“I’m good, for being upside down,” Pamela Keith says over the phone from the Burlingame headquarters of CuisineStyle, the catering and party-planning company she has run for the past 17 years. While Keith has seen and survived economic downturns before, the arrival of COVID-19 and California’s subsequent stay-at-home order meant her business, which largely serves Silicon Valley corporate and wedding clientele, was on the brink of disappearing—overnight. “We were looking at the best spring in the history of the company,” she recalls of watching the news in mid-March. “In 48 hours, all of that business basically canceled.” Three months of solid bookings are now postponed indefinitely.
Keith had to turn around and tell her team, which fluctuates from 10 core members to as many as 90 employees depending on the season. She also mobilized quickly, pivoting to serve a need that also sprung up overnight: safe access to food and meal delivery. “We changed the business model to fit and meet the demand of what’s needed right now,” she says. To do so she scaled CuisineStyle’s Parties to Go—a smaller branch of the company initially born of the 2009 recession, when catered events also waned—into CuisineStyle’s current life raft: Dinners to Go. Without a minimum order amount, it’s meant for anyone to access. “I priced the food as economically as possible,” Keith says. “We give generous portions; it’s a time for extra servings of love.” (CuisineStyle’s signature cookies, which come with every order, are certainly included in that extra love.)
Dinners to Go can be delivered from San Francisco to San Jose or picked up in Burlingame. “When we make these deliveries, we briefly connect with people, albeit from a distance, when they come to pick up,” says Keith, who is humbled by this equalizing experience we are all enduring.
“We all need sustenance,” she continues. “There are many people who don’t cook for themselves and we’re able to do something good for them. We all know the challenges of going to the store. Things need to be simplified and healthy and nourishing and easy for people to get.”
Menus change each week and include those nourishing entrées—like slow-simmered Beef Short Rib Bourguignon, Pamela’s Comforting Chicken Meatloaf, and a hearty Grilled Ahi Tuna Salade Nicoise. Appetizer salads, vegetable sides, and decadent desserts are also on the menu, like her Dreamy (and popular) Layered Tiramisu of Meyer lemon, raspberry, sweet mascarpone cheese, and Limoncello-dipped ladyfinger cookies, as well as a fun Strawberry Shortcake kit (a dessert activity the kids would love). For adults, cocktails like a Blueberry Ginger Mule or S.I.P. Whiskey Peach Sour are mixed up in a single-serving mason jar. There’s even a budding wine partnership with Woodside-based Thomas Fogarty Winery and other community collaborations in the planning stages. “I hope we have more opportunities to be able to feed more people,” Keith says.
“This has been devastating for my industry,” she reflects of the measures needed to keep California safe, “but at the same time I see and receive grace every single day. We’re in business because our vender partners, landlord, everyone is working together, giving deferrals and helping so we can keep our doors open.”
Keith is also full of hope for the future. She intends to expand her packaged foods line, CuisineStyle Party Puffs, which are currently sold as part of the To Go menu or at Draeger’s Supermarkets. “With people discovering new things to enjoy eating at home, local sales have increased by 96%,” she says. As for the catering arm, “What I don’t know is when we’ll open up, but what I know is that we will,” she asserts. “All those events that had to cancel will reschedule. There’s hope for my business and my wonderful team.”
And when the doors do open again, the business will continue to include Dinners to Go.