By Tim Cotroneo
Even two weeks later, Prom Catering’s Bill Given was still trying to catch his breath after his company broke the all-time concessions record for the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club this past June. Given shared a glimpse of how a catering company not only survives, but thrives when food and beverage sales for golf’s grandest event doubled what was originally anticipated.
The last time Merion held an Open was in 1981. Located within reasonable driving distance from Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, and Delaware, tiny Merion couldn’t have known how much area golf fans hungered to see if this year’s tourney would compare to the ’71 playoff duel between Trevino and Nicklaus. In preparation for the 2013 U.S. Open, Given and his Prom Catering team visited Merion four times during the 18 months leading up to the event.
Prom Catering’s food operations were spread over a four-mile east to west distance that included Merion’s two golf courses, a bridge, a residential area, and a local college. “Despite the logistical hurdles, we broke the U.S. Open record for concessions sales by Wednesday’s practice round, and the tournament hadn’t even started,” Given said.
Catering to the Crowd
After Champion Justin Rose kissed the winner’s trophy, Given’s Prom team breathed a sigh of relief. They had survived a catering and concessions week of epic proportions. Despite wet and muddy conditions, the golf fans of Philadelphia and the east coast had turned out in droves.
“We planned for a maximum of 20,000 people. We served more than 40,000. Our Saturday sales alone were larger than the previous two years combined. We planned on 900 kegs of beer. We served 1800. We carried a special brand of east coast hot dog called Nathan’s. We sold out all of those hot dogs by Thursday. We ended up serving every brand of hot dog we could get our hands on. It was quite a week,” Given said with a weary smile.
Since the 1959 PGA Championship at the Minneapolis Golf Club, the St. Paul Open at Keller Golf Course in the 60s, and the 1970 U.S. Open at Hazeltine, Prom Catering has become one of the top caterers in golf nationwide. “During the week of the1970 tournament, we brought in 50-pound blocks of ice and broke them up by hand. Flip top beer and beverage cans had yet to be invented. We devised a tool to puncture the top of the can,” Given recalled. Since those early days, Prom’s catering reputation has grown to the point that Given’s office calendar is now thick with dates reflecting golf’s greatest events. Prom’s team now caters tournaments on the PGA, USGA, LPGA, Champions, and Nationwide Tour.
Prom and the 3M Championship
Given was quick to acknowledge that his company’s national golf tour success was due in large part to the relationships and friendships cultivated over the years here at home.
“Going back to 1993, Hollis Cavner took us under his wing when the local Champions Tour event was called the Burnet Senior Classic,” Given said. Prom Catering broke every record for concessions that year. These extraordinary numbers continued when the tournament became the 3M Championship.
When Cavner assumed the Director post at the U.S. Senior Open in 1996, he called on Prom Catering to do the food. “From that point on, we signed on to do dozens of future events for every major tour. We’ve never forgotten that Hollis Cavner is one of the biggest reasons for our success,” Given said.
Not Your Mama’s Catering Menu
For those first outdoor events back in the 70s, Prom hired a group of housewives from St. Paul’s Midway area to do the cooking. Today, the expectations of the golfing public and the culinary skills of the Prom team have grown exponentially.
The Prom team of top-flight chefs has been trained at some of the finest culinary schools in the world. The Prom chefs cook to order based on extensive research culled for each new regional audience. Given showed a visitor a pictorial menu for the U.S. Open at Merion that was the size of a catalog. The menu featured vegetarian salads, Thai chicken wings that are so popular they almost always sell out, a special New York pastrami sandwich, a pretzel croissant chicken salad, and even gluten free food items.
What’s on the menu for patrons at this year’s 3M Championship at the TPC in Blaine? “We believe it’s important to keep our level of service as fresh as our food ingredients. We do testing before and after each tournament to determine what our customers want and need. Maybe it’s our St. Paul roots, but the Prom team works to be better at every tournament we’re a part of,” Given said.
Whether they are breaking up 50-pound blocks of ice or finding another source for hot dogs when the first batch runs out, Prom Catering realizes that every new golf tournament is their chance to add a chapter to a catering success story that dates back to 1941.