By this time, the Democrats have long come and gone, but Simon Powles, 51, chief executive of the Starr Catering Group, is still marveling at the sheer size and scope of the work his company handled for the Democratic National Convention.

"This is the first time we've done something like this on this level," Powles said, sitting at a table at the CNN Grill during the convention.

CNN rented the Victory Beer Hall within the Wells Fargo arena security area, rebranded it as the CNN Grill, and turned it into a pop-up restaurant and broadcast studio serving 800 meals a day, with catering and menu planning run by Starr Catering Group.

Starr Catering may cater a product launch, set up food operations in businesses, or run restaurants and events at cultural institutions, including Carnegie Hall in Manhattan.

During the Democratic convention, Starr Catering handled 50 events over six days, employing more than 500 people and pulling in $2.25 million in revenue.

One of the biggest affairs? A party for 4,500 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art just before the convention.

If the name sounds familiar, it's because Starr Catering, led by Powles, was once part of the restaurant and catering empire founded by Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr, creator of Buddakan, El Vez, Morimoto, Parc, and Pod, to name a few.

About a year ago, Starr Catering, still led by Powles, was sold to Elior Group, a Paris-based catering company - one of the world's largest.

Why was Starr Catering sold?

I want to be careful here, because I owe a lot to Stephen for giving me the opportunity to start the catering business, but his focus was always restaurants and mine was always catering.

They coexisted for many years. Why not continue?

Stephen was opening a lot of restaurants, and that takes a lot of capital. We also need capital to expand. Our business was growing rapidly from $0 in 2008 to $55 million this year. I said [to him], we should find someone to buy us or have a strategic alliance that can give us capital.

Why does catering need capital?

We may have a museum we're bidding on and, in order to implement some of the programs, it may cost a half-million dollars. You are buying equipment, opening a cafe, so we needed capital.

Why do you prefer catering to the restaurant business?

Any client we have, we are part of a much greater role and vision that they have. You get absorbed into their vision. It's what I've always thrived on.

And the pace is so different.

If Stephen opens a restaurant, it may start with an idea and by the time he's done, it could be 12, 14, 16 months later. With [the CNN Grill], we first talked with [them] five months ago. We had three days of training and then went right into a high-volume restaurant for four days.

What was on the menu?

We had cheesesteak egg rolls. We've got the Philadelphia pretzel. We came up with our own hot sauce that we branded CNN Grill Hot Sauce.

The label says "an impartial blend of spices for your left and right wings." Very funny.

Hillary carries hot sauce in her purse, so this is the hot sauce we want her to carry.

What was the most difficult thing about working during the convention?

We were inside the hard security perimeter, so getting staff in and out and coordinating deliveries was a challenge. All the deliveries have to come in between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. You have to make sure you have the balance of things right, because once that window closes, it's very difficult to get something in.

How did you decompress?

After two weeks of four hours of sleep a night, I spent Saturday taking long naps and watching the convention speeches, worked out two days in a row, [ate] dinner with friends with one too many drinks.

Interview questions and answers have been edited for space.





Title: Chief executive.

Home: Haddonfield, New York City.

Family: Sons Matthew, 27; Adam, 21; Nicholas, 19.

Grew up: Birmingham, England, moved here at age 21 after he fell in love.

Education: Certified by Hotel Catering International Management Association.

Favorite Stephen Starr restaurants: Dandelion, for Brit fix of fish and chips, cask ales; Talula's Garden.

True confession: Hates to cook. Keeps eggs and smoked salmon in the fridge. Eats on the job.




Where: Philadelphia, also working in New York and Miami.

What: Events, institutional catering, including for Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, Barnes Foundation, Carnegie Hall.

Revenues: $49.8 million in fiscal 2015, $57 million in 2016. Projecting $73 million by October 2017.

Workers: 1,700. 750 of them here.

Corporate: Owned by Elior Group in Paris, a global catering company.EndText


To get ahead, make others feel important, says Simon Powles, CEO.