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Food for thought

Rudy's Inflight takes a bigger bite of the bizav catering market.

By Paul Richfield
ATP/CFII/A&P. Beechjet 400, Citation 525, Gulfstream IV and Mitsubishi MU300


Rudy's Inflight Catering views the expansion of catering in the Washington DC market as inevitable. Here, Rudy's Pres Joe Celentano and Senior VP John Celentano (center L and R) stand with some of their staff at the company's newly opened state-of-the-art facility in Chantilly VA.

Hungry corporate operators serving the US national capital region are in luck-Rudy's Inflight Catering has just opened a new flight kitchen and support facility in Chantilly VA, just beyond the southern fence line at IAD (Dulles, Washington DC).

Rudy's, which has won Pro Pilot's Best Catering Award for 20 consecutive years, had outgrown its old facility and wanted to be positioned for continued growth in the Washington area market. Formally unveiled on Sep 30, just prior to the NBAA convention, the new facility is the third flight kitchen for TEB (Teterboro NJ)-based Rudy's, which has catered bizav flights originating in the New York area for more than 2 decades.

For company president and cofounder Joe Celentano, the move southward to Washington was inevitable. "The DC market is one of the most vibrant in business aviation, and we wanted to be a part of it," he says. "We're incredibly anxious to open the IAD facility prior to the Presidential inauguration in January, because it's going to be such a large event.

In the New York/New Jersey market, 300-500 transactions a day is typical, but for the inauguration we're expecting 1000 or even more. "We're planning and ordering for the event now, and even have a special menu for it in the works-the Americana-with a patriotic theme.

It's all coming together, although we have a lot of detail work ahead of us. Logistically, the biggest issue for us is obtaining clearance and airport badges for our drivers and other employees, and we've been working on that all summer."

Washington, in many ways, is unique among corporate aviation markets, and not just for its heightened level of security. No other area in the world receives as many foreign dignitaries, and many of them arrive from overseas in widebody, corporate-configured aircraft.

This type of traffic is almost evenly split between IAD and ADW (Andrews AFB, Camp Springs MD), which Rudy's supports with a pair of "high-loaders"-large trucks with trailers that rise up on scissor-lifts. This level of access comes with special responsibilities, among them the need to handle international waste, or trash coming from other countries.

"This is a big issue in the Washington DC area," says John Celentano, Rudy's senior VP and cofounder. "You need certain equipment on the trucks, specialized record-keeping, hazmat training-there are a lot of moving pieces.

The Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority can be extremely tough and demanding, and they've taken a very hard stance on this. "We're working with them, of course-and even they recognize there's a need for us in the DC area.

The airports here have, until now, depended solely on commercial caterers geared mainly toward the scheduled airlines. Finally, the business aviation community has a catering option specifically for their types of operations and their special needs."

Family restaurant roots

The Celentano brothers are among the aviation catering world's most seasoned veterans, having practiced their trade from an early age. It all began with a restaurant their parents owned in Hackensack NJ, within minutes of the various New York-area airports.

In the business for over 25 years, John (L) and Joe Celentano stand in the hub of Rudy's new facility, which was unveiled and began operations in Aug 2008.

They decided to name the place Rudy's, after their uncle. "Pilots and passengers would come in from Newark and Teterboro to eat, and ask if we could pack up some food for them to take back to their airplanes," says Joe Celentano.

"We looked at what people were doing, and there was no real system for it-it was mostly just cardboard boxes covered with tinfoil. We knew we could do better than that." By all accounts, they have. Rudy's has grown to become an industrial operation on a massive scale, employing more than 300 people at its 3 locations.

Around 1/3 of the workers are administrative and clerical-the rest tend to be cooks, kitchen staff and drivers. The company has 33 vehicles at TEB, 10 at IAD and 7 at HPN (White Plains NY). Rudy's transitioned recently from Ford E150 vans to a fleet of small sport utility vehicles-mostly Ford Escapes and Honda CRVs.

Joe Celentano explains why: "We've found that the small SUVs are really the best way to get in and around airports, and in city traffic. They're much less expensive to operate than the big vans, and have a much lighter environmental footprint.

The drivers don't need [commercial drivers licenses] and the smaller vehicles are much easier to maneuver in ramp areas and FBO parking lots." Typically, Rudy's products are transported in tamper-proof boxes, which are then moved to (and secured in) commercial refrigerators the company installs in its most frequently used FBOs.

Therefore, packaging is a critical element of Rudy's business, and materials are sourced overseas and purchased by the shipping container load. Food products are also acquired in vast quantities, to take advantage of economies of scale.

"You have to purchase everything in bulk for this to make any sense at all from a business standpoint," Celentano says. "Right now, for example, we have 6 pallets of pasta inbound, because we know we're going to need it." Rudy's offers a wide range of food choices and customers can pretty much get whatever they want.

IAD Dir of Operations Monalisa Shaheen reviews potential employment documents submitted by Expeditor Supervisor Omar Martinez.

Executive chefs run each of the respective kitchens, and can respond instantly to clients' demands, no matter how eclectic or extreme. Meals for specific cultural requirements are a specialty, and Rudy's can procure a large assortment of kosher and halal meats. Still, the core product line is streamlined to a great extent, around sandwich, fruit, cheese, vegetable and cookie trays.

This is largely due to the top-tier flight departments that use Rudy's services regularly. "They know exactly what they want and how they want it, which makes it very easy for us," says Monalisa Shaheen, a Rudy's veteran recently named director of operations for the new Rudy's IAD facility.

Aviation Services Network

This pursuit of standardization has borne fruit in other areas, most recently in the creation of an entity known as the Aviation Services Network (ASN). This new business grew out of customer requests from numerous corporate operators, who wanted to scale back or eliminate their inhouse catering departments, lower their overhead, and at the same time improve the quality, presentation and packaging of the food served aboard their aircraft.

Toward these goals, Joe Celentano has teamed with aviation caterers around the country, such as Air Gourmet in Los Angeles CA and Las Vegas NV. Not every caterer can join-ASN membership is based on a business's reputation, ability to comply with stringent health and safety standards, and its level of technical sophistication.

Fractional provider Flight Options became the first ASN customer after eliminating its own catering operation. "Our goal was to create something that operates seamlessly with a telephone and Web-based interface, like 1-800-Flowers.com," Celentano says.

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