For Steve Blanco of Blanco Food & Events, which employs more than 100 people in its restaurants, kiosk and catering arm, working in the food industry is all about moving forward.
“If you stand still you end up going backwards,” the director of Blanco Food & Events says. “So we always look to evolve everything we do, whether that’s to improve or whether that’s to look at new areas or markets to make sure we’re relevant to what people are after.” Blanco Food & Events was founded by Steve’s dad in 1977. Steve returned to the business in the early 90s after working as a chef and travelling away from the family business, which included two years at Adelaide Hilton and two years at the Cairns Hilton. The big change for the business came in the early 2000s when Blanco secured a contract with Hardys Reynella. “That was the start of getting the big contracts,” he says. “Christopher [Horner co-director] came on board in 2009. That’s when we secured a partnership with the Botanic Gardens and the Sanctuary at the Adelaide Zoo. That’s when we strengthened our business and where Christopher complemented the whole business.” Now, the business includes its offsite catering arm, the Sanctuary Adelaide Zoo Function and Event Centre, Simpsons Kiosk, the Botanic Gardens Restaurant, Wedding Botanic Gardens and their latest project, Alere, at Flinders University’s new Student Hub. Blanco says it took him a good decade to build the business to where he wanted it and a big part of that was gaining Horner as co-director. “We did a bit of a review two years ago to see where we were at and what we wanted to do. We needed to relook at everything and reinvigorate everything. We spent a lot of time getting to a certain level and a couple of years ago we thought: ‘we are kind of there now, do we stay where we are or do we keep moving and improve and look at other things.’” This review coincided with chef Paul Baker coming to the Botanic Gardens restaurant to become its head chef and reinvigorate the iconic restaurant. “The beauty about Paul’s influence in the place is that it has been a slow steady progression from the market we had before to the market we introduced. We haven’t alienated people; we’ve been trying to create new markets and a new dining experience which is what people are after. It is quite modern. The food he delivers is cutting edge and it is a great product. We’re trying to harness that without losing the people who come here for celebrations and events. They are enjoying it, too.” Catering has also changed. Customers now expect an experience that rivals eating at a great restaurant. “High-end [catering] events are now a dining experience,” he says.” I wouldn’t say it’s taken over fine dining because there’s a good dining scene in Adelaide at the moment. It’s been resurrected in the last two or three years which has been great. Now, when people have a function they want the same level of experience and, in more cases than not, they want it to be a premium event. We tend to find, with the event and catering side, the expectations are quite high. They want restaurant quality.” Despite these challenging economic times, Blanco says people still want to experience quality events. “For us, it’s just making sure we’re relevant and providing the right service with quality food offerings,” he says. “In catering, you need to be flexible, you can’t be rigid. In the restaurant, you’ve got your menu, style and you’ve got your type of clientele and their expectations and you keep to that. With catering you need to be more flexible. That’s the major difference between the two. The quality and service doesn’t change – it’s just the offering.” Their latest project is Alere at Flinders’ Student Hub, a quality dining restaurant for not only staff and students of Flinders University but the southern community as a whole. “Getting that up and running was really enjoyable. Flinders are so forward-thinking in how they approach their projects. They’ve lifted the bar. I don’t think any other university has got a restaurant like that. And they proved it’s needed. That market’s there. It’s great for the southern areas and the community down there.” blancofood.com.au This article is sponsored by