Conger Inn and Catering
Published 9:10 am Thursday, July 29, 2010
Conger Inn and Catering is busy and always learning
Janet Lawler, staff intern
CONGER — Lloyd and Becky Knutson have been in the catering business for 21 years, as owners and operators of Conger Inn and Catering, located at 98 N. Maple St. S. Though it’s no longer a functioning inn or restaurant, the corner building features the Knutson’s catering business and party shop.
Lloyd went to college for cake decoration while Becky went for fashion merchandising so the combination catering and party shop created a perfect outlet for both of their creative powers.
“For just the two of us it works out well,” Becky said. “We each know which jobs we do.”
Becky said the party shop stemmed from the catering business. Clients would ask them if they carried certain items so Becky ordered some supplies, and it just kept growing. The shop carries mostly wedding supplies and decor, but it also has paper supplies for birthdays, anniversaries and most other events. Becky said some silk flower arrangements that she makes for catering jobs can also end up for sale in the shop.
“It’s doing just as well as the catering business,” Becky said. “We offer a discount for supplies if you order food as well.”
The catering business is what keeps the Knutsons busy. Becky said they can cater anywhere from 50 to 350 people for an event, such as a wedding they catered last week in Lake Mills for 350 people. She said that they used to get more wedding and banquet requests, but now they can do up to four or five funerals a week.
“We’re busy everyday,” Becky said. “It’s a seven-day-a-week job.”
The Knutsons have catered events from Minneapolis to Mason City, Iowa, but get the most business from the immediate area, especially Alden and Emmons. They won’t cater more than four hours away because the food can’t keep its temperature for much longer and they do not do on-site cooking. Their menu is as varied as the places they go, and Becky said they always try to keep it new. They serve anything from salads to hotdishes to desserts. Meals can cost anywhere from $5 to $18 a piece. Among their most popular dishes is their homemade macaroni salad, chicken breast meal and cakes. Lloyd makes and decorates wedding cakes, but they also make pies, cookies, apple crisps and other desserts.
“Everything we make is our own recipe,” Becky said. “We can also prepare meals from the customer’s own recipe if they want.”
Conger Catering is supplied by a couple of different wholesale companies, one of which is Hawk-Eye Foods out of Mason City. The Knutsons order their supplies in bulk, which is delivered two to three times a week. Becky said that if they ever run out of something early she can always go into the grocery store to get it. Everything is marked and dated to ensure freshness, and both the Knutsons are licensed and have taken all the required classes. If the event is too large for just Lloyd and Becky to serve, they hire part-time servers.
“I’m hoping it (the catering business) is a good addition to the community and will help people stay,” Becky said.
Becky said the biggest challenge in the catering business is the volume of food which needs to be prepared. Figuring out how to prepare it all at once so that it’s fresh, delicious and on time can be the hardest part of the job. Nonetheless, the Knutsons enjoy every event. Becky said one of the funnest events they worked on was a company party that required them to create new recipes and different types of hors d’oeuvres. Becky said they can also do consulting on events, by giving out referrals and advice they have gathered based on their experience.
“We really enjoy working with the family,” Becky said. “Except for the funerals, they’re always happy, upbeat and excited.”
As far as the future of the Conger Inn and Catering goes, Becky said they are at that point when thoughts of retirement start materializing. For right now, however, there are a lot of different events going on that people will need help with and the Knutsons are more than happy to oblige. Because of this, Becky said the business is always going to be growing.
“Every year it gets better even with this economy,” Becky said. “We have been very fortunate.”