If you think restaurants have been hard hit due to the pandemic, consider the plight of catering companies that depend on social, corporate and nonprofit events for their livelihoods. Events such as weddings, annual meetings and benefits were canceled in the early months of the pandemic and, due to limits on capacity, those that were held over the last six months saw guest lists dramatically reduced or they became online and streaming affairs.
“Restaurants as a whole have been really hit but it’s been even more challenging for catering businesses,” says Ken Enck Sr., the founder of Enck’s Custom Catering. The 44-year veteran of the industry goes on to share how the pandemic has impacted his company, explaining, “We had 64 events scheduled in December at our Banquet & Conference Center in Manheim, but only ended up holding about 10 of those events due to COVID-19-related concerns.” Ken, who retired a few years ago but still has a hand in the company’s operations, views catering for weddings, corporate events and the special holiday buffets that are held at the Banquet & Conference Center, “the bread and butter” of Enck’s operation. The business remains a family affair – Ken’s daughter, Kim Enck, serves as events coordinator, while his son, Ken Jr., assists during large events. Jon Weaver serves as chef and general manager.
As the pandemic endured, it became obvious that Enck’s would have to improvise in order to cope with the economic havoc Covid was inflicting on the industry. Fortunately, Enck’s Custom Catering also operates The Lunch Ladle, a casual lunch eatery located in Manheim Township’s Granite Run Corporate Center, which has allowed the company to pivot and offer take-out and more recently, a return of in-house seating. Catering has also pivoted to become a take-out enterprise that offers families tasty meals for weekend enjoyment as well as special fare for holidays.
The Lunch Ladle continues to be open for lunch, Monday through Friday. The light-filled space provides seating at a counter or at tables. Jon reports that pre-Covid, the restaurant seated about 40 but because tables have been separated to comply with COVID-19 safety guidelines, capacity has been reduced to about 20.
The menu features daily soup and sandwich specials, made-to-order deli sandwiches and hot-bar fare. (Hot-bar items, which vary daily, can be found on a monthly menu that is posted online and on Facebook.) Even the hot bar required a pivot. As Jon explains, the sneeze guard has always been in place but has been fortified with additional Plexiglas around the hot-bar table. Additionally, guests using the hot bar are required to wear face coverings and use food-service gloves to handle serving utensils to access hot-bar items.
“We’ve had to rethink what we do,” Jon says of doing business in the age of Covid. “We’re more conscious of costs and food waste. We’ve made a few changes at The Lunch Ladle and we’ve also tried some different things; some worked, some didn’t.” One of those failed experiments was offering breakfast. “It didn’t work but we may try it again,” he notes. “When we tried it initially, it was spring-early summer [of 2020] and we were limited to take-out at that time. Now that we can do dine-in, we may offer it again.”
What have worked are family-style, heat-and-serve meals that are available for take-out on weekends. The meals are available in two sizes – one serves three people, while the other serves six. Menus are posted online and on Facebook. Entrée and family-meal options may include popular items on Enck’s catering menu such as soup and salad, stuffed chicken breast, chicken caprese and Pennsylvania Dutch items like ham loaf or ham balls. “We have different groups of customers – some prefer the more traditional home-cooked and Pennsylvania Dutch items, while others prefer items like chicken caprese,” Jon points out. Orders must be placed by 2 p.m. on Thursday, with pick-up times available for Friday or Saturday.
Another offering that’s proven popular is theme meals that are designed around holidays such as Valentine’s Day, Easter, Mother’s Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas, as well as events such as the Super Bowl. Holiday specials are available for “parties” of 2-4, 6-8 and 10-12 people. Menu options are available for the main course and vegetables. Desserts like cherry or pumpkin pie can also be purchased.
Enck’s also is known for its smoked meats, including brisket, pork and ribs. There’s a smoker on the premises, hence smoked meats have become a popular part of the catering menu. Enck’s also hosted special “Hogzilla Barbecue” events in The Lunch Ladle’s parking lot for 2020 holidays such as the Fourth of July and Labor Day.
The Lunch Ladle is located at 244 Granite Run Dr., Lancaster. Hours are Monday-Friday, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. In-house seating and take-out are available. Enck’s Custom Catering, which operates out of the Granite Run location, offers off-premises catering as well as catering and special events at Enck’s Banquet & Conference Center, 1461 Lancaster Rd. (Route 72), Manheim. Call 717-569-7000 or visit enckscatering.com and Facebook.