FARGO—Bob Kinkade admits when he first got into catering, he "didn't know catering from a hole in the ground."
But he's learned a lot in the decades since, including the power of words when it comes to a business that's all about making hours of behind-the-scenes work and planning look and taste seamless during a big event.
Kinkade bought a restaurant in 1973 and operated Bob's Cafe and Catering in Ada, Minn., until selling the business in the 1990s. In 1974, someone approached the restaurateur and asked if he would cater. Kinkade couldn't think of a good reason not to, so he did.
Catering became his full-time focus after selling the restaurant, and he said he realized continuing as "Bob's Quality Catering" wouldn't mean anything to most potential customers. That's why he dropped his own name from the business in favor of Quality Catering, a venture he still does year-round to cater weddings and other events.
But the name became a potential hindrance once again in more recent years. The vast majority of summertime gigs for a business like Quality Catering happen in Fargo-Moorhead, he said, but "Quality Catering" wasn't enough to stand out. He once again changed the name he works under, at least for picnics, to Fargo Picnic last year.
"I just put 'Fargo' in front of it, and the phone started ringing," he said.
It wasn't a reference to the Coen brother's dark comedy—"I walked out on that movie," he said—but a way to let a target market know he could handle their needs.
Kinkade and his team have built up business here ever since, landing gigs to grill up steaks, hot dogs or whatever else is needed on-site for picnics that businesses throw for hundreds of employees or customers.
Whatever the event, he said he sees his job as coming down to one important goal.
"It sounds kind of silly, but I sell non-embarrassment," he said, explaining catering is often booked by an executive assistant, not the top boss, so a bad choice of food can reflect poorly on an employee and their company overall.
The flipside is also true, Kinkade said. Caterers only get "one shot" to make a good first impression, and he said when they do their job, they'll often continue to work the same corporate picnic for years to come.
He said Fargo Picnic stands out because it doesn't skimp on the food, buying the best quality ingredients possible or as allowed by the client's budget. He also prefers to decorate the events he works, including floor-length table covers for anything he does.
"We kind of underpromise and overdeliver," he said. "I like when people say, 'Wow, I wasn't expecting that.' "
Like America's food and dining trends in general, Kinkade said the catering business has seen major shifts in recent decades. Things that would've passed as acceptable appetizers in the past, such as cocktail smokies and meatballs, are now often shunned in favor of shrimp and bruschetta, for example.
But whatever the needs or tastes of clients, he said his goal is to give them what they want. Kinkade said the thrill of successfully executing a gig for a large group keeps him going.
"I like to make people happy," he said. "I always tell people as long as I'm feeding people, I'm happy."
What: Fargo Picnic and Quality Catering
Where: Ada, Minn.
Phone: (218) 280-1801