By Stacey Dresner
WEST HARTFORD — For decades, Margery Gussak Catering, Abel Caterers, and The Crown Market were friendly competitors in the Connecticut kosher catering market, each providing their own special kosher cuisine and service at weddings, bar and bat mitzvahs, and other Jewish celebrations and events.
Now Andrea Gussak and Meredith Abel-Berei — second-generation members of the Gussak and Abel families — have joined gastronomical forces with The Crown Market to form Royal Catering and Events.
“We’re going to be more of a full-service catering department than Crown has had in the past, with full-service management and event planning, china, flat-wear… being able to offer very large events and very small events – not just the shivas and kiddushes and baby-naming’s and brisses,” Abel-Berei explains. “We’re really looking to capture the corporate market, the simchas, the Federation work, all of the non-profit organizations…all the different work that my family and Andrea’s family did over our careers; and we’re bringing all of that to the Crown.”
Gussak will serve as executive chef of both Crown Market and Royal Catering and Events. The daughter of Margery Gussak, who owned and operated her Manchester-based kosher catering company for 35 years, Andrea spent years working in her mother’s business before Margery shut her doors in June 2018. Andrea Gussak joined Crown in 2019.
Abel-Berei, director of catering for Royal Catering and Events, is the daughter of Neil Abel, who founded Abel Caterers in Woodbridge more than 45 years ago. Abel-Berei took over Abel Catering when her father died more than 13 years ago.
Last December, as the Covid-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on catering firms everywhere, Abel-Berei decided to close Abel Catering’s doors. When Crown’s leadership learned that Abel was closing, they approached Abel-Berei, seeking to bring her on board to help with the catering business.
She started at Crown on March 1.
“Meredith helped us and was extremely instrumental, along with Michael Hansen, in reinventing our catering department, from the nuts and bolts on out,” says Crown’s Store Director Jay Dollinger.
“Due to all of this work, we all thought it was in everybody’s best interest to spin off’ a whole new catering identity. Since we are The Crown Market and have been for 81 years, we thought, what better name than Royal Catering and Events?… It’s the ultimate kosher catering experience with more than 100 years of combined kosher catering expertise,” he says.
Abel-Berei called her arrival at Crown “good timing in terms of revamping the catering department.”
While Gussak’s experience is in the kitchen, Abel-Berei said hers is more “front of the business and warehouse.”
“Andrea is a very talented person who knows how to get the job done,” notes Abel-Berei. She puts out beautiful work and she understands how challenging catering is. It’s nice having a partner in catering who grew up in the business like I did. We both have the same goals in mind, and I think we both have enough experience and enough work ethic to work together to make great products and great parties.”
“We’re all on the same page and we’re all working to make this new Royal Catering and Events the best premier catering in Connecticut and hopefully beyond,” Gussak says. “Over the years Meredith and I had never met in person. We had always sort of heard of each other. Even though we were friendly rivals, so to speak, we had never met, and we never really overlapped much. There’s always that hesitation meeting someone new but it’s been fantastic. We collaborate well, we communicate well. We get each other. We come from a similar background; we’ve been there, done that. It’s been great.”
In terms of menus, Gussak said that Royal Catering and Events will focus on providing clients with not only classic kosher fare, but also the popular farm-to-table food items many clean-eating clients are looking for these days — all fully supervised by the Hartford Kashrut Commission (HKC).
“My background has always been in a very farm-to-table aesthetic,” said Gussak. “I’ve always used whatever is fresh and in-season and created from that, and I’ve kind of been bringing that same feel to the store and overlapping it into the catering menus as well.”
As executive chef, Gussak says she has been introducing a lot more vegan and vegetarian and seasonal items at the store and in the catering menus.
“The menus are ever evolving. Meredith and I have been talking a lot about this. There will always be the ‘core’ things that people can choose from – basic chicken, meat, fish;
and the appetizers for the most part won’t change. But we want to really be creating new menus for each customer based on their needs, dietary restrictions, allergies – all of that stuff. What we are creating now is sort of a ‘feel’ of what we can do, and then, once we can actually sit down and meet with the clientele, we will, through conversation, create a menu specifically for them and their event.”
With their combined contacts, Royal Catering and Events plans to cover most of Connecticut, south to Westchester and north to Boston and Vermont.
Already Royal Catering is hearing from clients excited to start planning events again now that the pandemic is over.
“I’m excited to see the Crown continue to grow,” Abel-Berei says. “The Crown weathered the storm and we’re going to come out of this stronger and with the catering part, I feel that the right pieces are being put into place to continue to be a success.”
Says Gussak: “I think it’s going to be a great marriage of all of us. And I only see great things ahead.”
Photo cap: The new Royal Catering and Events team (l to r) Meredith Abel-Berei, Mike Hansen (catering manager), and Andrea Gussak, meet at The Crown Market in West Hartford.