Back when Benedict’s Plantation was at its busiest with catering work for movie productions, its offsite kitchen was on the set of a film that featured a difficult-to-please Jean-Claude Van Damme.
The actor was finally sated with bread pudding, but owner Shirley Deluzain says that’s one of the challenges she enjoys when it comes to production catering — meeting the varied tastes and needs of cast and crew.
“We need it, and we like it,” Deluzain says.
But after a decade of being out of the film catering business, Benedict’s is finding it difficult to reconnect.
“I’m finding a lot of roadblocks, and I’ve been doing this for a long time,” she says, wondering aloud whether the shortage of work is because of film budget restraints or heightened competition from other catering companies.
“We can’t get a handle on it,” she says.
At the same time, the economy in St. Tammany for the catering industry has been sporadic, she says.
Big weddings have been put on the backburner for many local families, both off site and at the 19th century plantation in Mandeville where she launched the business with her late husband, Benedict, in 1991.
“A lot of people are watching their pennies,” she says. “Weddings that were going to be 350 (guests) are now 150.”
In the midst of the economic downturn, Benedict’s found an unexpected boost from the Gulf of Mexico oil spill when it was contracted to feed a work crew cleaning up the coastline.
The Lakehouse, a restaurant and catering service in Mandeville, served food to Vessels of Opportunity captains and their crews on the east side of St. Tammany Parish.
“We were feeding a little over 600 men a day at two meals a day,” owner Cayman Sinclair says.
That experience prepared Lakehouse for film catering from a logistical and quantity standpoint. Sinclair says he got a foot in the film catering door by way of an old high school friend who is a location scout for large-scale productions.
Serving food to film crews comprises 70 percent of his catering business, he says. But even with an inside track, Sinclair admits the business is difficult to obtain.
“You have to have the equipment, and you have to have the ‘ins’ to the people in the film industry, and you have to get accepted into their circle,” he says.
Sinclair says he believes catering for film productions will only grow, so long as the state continues to support it through tax credits. Louisiana has a 30 percent transferable tax credit for all money spent within the state during the production of the film. Another 5 percent payroll tax break is tacked on for Louisiana citizens who are employed by a state certified motion picture production.
During the oil spill, Don Phillips was in Chalmette feeding thousands of cleanup crewmembers per day. Today, his Covington-based business, Catering by Don, has found a unique niche in supplying lunches for pharmaceutical representatives when they hold meetings at doctor’s offices and hospitals. It makes up 60 percent of his revenues, he says.
Despite the potential for growth in serving movie productions, Phillips says he will steer clear of that type of work because he doesn’t have the proper equipment. He has a kitchen in Covington and a large van, but not a fully rigged truck like the ones on movie sets.
The one time he bid on work for a production, they “wanted it for nothing,” he says.
Plus, there’s the time factor.
“You’ve got to set up breakfast at four in the morning, and you could be there until midnight depending on how the shoot’s going,” he says. “And there’s all sorts of diets, and you have to accommodate that. I’m happy with the niche we have.”
Benedict’s, however, is intent on getting back into the movie catering segment. The last time its catering truck was on a movie set was Sept. 11, 2001, when it worked with the TV series “America’s Most Wanted.”
The following January, Benedict Deluzain passed away.
After Hurricane Katrina, Benedict’s responded to increased demand from weddings on the South Shore where caterers and venues were recovering.
But now, “Film business is a priority,” says Nicholas Deluzain, Shirley and Benedict’s son, and the company is eager to use the 40-foot catering truck it bought for its oil spill relief work on movie sets.
“I could do 5,000 to 6,000 meals out of it,” he says.