Business

Port Orchard caterer has a lot on its plate

Essence of the Thymes co-owner Ray Allwine prepares holiday stuffing.   - Charlie Bermant
Essence of the Thymes co-owner Ray Allwine prepares holiday stuffing.
— image credit: Charlie Bermant

When tallying the downtown Port Orchard businesses that have been around for a while, it’s easy to skip over Essence of the Thymes Catering, which has operated out of its Bay Street location since 2006, expanding its original operation when the store next door closed.

But since it doesn’t have a storefront retail operation, its presence isn’t widely felt.

“There have been a lot of nice changes downtown,” said co-owner Ray Allwine. “The paint job looks nice, and we enjoy being down here. There has been a slowdown in some parts of our business, but we are doing well. And we’re renewing our lease.”

According to Allwine, the downtown location has worked for the business, even though it was not their first choice.

Allwine, who runs the business along with his wife Gina Omalanz, first chose to operate out of their home.

This wasn’t possible, since zoning regulations required a greater distance between the well and the kitchen than what existed on their property.

Upon learning this, the couple drove around to scout locations, deciding that downtown was the place to be.

They built a kitchen and began catering dinners, weddings and other events.

“We’ve never had a really great year,” Allwine said. “Our business has decreased a little bit at a time but we are still doing well. The bad economy hasn’t really affected us. Large weddings are down a bit, but there is still enough work to keep us busy.”

Allwine said the business is stable year-round since landing the contract to cater the Admiral Theater’s dinner shows in 2008.

“We’re in pretty good shape because the wedding season and the Admiral season are consecutive,” he said. “When one winds down, the other begins. The market has adjusted to where we need to be.”

When meeting with a new client, Allwine builds a custom menu from available choices.

Vegetarian options are available for the more health-conscious, while the core menu depends on standbys like prime rib and grilled salmon.

There are also several menu items that Allwine and Omalanz have developed, such as a “bollita” — a stuffed cherry tomato with olives and cheese.

“There are some people who want a traditional wedding while others are more informal,” Allwine said. “We have basic menus and custom menus. Our clients want to push the envelope and they don’t want to serve the same thing that you would have at another wedding.”

Essence of the Thyme’s event planning doesn’t stop with the menu selection, as artful presentation of the food is an important part of the atmosphere. Layout can also make a difference.

“We offer the option of using ‘food stations’ for different parts of the menu instead of a traditional buffet,” Allwine said. “It’s a different experience for the guests. They get up and move around and interact with each other.”

Allwine said he enjoys working as a caterer and the freedom it brings, as opposed to running a restaurant.

“Cooking isn’t magic,” he said. “A lot of people want to do it themselves, but sometimes you want to hire a caterer to take some of the weight off of your shoulders.”

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