A personal touch: How relationships shape the catering industry in Durham

Glenn Lozuke, took a selfie while working an event with Chef Paris Catering at Quaker Lake last summer. (Photo courtesy of Glenn Lozuke.)

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

By Cade Carlson

Paris Mishoe, owner of catering company Chef Paris, has been in the food service industry since 2016. He got his start “by accident or by default” working in the back of the kitchen at a “fine dining” restaurant in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina.

“I started as a dishwasher, and just worked my way all the way up to executive chef,” Mishoe said.

The idea to start a catering business stemmed from his love for people in addition to the feeling that working in the food industry gave him.

“I guess the most rewarding thing is, like, being able to do about three events a week in somebody’s personal home,” Mishoe said. “So, it’s just the, just having that personal touch with the clients.”

Once he began to get a feel for the industry, he decided to move to Durham and go to culinary school. At this same time, Mishoe was working for a bakery. Mishoe credited his boss at the time, as she urged him to gain experience.

While doing both meant some juggling, working in food service while also training to be a chef was invaluable for developing his skills in several ways at once.

As with any industry, there are many ups and downs associated with owning a catering company. A job that requires working more during holidays and weekends, or missing out on vacations, may not be glamorous. However, Mishoe sees the positive experiences and relationships the business has given him.

Some highlights include catering for the UNC football and basketball teams, and even getting to work at The Masters.

As the industry continues to change, Mishoe’s attitude has remained the same.

“I keep thinking it’s going to flatline and even out and it just continues to grow, and I’m super blessed,” Mishoe said.

While the catering industry is always shifting, Breadman’s owner Omar Castro said the customer experience remains the main focus for him.

Castro worked at the Chapel Hill restaurant for 16 years and took it over from previous owners Bill and Roy Piscitello about three years ago.

Castro said the pandemic changed how they handle some catering operations.

“We used to do a lot of stuff like family style, like a buffet style, whether it was breakfast, lunch or dinner,” Castro said. “The number one thing during and after the pandemic, a lot of that stuff has moved over to more individual plates or everything being boxed up individually.”

One of the biggest benefits of the catering they do is being able to get out of the restaurant and engage with customers in a different environment, according to Castro.

Whether he’s working with a return customer or a new client, Castro believes being accountable is a big part of the job.

“They know that we’re going to show up and we’re going to be there on time, and we’ve got to make sure that we’re going to get things right for them,” Castro said.

He said he gives customers his personal cell phone number so they can call him directly if they have any questions or concerns.

Since taking over the restaurant and catering company, Castro has seen many customer habits change. He said it feels as if many people have gotten used to staying at home or having food delivered to them through a third party. However, Castro is thankful that Breadmen’s has a strong customer base that enjoys in-person connections.

While factors such as the pandemic have been a major player in changing the landscape of the catering industry, the one thing that remains is strong relationships among the chefs in the area.

Glenn Lozuke, who has been in the industry for about 35 years and now works at Weaver Street Market in Hillsborough as an executive chef, got his start at Magnolia Grill in Durham.

“I had longed to be in a place that had, you know, food quality standards and the type of cooking that would just kind of elevate my career, and that was it,” Lozuke said about Magnolia Grill.

He credits his relationship Ben and Karen Barker for making the restaurant experience professional and a joy for him to work for in the late 1990s, early 2000s.

At that time in downtown Durham, Lozuke said, the area was “pretty dormant” for the most part in terms of venues and higher-grade eating establishments. It wasn’t until 2002 that Lozuke started working for a more upscale catering company named Sage and Swift, and that’s when he started to see more growth in the surrounding areas.

Lozuke said he and many of his peers have noticed one of the bigger changes since the pandemic involved workers moving out of the industry. Rising food costs have had a large impact as well.

For some ingredients, Lozuke said the “price almost doubled,” first because of supply chain interruptions and then inflation.

Changes in eating habits from the pandemic have also impacted the relationships between customers and workers in the industry as there is not as much daily interaction.

Ultimately, this has led to even more change as a result of new trends with artificial intelligence and new food production methods. In addition, Lozuke said through his connections in the industry, he has learned about the nuance of lab grown meats, which he and many believe will have a big impact on operations going forward.

“It’s going to replace jobs and it’s already happening overseas,” Lozuke said. “Lab grown meats are going to be marketed in a way and I think there’s some value to them.”