5. Dennis Dean Catering
Dennis Dean and Chef Sally Rueda
Atlanta
Dennis Dean Catering is also celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. The company opened its doors under Dennis Dean and his business partner, Chef Sally Rueda, just weeks before 9/11, with no support staff and a small list of clients Dean had cultivated at another local catering company.

At first they worked out a small kitchen rented from a local restaurant. But the duo developed a reputation for food and presentation quickly and in 2006 bought a 10,000-square-foot facility to accommodate a sales and administrative team, warehouse for rental equipment and event decor and tasting rooms for visiting clients.

Ten years later the company's client list includes some of the top corporate, social and nonprofit entities in the Atlanta area.

Like many small-business people, Dean of course felt the pinch of the recession. He looked to diversify as the solution, forming Dennis Dean Dining Concepts to offer more casual food. But Dean says he has little desire to be the biggest caterer. He just wants to be known as the best -- a philosophy he feels allows his company to thrive while competitors are scaling back.

For caterers just starting out, "don't try to do too much too soon," Dean recommends. "Do smaller events and do them well before undertaking large-scale events. And listen to your clients. Visit their homes. Get a feel for their particular style and tastes."

Dean also recommends that new caterers be resourceful.

"I often work with a client's china and linens and decor. Mixing and matching glasses, utensil, napkins and serving dishes in a fun, eclectic and cohesive way is much more inviting and less expensive than a lot of rentals" and creates a much more intimate and welcoming atmosphere for guests, he says.

As the holiday season gets into full swing, clients want to throw holiday parties but are more concerned than ever about budgets. "I recommend that people limit their guest number and provide more substantial food versus a higher guest count with limited fare," he says.

--Written by Laurie Kulikowski in New York.

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