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"For airline caterer, the sky's the limit"



Friday, August 3, 2001

For airline caterer, the sky's the limit
By HUGH R. MORLEY
The Bergen (NJ) Record


The next time you dig into a foil container of flavor-free chicken or
lukewarm beef and rice on a commercial airline, consider the sky-high menu
offered by Moonachie caterer Jetstar Inflight.

There is grilled quail, roasted pheasant, stuffed calamari. Or how about the
shrimp cocktail, filet mignon, and lobster tails cooked up, the company
says, for midair consumption by the Miami Heat basketball team.

The rich, as they say, are different. And few people know that better than
Jetstar's owner and president, 57-year-old Kenneth Bolsch, and his
28-year-old twins Kenneth and Jason, who are the company's vice presidents.

For three years, the family has carved out a small but growing business
providing high-end, in-flight catering to the quality-conscious riders of
corporate jets and small aircraft.

The company -- with eight employees working out of a 1,800-square-foot plant
in Moonachie -- prepares and delivers to the airplane door gourmet choices
on demand, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day, at a moment's notice. By
doubling business annually since starting in 1998, the company is
approaching revenue of $1 million, Bolsch said.

The company's profile is the classic case of a successful business seeking
to expand into a different but related market. The family turned to the air
after 50 years of catering on the ground, first running a restaurant and
then a suite of four banquet halls at George's Restaurant in Moonachie. That
company is still the cornerstone of the family business with revenues of
about $3 million, Bolsch said.

Jetstar services customers at nine airports across the New York area,
including Newark International Airport, with about 60 percent of its
business coming from planes that fly in and out of Teterboro, company
officials said.

The clientele includes film stars Eddie Murphy, Bruce Willis, and Robin
Williams, as well as the New Jersey Devils and executives from IBM and
Becton Dickinson and Co., Bolsch said.

"This is all upscale," he said. "These are all people who are used to
top-notch stuff. They feel that they want the same stuff in the air going
somewhere as they would in a four-star restaurant."

Still, it's a tough market to enter. The metropolitan area is dominated by
Rudy's Inflight Catering, which has four facilities -- including a
16,000-square-foot building in Teterboro -- and has built up a national
reputation since opening in the 1970s.

This year, as in past years, Rudy's won the Best Catering award held by
Professional Pilot, a Virginia-based trade magazine.

Joe Celentano, the owner of Rudy's, declined to comment on his competitor.

"If you do your research, you'll find that I'm the largest company of the
kind, actually, in the world," Celentano said, adding that he knows little
about his competitor.

Caterina Walsh, support services editor at Professional Pilot, said Jetstar
is well-known in the industry but is still well behind Rudy's.

"They are very professional," she said of Jetstar. "They are very passionate
about what they do. I think they will do very well."

The company is mining a market where attention to detail and catering
precision are critical, Walsh said. Packaging and presentation carry a lot
of weight as does even the tray size, she said: If it's too big, it doesn't
fit on the passenger's lap; too small, and it doesn't carry enough food.

"It's big money and it's very specific," Walsh said. "It's very time
sensitive. They want what they want in terms of food, portions. And they
want it on time."

Bolsch cited the example of Jetstar's best-selling item: a plastic lunchbox
filled with a ham sandwich, black bean salad, fruit salad, and a dessert of
apple crumb, all secured with a gold string and a bow.

At $19.99, it is considerably more than you might pay at the local deli. But
Bolsch pointed to two tiny jars of mayonnaise and mustard inside the
package, saying those added touches of quality and the free delivery are
what people want.

The Bolsches began catering in the 1950s when Kenneth Sr.'s parents opened a
family-style Italian restaurant in Moonachie.

As business took off, the family moved into banquet catering but found the
two businesses did not mix.

"To have someone come in and order a steak and spaghetti and meatballs when
you are serving two hundred people prime rib in the back . . . it becomes
difficult," Bolsch said.

The family first tried in-flight catering in the 1970s -- at about the same
time as Rudy's was starting up -- but never took it seriously because the
business at George's was booming, Bolsch said.

He decided to try again in the late Nineties when both his sons took an
interest in entering the business. Seven months ago, having previously
operated out of the banquet catering facilities, Jetstar opened its own
offices and kitchen on Oak Street. The company recently bought the client
list of Wings Inflight Caterers, which is near Westchester Airport in
Armonk, N.Y. And Jetstar also has two employees running a modest cafe for
small-aircraft crews and passengers at Newark International Airport.

Bolsch, however, has no illusions about the difficulties of building up the
business.

These days, he seeks business by attending trade shows, lobbying companies,
currying favor with corporate jet flight attendants, and creating a better
product.

"How are we picking it up? We are picking it up by flight attendants telling
other flight attendants -- word of mouth. We are picking it up by the other
guy screwing up," Bolsch said.

"It's got to be 100 percent [effort]. Because we're battling someone who is
king of the mountain. And we have to do it right."


JETSTAR INFLIGHT OF MOONACHIE

Location: 19 Oak St., Moonachie

Services: catering quality, in-flight meals on demand for corporate jets and
small planes.

Company owners: Kenneth Bolsch Sr., 57, president; Kenneth Bolsch and Jason
Bolsch, both 28, vice presidents.

Business established: 1998

Source of capital for start-up: self, revenues from another family business,
George's Restaurant in Moonachie.

Number of employees: 10

Annual revenues: nearly $1 million

Business motto/mission: Heart moves the mountain.

Goal: To be the premier -- best, but not necessarily biggest -- in-flight
caterer in the United States.

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