Anna Lathrop, owner of Gourmet Galley Catering in North Stonington, wants to develop a new concept in food service.
To realize her dream to expand on her successful catering business, Lathrop has opened up an earthily renovated, 6,600-square-foot space at the former Custy’s International Seafood Buffet at 138 Norwich-Westerly Road on busy Route 2. She had the building gutted, added 800 square feet of kitchen space and created a special French country-style room where meetings and events can be held and clients will be able to try out different food and wine combinations or view an assortment of place-setting possibilities.
Architect William Thomas of Essex designed the space and picked out most of the charming interior elements. The high-ceilinged interior includes a recessed wine bar, the former clock face of Second Congregational Church in New London and art by local painter Katia Levanti.
“We kept it homey,” Lathrop said. “This place has kind of given us new life.... It’s very luxurious, for sure.”
But the meeting room is just the start of Lathrop’s plans for the property, which represents a major expansion from Gourmet Galley’s previous incarnation as a wing of her home in Quaker Hill. She hopes to do some landscaping around the building in the next few months and add a gourmet-style farmers market that might offer customers the option of carrying out a specialty dish or assembling fresh ingredients and trying out a recipe at home.
Lathrop also hopes to develop cooking classes and perhaps a supper club, using the facility’s location close to the Rhode Island border and not far from Massachusetts to expand Gourmet Galley’s reach into other states.
In addition, Lathrop has a new health-food line labeled Healthy Addiction, which is sold locally at the Health Nut market in East Lyme and Grossman’s Seafood in Groton.
Gourmet Galley, which has 76 weddings booked this year, is also getting more serious about the business side of catering, hosting a kickoff meeting last month at which staff members received T-shirts reminding them that everyone’s “Got Goals.” The company has a staff of nine, including six full-timers, plus up to 150 others who work seasonally as catering demand increases.
“We’re in a great market right now,” Lathrop said.
Lathrop estimates her business, boosted by a new wave of marriages among the offspring of baby boomers, is about 60 percent weddings, 25 percent private parties and the rest corporate events. But, with the new headquarters, she believes Gourmet Galley is ready to take off in a new direction, with what she calls a “totally new business model.”
“We’re feeling that the corporate market is coming back around, and we’re trying to compete for the business,” she said.
Lathrop bought the business 14 years ago from Essie Spencer of Essex, who had built up Gourmet Galley Catering over a 15-year period. She immediately moved the business from Essex to her home in Quaker Hill, where Lathrop and her husband are raising two children.
The biggest event she’s done, Lathrop said, was an affair five years ago in East Hartford for 350 people. The busy season in the catering business is May through December.
Lathrop, who studied piano and flute at Hartwick College in Oneonta, N.Y., came to catering in a roundabout way, as work in a series of restaurants led her to eventually branch out on her own.
And it was a chance meeting with Spencer, who had catered
Lathrop’s wedding, that led to the purchase of Gourmet Galley.
“I love to cook,” Lathrop said. “My parents were both from Italy.
One of my chores when I was about 10 was to make pizza dough and grate the cheese. I am very passionate about food.”
While Lathrop is known for her gourmet selections, she has noted a recent trend toward comfort foods — macaroni and cheese, pulled pork, shepherd’s pie — being requested at weddings. She said brides and grooms also are looking for food that uses local, fresh ingredients that lets the food “speak for itself.”
“We like people coming away from an event saying that’s the best food I’ve ever had,” Lathrop said.