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April 11, 2019

Fast-growing Bar Harbor catering company starts pop-up kitchen

Bar Harbor Catering Co., a woman-owned business that’s grown substantially since it was launched 10 years ago, is launching a pop-up eatery and tasting room to operate as a test kitchen for chefs and also reach a more-general audience.

Whim Kitchen, as the pop-up will be called, will allow chefs and staff to share creative food experiences with the general public in a temporary format. It will include restaurant-style dinners, retail food opportunities, and even tours and demonstrations.

“Whim Kitchen can be thought of as a spontaneous, slightly unpredictable and entertaining alter ego of BHCC,” owner Mandy Fountaine said in a news release.

Fountaine said the careful planning that goes into a catered event typically takes months, sometimes years. By contrast, “Whim offers our staff the opportunity to share impromptu food experiences with the general public based on what they are excited about at any given moment,” she said.

Fountaine told Mainebiz she got into the catering business after managing other restaurants, including one of her own, for a number of years.

“I was looking for another food profession where I could make my own schedule,” she said. “So I started catering.”

Her first job came from a friend of a friend. The first year brought just a few jobs.

Today, she said, her company does over 200 events per season and employs over 55 full- and part-time staff. Most of the jobs are within an hour of Mount Desert Island, but she’s traveled as far as Waterville. She’s catered events for up to 800 people.

'Event concierges'

Courtesy / Jenny Smith & Co.
Bar Harbor Catering Co. has seen continual growth since it started in 2009.

The first couple of years saw business double every year. In the last couple of years, business has grown 25% to 30% each year.

She credited growth to consistency of product and “going above and beyond for clients. We do a lot more than just catering. We call ourselves ‘event concierges.’ We help clients through the entire event.”

The idea behind Whim, she said, is to give her chefs another outlet for their creative ideas.

“The chefs here, myself included, come up with fun ideas that they can share with the general public,” she said. “It’s a way for us to share what we can do with a bigger audience.”

The first Whim Kitchen event, April 19 at 6:30 p.m., will feature a four-course “Maine by Land” menu, inspired by Maine’s local early-spring offerings with beer pairings in collaboration with Fogtown Brewing in Ellsworth.

A “Maine by Sea” menu is in the works for Whim’s second installment, which will be announced in the next couple of weeks. To buy tickets to the spring Whim Kitchen dinner, visit Tickets are $65 and seats are limited.

Fountaine said she expects to do two Whim events in the spring and two in the fall for this first year. Whim will also appear at other venues, like farmers markets and fairs, she said.

Whim will also essentially serve as a test kitchen, she said.

“It’s opening other doors to test products and to see what people are interested in,” she said.

For example, this year Whim events will showcase the company’s in-house charcuterie, she said.

Marketing for Whim is being done through social and traditional media, she said. Initial feedback is looking good.

“People are excited,” she said.

New website, branding

In conjunction with the 2019 event season officially kicking off in late May, the company will also launch a new website designed to better accommodate client needs and offer more accessibility, mobile responsiveness and ease of use. It will include an events calendar.

“Our old website was a little outdated,” Fountaine said.

Last spring, the company unveiled a new brand with new logos, packaging and web graphics. An exterior sign will be erected in front of its location at 367 State Highway 3 before the end of May.

“Celebrating 10 years is a pretty profound moment for us,” Fountaine said in the release. “We’ve worked so hard to get to where we are today and we’re also constantly thinking of the future because, without question, our greatest accomplishments still lie ahead of us. It’s amazing to me that we now work more events in August than we did in our entire first year in business. I have to give huge thanks to the incredible team at BHCC and a community that’s been so supportive from the start.”

Bar Harbor Catering Co. was a finalist for Catersource 2019 ACE Award’s Achievement in Catering & Events in two categories, Catering/East Region and Events/East Region.

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