Alumnus Crocco Speaks to Students About His Catering Company

Posted on 2/12/20 7:57 PM

On February 6, 2020, IUP Department of Hospitality alumnus Corey Crocco came to share his story of how he started his independent catering company, Flair of Country, Catering and Event Planning, to the students in Stephen Shiring's Hospitality 470 Business Model course.

Corey CroccoCrocco graduated from the department in 2010 and started his business in 2015.

Hospitality 470 Business Model is a senior-level course where students create their own business concept by writing a complete and comprehensive 11-module business plan specific to their own hospitality idea.

Flair of Country, Catering and Event Planning is an independent catering company based out of Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Crocco shared with the class how he had always known that he wanted to run his own business. Both of his parents are self-made entrepreneurs: his father owned a bar and grill in Johnstown, and his mother's family owned a meat packing company that specialized in German specialties. "The idea of doing things on my own always appealed to me," stated Crocco.

After IUP, Crocco knew he wanted to start his own business but realized he would need to accumulate some income to offset the startup costs of opening his own business. So, he worked in the natural gas industry for a set of time. This allowed him to pay off his student loans. He then started managing a bar in downtown Johnstown. During this time, he began to cook by the invitation of both his customers and friends for their events. The most notable event he cooked for was the Johnstown Music Fest. Both the Johnston Music Fest and positive word-of-mouth advertising spread by his satisfied customers helped him to become recognized in the Johnstown area. As referrals became more frequent, he realized how successful he could be delivering this type of service.

Corey Crocco presenting to the classCrocco noticed the need for a more efficient on-site food delivery system, especially in social catering and specifically in the wedding segment. He also recognized the trend of how weddings were shifting from the traditional "classic ballroom" venue to a more "rustic" feel, which featured outdoor rural locations with home-cooked-style food. From this trend, he developed his concept to be able to cook the food right at the venue location rather than preparing the food in a central commissary and then moving the prepared food to the customer. So, he developed an eight-and-a-half by 24-foot "mobile kitchen" within a trailer so he and his staff could cook the food directly at the venue location, thereby providing everything fresh for the first guest through the 250th guest eating his food.

Crocco and his wife, Mindi's, company, Flair of Country, Catering and Event Planning features "fresh food cooking" with barbecue-styled traditional food infused with his signature off-the-grill flavors. They bring their mobile kitchen to the site at least one hour before the event to begin the meal preparation. They offer a buffet-style service and an American-style china service for their clients. "Our goal is to deliver food that is so fresh that the last table to be served feels like it's the first table to be served," shared Corey Crocco with the students.

The Crocco's company was an instant success. It wasn't long before they invested in a second mobile trailer-designed kitchen to enable them to service more than one event at a time. Crocco and his team designed the second mobile kitchen slightly smaller to service smaller events. Though they first started as a mobile off-premise catering company, Flair of Country, Catering and Event Planning has since acquired a "space" in the John Murtha Johnstown-Cambria County Airport. It is within this space where they host smaller events that can accommodate up to 100 guests.

"This event facility has been perfect for corporate meetings, holiday parties, baby showers, wedding celebrations, private parties, and funeral luncheons. It has allowed us to have more flexibility to meet our guest needs and offer our services in a controlled setting," shared Crocco.

Corey Crocco talking to the classCrocco excitedly shared with the class Flair of Country's next business plan. "We are very excited to be taking the next step in developing our own wedding facility on a piece of property we recently acquired next to the airport." As all companies evolve over time to meet their target market needs, he explained, "This commercially zoned area will be in close proximity to the airport, main road, and nearby hotels. This will enable us to design the building from the ground up, customizing their own space to include an outdoor patio area. The building will have a classic upscale rustic atmosphere, like the rustic ambience of the historically renovated barns. However, it will provide the ability for us to offer more guest-comforting amenities."

Students were very much engaged with Crocco's presentation. Crocco's business model of Flair of Country, Catering and Event Planning is very similar to the project that students are currently working on in Hospitality 470the course which Crocco had also taken while a student in the program.

Corey Crocco talking with a studentOne common question asked by the students in the course was how Crocco was able to figure out all of his business ideas and then implement them into his evolving concept even if he had a limited knowledge on the subject, such as building a new facility. To this question, he responded, "Do your research. Do your research and try to answer all the questions you may have both currently and in the future. Also, don't be afraid to reach out to other people who have similar goals as you. You would be surprised to know how helpful people are when you have questions about something they, too, are also passionate about."

Crocco also invited all interested Hospitality Management students to apply for an internship or summer employment with his company. He has hired hospitality management students in the past and wishes to continue to provide the experience needed by the current students to help them develop. Currently, his sous chef, Britton Showalter, is a Department of Hospitality Management and IUP Culinary Arts Academy graduate.

The IUP Hospitality Department would like to thank Corey Crocco for taking the morning to come in and speak to the students. We wish you the best with all future business endeavors.

Corey Crocco and students

The Department of Hospitality Management is the premier hotel, restaurant, tourism, and special event undergraduate program in the region and the largest program in the Pennsylvania State System of Higher Education. The Department of Hospitality Management is accredited by the Accreditation Commission for Programs in Hospitality Administration (ACPHA).