Seeing a play at The Repertory Theatre in St. Louis? Go early and have a Café at The Rep dinner.
That’s what Bill and Margaret Keyes, of St. Charles, Mo., do regularly.
“We saw they had this here and went online,” said Margaret, a former counselor. “ We thought we would try it and we are hooked.”
“It’s kind of fun to get here early and not worry about traffic,” said Bill, who works for Boeing. “You have plenty of time to sit and visit. They have playbills at the tables to read. It’s a nice way to see plays. The food is always good.”
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“The pecan encrusted bourbon chicken breast ($14.95) is unbelievable,” said his wife. “So is the chicken salad ($10.50). When it was our 40th anniversary, (caterer Michael Brightman) found out and had our table decorated, a cake with confetti.”
Michael Brightman’s With Love Catering and Confections, based in Fenton, Mo., serves entrees, dinner specials, sandwiches, salads and desserts. Reservations are recommended.
“It used to be a convenience,” he said of the Café. “Now, it’s a destination. You don’t have to park twice or bundle up again. It has a nice atmosphere, a wine list ... Tuesday night is pasta night. You can order from the regular menu as well. Tuesdays are where it all started.”
The 7 p.m. show time made it tricky for theatergoers to fit in dinner.
“Pre-order from right on our website,” said Michael. “We will have dinner waiting for you.
“What is unique about us is you can’t call another place and say, ‘We will be in at 6 and this is what we want to have for dinner.’ That gives us the opportunity to know better what to plan. We’re limited with space. It helps customers get their first choice. We won’t cook their order in advance.”
Just after 5 on a recent Tuesday, Michael addressed his staff gathered near cafe tables in the theater lobby. He told them the Buffalo Chicken Mac and Cheese ($15) with its panko crumb topping is not overly spicy, and the pork tenderloin ($17), marinated in garlic, herbs and maple syrup, comes with roasted red potatoes and a salad.
“With 72 reservations and only 18 pastas sold, we’ll have to make 50 entrees in the kitchen,” said Michael, of the small corner space. “Be patient.”
Nearby, tables were set with black tablecloths and red napkins. An inviting array of desserts, from giant cookies ($3) to mini cheesecakes ($7), lined one wall.
Guests started arriving about 5:30 for dinner before a recent Tuesday night performance of “The Lion in Winter.”
It was time for Michael’s performance. He took a spot near the prep area, taped incoming orders to a counter and helped staff with the flow. Servers whisked by, stopping to fill baskets with warm garlic bread. Michael’s mom, Shelli Carr, poured wine and ladled soup.
“With him, everything has to be perfect,” said the proud mom. “There’s nothing I don’t like that he makes. I like the pasta, the fried potatoes, the specials. ...”
Other menu items include quiche ($10.50) made with marinated artichokes, spinach and cheddar and Parmesan cheeses, Michael’s crab cakes ($18.50), sandwiches such as New York strip steak ($13.75) with caramelized onion, blue cheese crumbles and balsamic dressing on grilled ciabatta, and salads, soup and desserts.
“For the cafe menu. a lot of items come from what I do for private parties,” said Michael. “Last month, I ran a salmon (special). On the side, I served a fresh spinach and wild mushroom bread pudding. We had just done a party. I did that as an appetizer. The same with maple glazed pork tenderloin. We did a huge Christmas party. It went over there. I’m running that as a dinner special.”
I am not a trained chef. I am the male version of Rachael Ray. I can take a recipe and make it my own. That’s how the catering business came about.
Michael Brightman on his catering business
Michael’s catering business started small.
“I’m a professional actor,” said the dark-haired chef who is originally from Wilmington, Del. He is a former flight attendant who likes to cook. While performing at theaters around town, he noticed concessions had less than starring roles.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to bake some cookies?’ I started my business on a whim, selling cookies and brownies. Word got around the theater community. Everybody knew who I was. Every single one contacted me. ‘Do you want to come out and do this for us?’”
One theater concession led to another.
“That grew into nine small theaters,” said Michael. “The Rep called me seven years ago.”
Their regular caterer was unavailable for shows on Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Eve.
“I said I would be happy to do those shows. There was only one condition. Could we talk about an agreement for next season? That’s how I got to the Rep.”
He started with sandwiches and desserts. Soon he was dishing up pasta from a chafing dish, serving it on Styrofoam plates. Now, it’s a wide array of menu items, real china, and waiters and waitresses.
The catering business grew, too.
“Just from people saying, ‘This is so beautiful, the way you set it up. Do you do private parties?’ What do you want? I am not a trained chef. I am the male version of Rachael Ray. I can take a recipe and make it my own. That’s how the catering business came about.”
Now, he has 16 employees — three are full time. “I have a wonderful baker Shelley Dougan. I think she’s better than I am.”
Michael’s acting career is on the back burner.
“I now do one or two shows a year, which is great, said Michael, who has performed at Lebanon’s Looking Glass Theatre. “I did ‘The Fantasticks’ at Insight Theatre Company last summer. I did a show in February, ‘Mr. Marmalade’” with West End Players Guild.
His awards for cooking come in the form of compliments.
“Michael has been such an asset, coming in and running with it,” said Lin Joyce, assistant box office manager. “Customers have really enjoyed it. It gets better and better every year.”
Café at The Rep
- Where: 130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves, Mo.
- When: Before performances at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. Dinner service begins 1 1/2 hours before curtain time. Upcoming productions include “Disgraced,” Feb. 16 to March 6, and “Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Swing,” March 16 to April 10.
- How it works: You may pre-order Café menu items and have them waiting for you when you arrive for the show. Pre-orders must be placed by 10 a.m. for an evening performance or by 6 p.m. the previous day for matinées.
- Information: Pre-orders and reservations may be made by calling 314 637-7907 to leave a message, or online at http://www.withlovecatering.com/cafe_at_the_rep_information_and_reservations
- Cost: $15 for Tuesday evening pasta dinners that include salad and garlic bread. Add your first glass of wine for an additional $3. Other menu items range from soups, salads and sandwiches to entrees and desserts. The Wednesday Matinee Buffet, $10.50, includes soup, salads, lunch meats, breads and all the fixins’. Service begins at noon. Reservations are necessary.
With Love Catering and Confections
- Where: 972 South Highway Drive, Fenton, Mo.
- Contact: 636-529-1664 or www.withlovecatering.com