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This article was prepared for the June 27, 2001 edition

of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

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

yelling.

"They’re under a lot of pressure he says. It gets whispered down

the line."

In Jon Spivak, Hansen has found an ideal business partner. No

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,

after-performance

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,

July 21.

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

(based

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

meal."

Hansen and Spivak got together on their catering

enterprise,

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,

delighted

in being a gentleman farmer, pickling beats, creaming corn, and

stewing

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

cooking,"

and left Vassar after his junior year. "I didn’t see myself

sitting

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

skilled

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

Manhattan,

before getting "sort of burned out on New York upscale

cooking."

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

entertainment

business in the Philadelphia area for three generations. His

grandfather,

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

continued

to use the name for Electric Factory Concerts, a company that promoted

concerts throughout the mid-Atlantic region. Last year, Spivak’s

uncle,

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

mid-Atlantic

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

details

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

specifically

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

serious

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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