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Thursday, Dec 8, 2022
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DIY Weddings on a Budget

Stonefire Grill has said “I do” to weddings, resulting in a record boost for its event catering business. Since the Great Recession, the West Hills fast-casual dining chain has seen double-digit growth in sales for weddings. Last year, it catered more than 600 nuptial celebrations – a record for the company – accounting for more than $1 million in revenue. Stonefire is known for super-fast meal delivery – 11 minutes to the table on average – and its creative renditions of American cuisine. Now the chain is increasingly focused on weddings as the events are becoming more self-planned and less formal. Justin Lopez, second-generation owner and community relations director of the chain, said the company has noticed an uptick in its wedding business coming out of the Great Recession, word-of-mouth being the primary driver. “Though there is some marketing behind it, we understand at Stonefire that the best possible marketing is word of mouth,” Lopez said. “As part of our marketing team, we have people in the community who are developing long-standing relationships with wedding venues and wedding specialists.” Stonefire is not the first fast-casual restaurant to break into catering. Other brands that have marketed catering services include Denver, Colo.-based Chipotle Mexican Grill Inc., which launched its catering business in 2013; Dickey’s Barbecue Pit in Dallas, Texas; and Westlake Village-based Sharky’s Woodfired Mexican Grill, to name a few. Catering plan Stonefire is a family-focused eatery with eight locations in Southern California, including San Fernando and Conejo Valley restaurants in West Hills, Chatsworth and Thousand Oaks. The chain has an eclectic menu of salads, sandwiches and pastas, in addition to beer and wine. But catering, in addition to the restaurant, was always part of the plan for Stonefire since its inception. The chain was co-founded by Lopez’s mother, Mary Harrigan, and her sister Maureen in 2000. “Stonefire has been designed from the beginning to include takeout and catering as essential components of the business. We designed things in such a way that takeout has a separate entrance at each location,” Lopez said. For its catering business, the company has separate kitchens and menu. It also has a separate staff of specialists to walk customers through the event and answer questions. In addition to weddings, the chain has catered local school banquets, corporate lunches and a plethora of large events at nonprofits and places of worship. Lopez declined to disclose exact catering sales figures or year-over-year percentage growth. As weddings become less formal and do-it-yourself weddings become more popular, Stonefire will continue to fill a niche by providing quality food at lower prices than traditional caterers. Stonefire offers both full-service and delivery catering pacakges. Full-service options include setting up the food buffet style at the venue, serving it to guests and cleaning up after the event. Stonefire’s catering prices range from $10 to $17 per person. By comparison, the average cost for a wedding caterer last year was $62 per person, according to website WeddingStats.org. “When the wedding business coming out of the recession really started to pick up, we saw that people wanted spectacular events without paying a country club value,” Lopez said. “As you can imagine, brides and grooms are working with all kinds of budgets, and it’s our goal to fulfill a niche in the wedding market for brides and grooms who want to do it right with a price that makes sense to everyone.” Discount nuptials Sarah Zahran, owner of Westlake Village floral shop and catering company XO Bloom, said she has noticed a shift in the wedding business as couples are bypassing wedding planners in favor of self-planning. “Wedding couples and brides are tending to do most of the leg work (themselves),” Zahran said. “We used to meet with the couple and their event planner for initial consultation, but now we’re just meeting with the couple. Today’s bride is finding that she’s able to use the money typically spent on the planner to go toward the wedding.” David Goldstein, chief operating officer of Sharky’s, said while the chain has offered professional catering since 2000, its wedding catering in particular has really gained momentum over the last five years. “We’re doing anywhere from two to five weddings a year, from small to big weddings, with several hundred guests,” he said. “I would say we used to do about one a year – maybe two. Now we’ve noticed, at the very least, two to three times that annually and a lot more questions about it.” As Stonefire’s wedding catering business has picked up, the chain has established relationships with local venues that refer its services to clients when appropriate. Partners include Orcutt Ranch, an outdoor park and events venue in West Hills; and the 1909, a social and business event venue within Topanga National Park. “As millennials decide to get married, they are definitely doing it different than when I got married,” Goldstein said. “I think that’s the key. People are saying, ‘I would rather have the experience of the wedding but I don’t want to pay as much as a traditional wedding would cost.’ As people continue to make those types of decisions, it opens up the possibility for folks like us.”

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