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By Stephanie Foster

The new home of Casual Gourmet at the old H&K building in Centerville looks deceptively simple. There’s a little cafe on one side where locals sit at small glass-topped tables to enjoy breakfast or lunch. On the other side, there is a consulting area with displays of wedding cakes, champagne glasses and dish settings. One would never guess that behind the kitchen door is a huge catering empire. It’s the result of 17 years of hard work by owners Olive and Dave Chase. Buying the building and revamping it is their dream come true.

Olive started out in a little storefront selling gourmet foods. Her meteoric rise is almost a fairy tale itself. Today she creates fairy tale weddings for others.

 Aside from four Casual Gourmet locations, an upscale café at Cape Cod Hospital and clubhouses at the Sandwich Hollows and Captains Golf Course in Brewster, off premise catering is the mainstay of the business. It’s grown to include company outings, glittery fundraising events, cocktail parties, and funerals and their list of clients reads like a “Who’s Who” of the area and beyond. Despite all her success Olive still has her feet on the ground.

How did you get involved in catering?

You could make good money as wait staff and I started out as a waitress. One job leads to another. I did everything. I don’t know if I had a plan in the beginning. I ended up in restaurant management. The last position I had before this was as general manager at the Hearth and Kettle in Hyannis.

I really wanted to open my own restaurant but didn’t have the money so I opened a gourmet store in 1986. They were trendy at the time. I had a feel for food and was the chef for the first five years. But I learned I wasn’t going to make a living selling cheese.

People asked me to cater parties. I began to do more catering and it grew. I decided I really liked it. It was creating an event, making a client happy at a special moment; once in a lifetime events. I like to think, we don’t sell food. We sell experiences.

How did you become so successful?

Our growth was gradual. We had 800 square feet at first. Then a restaurant went out of business and we took it over and had 1800 square feet. In 1991 Heritage Museum decided they wanted a little cafe on the grounds. We do all of the catering there. It was our first food service contract.   We’ve gone through different stages. In the mid 90ies, we had cafeterias at the high tech companies and at Cape Cod Community College. They helped give the company stability. In 1995 we moved to the Bell Tower Mall and acquired 3300 square feet. We finally own our own building. Last March we bought the H&K Bakery. I always wanted to own it. t’s been a long term goal.

Do you feel catering was a good career choice?

Catering is the fastest growing segment of the restaurant industry. It will grow in double digits in the next decade. It’s all about people’s homes, they spend time there and entertain there but may not have time to light a stove.

Today we have four food service contracts.   Cape Cod Health Care is my largest client. We’re known mostly for our off premise catering. We do 75 to 100 weddings off premise each year. I write 90 percent of the menus and design the events. We’re the largest caterer on Cape Cod and one of the largest in Southeast massachusetts. I derive the most pleasure from event planning. I don’t like to quote figures but we do about $3,000,0000 a year in catering.

Have you done any celebrity catering?

I catered Paul Wylie’s wedding. He married a local girl. All the royalty of the skating world came: Brian Botanno, Kristi Yamaguchi, Dick Button, Nancy Kerrigan, Scott Hamilton. The press was there too. I also did a brunch in Wareham for Geena Davis. She had just won an Oscar. I worked with a caterer in Los Angeles and didn’t talk to Geena until the day of the event. It was her parent’s anniversary.

How would you describe the menu at your cafes?

It’s Cape Cod contemporary. We serve both cold and grilled panini sandwiches ($4.95 to $6.75), wraps ($5.95 to $6.25), a variety of salads ($4.95 to $7.25), overstuffed sandwiches ($4.95 to $5.75) and homemade soups ($2.75 per cup). We also have breakfast sandwiches, pastries and specialty coffees. We do burgers and pub food at the golf courses as well.

What ingredient couldn’t you cook without?

Garlic. We need it for just about everything. Also we couldn’t function without tenderloin. Most of our catering clients are people coming from off Cape. They’re looking for seafood and beef. Haddock is also popular now. People want something local and not overfished. Customers increasingly want ot know what dirt the vegetables grow in; what the life of the beef was like before it became beef. We try to be honest in our ingredients. We tell people where the food is coming from. People are interested in sustainability.

What’s your favorite restaurant?

Hanna’s in the West End of Hyannis on Main Street. I love it. They have great food and it’s wonderfully put together with a nice edge to it. I love the Naked Oyster too.


What’s your favorite thing to eat?

Other than chocolate? I don’t have a favorite. I eat almost everything. My favorite thing is to have an adventure. Go some place different and order something unique that is well prepared and interesting to eat. I’m a real pain to go out with. I want everyone to order something different. I’m always looking for new ways to present food and be interesting. I have a relatively traditional clientele but I look for ways to put edges into the food without making it too far out. I want as many guests as possible to be happy.

If you go:

 The Casual Gourmet is located at 31 Richardson Rd., Centerville at the refurbished H&K Bakery building, where there is a cafe on the premises. For more information, call 508-775-4946.