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IT WAS MUSIC to the ears of fine-dining fans when veteran restaurateur/caterer Joachim Splichal in October moved his acclaimed restaurant Patina from Hollywood to the gleaming new Disney Hall in downtown Los Angeles. The move signaled yet another watershed for Splichal's Patina Group, which from a single restaurant in 1989 has now grown to a $100 million empire comprising nearly 20 restaurants, foodservice at virtually every major cultural institution in Los Angeles, and Patina Catering. Here, Splichal shines light on his operations.

SPECIAL EVENTS MAGAZINE: What are Patina Catering clients looking for that they don't get from other caterers?

JOACHIM SPLICHAL: It's a uniqueness from a product standpoint and a service standpoint. Our advantage over other caterers is that we have a tremendous amount of resources in the restaurants. If we get an event for 1,000 people, we can staff it in-house, because we have a lot of chefs in the restaurants. So the culinary level is always much higher than other companies. We have a training program for the waiters. We nearly never use staffing agencies. And we have staff in so many locations, such as the cultural institutions. So if it's the Emmys, and there is nothing happening in those institutions, we can pull a tremendous amount of waiters on our own. We can keep standards very high.

Q: How far does Patina Catering travel?

A: We did an event for Microsoft in Seattle, we did a party in New York, in Aspen [Colo.], in Miami, in Honolulu — wherever the clients want us to go, we go. In June, we will open Patina Catering in Costa Mesa [Calif.], a full-time event site at the [former] Mondavi Food and Wine Center where we can have parties for up to 600 people. And we will have a staff there to do catered parties off-site.

Q: Are there events that are too big for you to take?

A: We did the 2000 Democratic Convention with 10,000 people — we do any size event.

Q: Do you find that the corporate event market is coming back?

A: There are definitely a lot of inquiries, a lot of activity, and I think the economy is good, people feel comfortable entertaining again. Two years ago, it was a very sluggish market. But it's still a very competitive market. People will shop for a good price. We will try to work with their budget as much as we can. If we can't do it, we have to tell them we can't.

Q: What are the most important food trends today?

A: Definitely this protein trend is all over. For the summer, people in southern California want to eat light. Everybody is watching their weight.

Q: What changes have you seen recently in clients' requests?

A: We change menus every year, and we always add new things. Some ideas come from the restaurant, some ideas come from me. I think people like the ethnic mix. In Los Angeles, you have big Chinese, Korean, Italian influences, a little California-style, fusion, so a lot of people want to mix different things.

Q: Your food is so labor-intensive — are high labor costs hurting you?

A: Yes, it costs more money to produce, but it's also our reputation. What's important is that we serve restaurant quality — we don't serve catering quality. It all came from one restaurant, Patina, and we try always to be on the newest level of food. And I think that is what is exciting.

Q: What are the particular challenges in the southern California market right now? Too many caterers going after the same business?

A: That's always the case, and there are always new ones going into business. It always has been a very competitive environment — that never changes.

Q: What opportunities do you see for the new Disney concert hall as an event venue?

A: There are very interesting areas — on the roof, the garden area, all the different areas.

Q: Can I have my dinner party onstage?

A: Everything has to be approved by the Music Center. But for a certain price, they'd give it to you!

The Patina Group may be contacted at 213/239-2500; the Web site is

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