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If you’ve attended any Jewish organization’s gala that was certified kosher, you have most likely eaten food prepared under the watchful eye of Wendy Kleckner and Too Caterers. But no more.
Kleckner ran Too Caterers, the kosher division of Continental Caterers, for two decades. But this summer, Continental’s owner sold the business and the Palo Alto building where it operated.
The sale is bittersweet for Kleckner, who has been the face of Too Caterers since 2001; she catered Bay Area kosher events for some 20 years before that. “I had a hell of a lot invested in it,” she said. But she is landing on her feet and moving on to work as a consultant with two other well-established kosher caterers, Epic Bites and Dina Mann’s Kosher Catering, as well as two nonkosher catering companies.
Kleckner is 76, and many people her age would have retired years ago. She’s not ready for that.
“It’s important for older women to stay vital,” she said. “I love what I do. Even though it’s hard, it’s wonderful and exhilarating and I love the physicality of it. I walk miles at every event.”
She can recall many instances in which she catered baby-namings, b’nai mitzvahs and weddings, all within the same family.
Is there still a future for Too Caterers? The new owner of the business, Pablo Traverso, is holding on to the idea of reviving the kosher division — despite seemingly insurmountable obstacles — and said he’d want Kleckner to come back and run it.
Traverso owns Campbell-based CP Fine Catering and will maintain the Continental brand within his infrastructure. CP Fine Catering does a large number of kosher-style events in synagogues and other Jewish institutions already, so initially he wasn’t daunted by the idea of maintaining a strictly kosher catering division (as a native Argentinian, he grew up attending the many Jewish events of his own family members.)
He met numerous times with Kleckner and Rabbi Shlomo Zarchi, who had served as mashgiach of Too Caterers. Eventually it became clear to all that it was not going to work. “Logistically it wasn’t going to be possible,” Traverso said.
Kleckner noted that it would be prohibitively expensive — hundreds of thousands of dollars — to build a separate, strictly kosher new kitchen within the CP facility.
Kleckner said that while Traverso’s intentions were sincere, the idea was unrealistic, “a pipe dream.”
Traverso views it differently. “The way I see this is that I am momentarily suspending operations until I can do this right,” he said. “I’m retaining the website and the name, and when the dust settles, I will look at building the kitchen. I need to meet a rabbi willing to work with me, as I understand that a rabbi can’t come from San Francisco every day.”
Kleckner is a bit wistful, but she is keeping her sights on the future.
“I was not ready to step down, and when I did, I wanted to do so on my terms,” she said. “This was not on my terms, and that’s why I had to come up with a Plan B.”
Heshy Fried, chef-owner of Epic Bites, looks forward to working with Kleckner, and praises her attention to detail.
“Wendy is like my catering mother,” said Fried. “She’s been in business longer than I’ve been alive. Having her work with me will bring me up to a different level.”