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This article was prepared for the June 27, 2001 edition
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Caterers Who Keep Rock Stars Happy
Max Hansen, co-owner of Max & Me Catering, does
fine with the mothers of the bride, scheduling four, six, ten, or
more meetings until their minds are at ease regarding the hue of the
lace on the dinner napkins and the set-up of the salad stations. But
he can not — will not — work with another set of his company’s
clients. Rock band managers, in his opinion, are lacking in social
graces. "I need to be treated like a human being," he says.
A reasonable man himself, Hansen is prepared to understand the
"They’re under a lot of pressure he says. It gets whispered down
way would Spivak build his career around fussing over wedding details.
He thrives on 20-hour days of feeding rock bands and their families
and crews from pre-dawn set-up through dinner, on-stage drinks,
meals, and drinks and snacks for the bus. Last weekend, it was the
Allman Brothers on Thursday at the Tweeter Center, a heavy metal show
at the First Union Center on Friday, and Earth Wind & Fire at the
Mann Music Center on Sunday. The previous week it was Eric Clapton
and N’Sync, and he’s gearing up for Madonna’s big show on Saturday,
At venues such as the Sovereign Bank Arena in Trenton and the Tweeter
Center in Camden (both reviewed in this week’s U.S. 1 cover story
on summer rock ‘n’ roll beginning on page 28), Max & Me serves up
burgers to lighting crews, multi-course dinners to rock stars, and
pablum to their children. It also caters pre-concert parties for up
to 10,000 fans, many of them corporate groups on an outing. When the
stages are dark, the venues are sometimes turned into catering halls,
and once again, Max & Me gets the business. In additon, Max & Me
in Centerville in Bucks County — 215-766-3439) does wedding and
receptions — for personal and corporate clients. One recent party
— a birthday bash for Bob Hillier’s wife.
Hansen exudes pride over serving exquisite sushi to hundreds of people
on the four-day Bush post-convention whistle stop tour last summer:
"Logistically it was the single most difficult thing I’ve ever
pulled off. It was the highlight of my career." Spivak, catering
to a group that "wants steak and potatoes, not frou frou,"
becomes similarly emotional when speaking of the rewards of giving
the men behind the band a good, hot meal.
"Working crews spend their life on the road," he says. "I
see these people come in at 7 a.m., and don’t see them again until
dinner time. Then, after the show, they have to pack it all up, get
in the trucks, and go on to the next city. It’s very, very grueling
work. The only thing these people have to look forward to is a nice
Hansen and Spivak got together on their catering
specializing in high-end corporate and private catering and in concert
catering, in the mid-1990s, but their paths intersected a number of
times before they formed their partnership. Both were students at
the Solebury School in Bucks County. During school vacations, Hansen
flipped burgers at HA Winston, a chain of TGIFriday-like restaurants
Spivak’s family owned in the Philadelphia area from the 1970s until
the mid-1980s. Later Hansen cooked for Cafe Winston/Bala Rouge, a
restaurant Spivak owned, and Spivak worked in a gourmet retail store
and catering business Hansen owned.
Both were drawn to the food industry early on. For Spivak’s family,
owners of a number of bars, restaurants, and clubs in the Philadelphia
area, including the Electric Factory, food and drink was a livelihood.
For Hansen’s family, it was an avocation.
Hansen has lived all over the world. His father, Chris Hansen, is
now a pediatric consultant to the state of New Jersey, but he worked
for the Public Health Service when Hansen was growing up, taking his
family with him to Turkey, the Mississippi Delta, South Dakota, and
an Indian Reservation in the Southwest. Though the family moved around
a lot, "New Hope was always home base," Hansen says. There
his grandfather, owner of the Cold Spring Bleachery in Yardley,
in being a gentleman farmer, pickling beats, creaming corn, and
tomatoes. Hansen joined in, and found he enjoyed growing vegetables,
cooking, and putting up preserves.
He studied art history and the classics at Vassar in the late-’70s
and early-’80s, and spent his summers cooking at the Ocean Club in
Vineyard Haven on Martha’s Vineyard. He became "hooked on
and left Vassar after his junior year. "I didn’t see myself
in an art gallery for the rest of my life," he says. "I find
cooking incredibly satisfying." His family was supportive, and
he moved to Seattle, hoping to work on salmon ships. But a recession
had hit, there was no work on the ships, and the closest he got to
cooking in Seattle was shucking oysters. "I realized I needed
some culinary education," he says. "I thought I was more
than the jobs I was being hired for."
After attending the New England Culinary Institute, Hansen spent a
number of years working in two and three star restaurants in
before getting "sort of burned out on New York upscale
Settling into a more bucolic setting in Bucks County, he launched
the gourmet retail store, from which he ran a catering business. It
soon became clear that catering was where the money was, so he closed
the store, and he and Spivak, who earned a partnership "through
sweat equity," went into catering full-time.
Spivak’s big contribution to the business, besides lots of hard work,
was the development of the concert business, which has become so big
— 200 events a year, sometimes 12 in week — that it requires
its own kitchen. Spivak’s family has been in the food and
business in the Philadelphia area for three generations. His
Harry Spivak, emigrated from Russia and ran bars on South Street.
His father, Jerry, and his uncles owned restaurants, and also bars,
which developed into jazz clubs, and then rock and roll clubs.
One of those clubs was the Electric Factory. The original Electric
Factory closed in 1969 or 1970, Spivak recalls. His father got out
of the business, and concentrated on restaurants. But his family
to use the name for Electric Factory Concerts, a company that promoted
concerts throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Last year, Spivak’s
Allen Spivak, sold that company to SFX, the largest live entertainment
promoter in the world, a company that was subsequently purchased by
Clear Channel Communications.
A new Electric Factory concert venue opened in 1995. According to
Spivak, Max & Me has exclusive rights to cater concerts held there,
and also to cater the 80 to 90 percent of live events in the
region held in venues where SFX produces shows.
The most high-profile events, of course, involve the Madonnas and
the Stings. The pair are contractually forbidden from revealing
of the stars’ gustatory habits. In any case, Hansen says he would
not last 10 minutes as the supervisor of a rock star dinner. "I
would scream at one of them and walk away," he says. Spivak, on
the other hand, has nothing but good things to say about the bands,
singling out the Dave Matthews Band, N’Sync, and Billy Joel’s touring
company as especially pleasant clients. Barred from commenting
on any unusual requests, he says rock bands, and their staffs, are
not especially demanding — at least not after they’ve been on
the road for a while.
"The first time out, they go nuts," he says of new performing
groups. Reality does sink in, though. "This is a business, a
business," Spivak says. "It’s all about the bottom line."
Money spent on lavish meal requests shrinks profits, and most of the
bands soon catch on. "The older bands, the names you know; they’re
all very reasonable," he says. Exceptions? Well, it turns out,
there are a few bands that stubbornly refuse to grow up — bottom
line or no. "A few are crazy," Spivak admits. "When we
see them we say, `Wow, these are the real rockers!’"
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