — and acquired business skills — to the company.

Special Moments Catering & Events primary catering services is based on special events themes.

"We started with Murder Mystery Parties," said Michelle, the company’s catering manager and food expert.

"But since my husband had a lot of experience in police work, we elaborated on the theme."

The former police officer, for example, hid clues and provided medical examiner reports for party-goers who were trying to solve a murder mystery while finishing their desserts.

"We asked some of the people who attended the parties to act as suspects, including finding one that would be the ‘murderer,’ " he said.

Al Taylor estimates the company’s gross revenues have increased by 35 percent so far this year compared with 2004. The number of employees have increased from an initial three to nine full time and 30 part-time.

"We’re not trying to get bigger," said Al Taylor. "But we’re getting bigger by word-of-mouth."

Each month, the company averages between 40 to 60 catering services.

December, the busiest month, reaches between 90 and 120 events on average, he said.

The younger Taylors, meanwhile, are now playing a major role in the family business.

"We were brought up with our parents’ work ethic," said Brad, director of sales. "And that is to do not only what is expected of you, but to exceed it."

"Our parents always had a strong desire to help people, a lesson we try to carry on today," said Dawn Garza, the firm’s general manager.

The company contributes free catering services for fund-raisers, including providing a $2,000 benefit for victims of the Tsunami disaster, Child Crisis Center, Leukemia and Lymphoma Society and special events to help individuals in need.

The Taylors received the 2004-2005 Tempe Chamber of Commerce Business Excellence Award and the 2004-2005 East Valley Business Journal’s Star Award.

The Taylor Family

Family: Al and Michelle Taylor and their children, Brad Taylor and Dawn Garza

Resides in: Mesa

Business: Owners of Special Moments Catering & Events, 1845 E. Baseline Road, Tempe

Information: (480) 730-1114; fax: (480) 839-8471

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