April 8, 2014 at 11:00 am EDT | by Mark Lee
Quintessential QCaterers
QCaterers, Carlos Cesario, Paul Herndon, business, gay news, Washington Blade

Carlos Cesario and Paul Herndon of QCaterers. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Tasting the sweet success of 10 years concocting a recipe of slow-cooked growth, the three partners at QCaterers are planning to dramatically expand their popular culinary enterprise.

Quintessential small business entrepreneurs and company founders Pepe Neira and Paul Herndon, along with chef Carlos Cesario who joined them three years ago, are as confident as their clients are appreciative that they smell a good opportunity to grow in scope their local catering operation.

Specializing in both corporate events and private client residence functions, QCaterers typically serves 15 to 300 guests at meetings, receptions and dinners at company facilities, prominent event venues or private homes. Menus highlight traditional American cuisine fused with Latin and Mediterranean influences.

Peruvian-born longtime D.C. resident Neira last month headed to his birthplace to study at Le Cordon Bleu Peru in the upscale Miraflores district in Lima. Enrolled in an intensive six-month program at one of only three campuses in the Western Hemisphere, he is concentrating on advanced studies in culinary enterprise management. Also a graduate of L’Academie de Cuisine, chef Neira is preparing for the next phase of the trio’s business plan by complementing his college law degree with the practicalities of business administration.

While awaiting classes to begin next month, Neira has immersed himself in the “flavors, sounds and smells” of the capital city and its fast-growing economy. Speaking passionately about the “explosion of Peruvian cuisine” in both Washington and worldwide, he notes the country’s plethora of native spices and colorful ingredients utilized in regional cooking and the 300 varieties of locally grown potatoes.

Neira remains engaged in the D.C.-based catering operation, connecting regularly with his colleagues via Skype to plan scheduled events and revise event menus, while also handling administrative tasks from afar. His partners, including now-husband Herndon who notes their one-year wedding anniversary later this month, also use meeting times to detail their new venture.

Having developed a strong client base in the D.C. area, they plan to initiate catering operations in Lima early next year. Excited about the expansion, they are quick to point out that local service for a constantly expanding client base will continue unabated. They are also exploring the launch of a small import operation featuring company-branded quinoa, Peruvian chocolate and pisco brandy.

“Most of our new catering accounts and event requests come from existing clients,” says former South Beach retail manager Herndon, who primarily handles on-site client relations. “The quality of our food and attention to detail is what recommends us,” he adds. “We have built our business on customer satisfaction, and repeat business and referrals.” QCaterers was voted Washington Blade “Best Caterer” in 2012, and is currently focused on expanding service for same-sex wedding events. “Wedding clients tend to trust someone who catered their own,” Herndon jokes.

Venezuelan-native Cesario landed his first culinary job as sous chef for a local caterer, working for a decade alongside a former White House chef. With no prior experience, it was his passion for food and familiarity with world cuisines from extensive travels and architectural studies in Europe that landed him the job.

Cesario was sometimes assisted in the kitchen by an occasional chef-freelancer Neira and the two became fast friends. Cesario would eventually accept a job offer at QCaterers, recalling that “joining a small business operation was one of the most important decisions of my life,” noting his enjoyment working for himself alongside others.

“What is most exciting about this journey,” says Neira, “is the chance to work with great customers.” “We’re at the top of our game,” he adds, “and now have the exciting opportunity to expand what we do.”

Mark Lee is a long-time entrepreneur and community business advocate. Follow on Twitter: @MarkLeeDC. Reach him at OurBusinessMatters@gmail.com.

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