For more than half of its 27 years, the Martin family business in Buena was a restaurant with catering on the side.
Then, in 1995, after a fire, the family added a big catering hall while rebuilding, said Holly Adams, the daughter of owners Elmer and Francis Martin, who manages the business.
Adams and her parents discovered that catering “is so much better than the restaurant business,” she said, and closed the restaurant to focus on it.
With catering, you usually know how many people are coming, she said, although recently 90 people showed up for a party of 50 and Martin’s Custom Catering had to adjust on the fly.
“Also, the people are at a party and they are more pleasant,” said Adams, 45, of the Landisville section.
Martin’s Custom Catering on Route 40 has the flexibility to host a wide range of events, “from the backyard barbecue to the black-tie banquet,” as Adams puts it.
A large banquet hall can accommodate 200 guests or 150 if they’d like a dance floor. A smaller room can handle as many as 50. A commercial kitchen serves both, and preps food for serving at other venues, from homes to businesses.
The homemade food is one of the caterer’s distinctions, Adams said, along with cakes baked by Francis Martin. The home cooking is mostly of Italian-American recipes handed down.
“But we also make some kickin’ rice and beans,” she said, for the many weddings and sweet 16 parties she hosts for Puerto Rican Hispanics.
The 10 menus offered on the website — www.martinscustomcatering.com — include weddings, dinners, luncheons, breakfasts, salad bars, athletic banquets, youth parties, tea parties and get-togethers after funerals.
The other thing that sets Martin’s Customer Catering apart, she figures, is her decorating.
“I like to decorate and every party is unique. I try to pick up on a customer’s theme or color, and try to make everything match — table clothes, balloons, cake, I’ll even change the pictures on the wall,” Adams said.
Costs typically range from $12 per person for a breakfast buffet to $50 per person for a wedding reception, she said.
Adams said the economic slump hurt, but business has been strong this year and all of the weekends in May and June are booked.
Federal figures show the catering industry remained quite stable in Atlantic County, while declining due to the severe recession in Cape May and Cumberland counties.
From 2007 to 2010, the number of catering employees in Atlantic County increased from 74 to 89 and total wages jumped from $955,000 to $1.7 million. Cape May and Cumberland counties saw significant declines in both during the period in Bureau of Labor Statistics data.
Adams would like to add a couple of things to ensure the continued success of Martin’s Custom Catering.
One is a liquor license, so she can offer alcoholic beverages and customers won’t have to bring their own.
The other is an outside area, perhaps a little facility, on property out back where people could hold their weddings, she said.
Even if she had such a facility now, her daughter, Jaime Adams, of Vineland, would prefer not to hold her upcoming wedding where she and her three siblings grew up working. That has put Holly Adams in the unusual position of being a client in her own industry.
“I’m not a very good customer. They (another caterer) handed me a bunch of nonsense and I said I’ve been doing this for longer than you’ve been alive, so don’t hand me that,” Holly Adams said.
After that rough start, an agreement was reached and Jaime will get married elsewhere in July. That’s OK with her mom.
“She’s getting married in Avalon on the beach,” Holly Adams said. “I can’t do beach.”
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