by Len Lear
Mt. Airy caterer Herb Scott, 50, may be one of the region’s most talented chefs, but his impressive skills in the kitchen belie his humble beginnings. For several years Herb waited on tables and checked coats for his dad’s restaurant, Colony Park Inn, Germantown Avenue and School House Lane, until the restaurant went out of business in 1984. The day after Colony Park Inn closed, Herb answered an ad from The Commissary, owned by former long-time Chestnut Hill resident Steve Poses, who helped usher in the city’s Restaurant Renaissance in the late 1960s, and got a catering job.
“I think my dad, Herbert Augustus Scott, was the greatest guy in the world,” said Scott, “and Steve Poses reminded me very much of my dad. He was always warm, knowledgeable and helpful. I got the greatest education from him about every aspect of the catering business. He reinforced what my father instilled in me, that success is possible only through skill, hard work, professionalism and personal integrity.
“Poses’ assistant, Don Falconio, also taught me a great deal about the ‘front of the house.’ One thing he taught me is that honest work is never demeaning. He was a vice president of the company, but at 2:30 a.m. on a Sunday he’d get down on his hands and knees to clean the floors after a job was done. He taught the value of hard work by setting a good example.”
Scott, who attended Faith Tabernacle School, a private school affiliated with his church, worked for Poses for four years, but at the same time he began to travel with the wrong crowd. “I left my religion for several years, and that was a terrible mistake,” he declared. “I let praise go to my head, and I began thinking I was more than I really was. In fact, I basically wasted eight years until the age of 30.”
At that point Herb’s dad unexpectedly died, which had a life-transforming effect upon him. “I was ashamed because I was not living the way my dad had taught me,” revealed Herb with unusual candor. “I stopped traveling in the wrong crowd, and I got back to my religious roots. I got back to being honest and doing the right thing. As a result, I’m much happier now and can be of more service to people.”
For five years Herb worked for the Wood Corporation, a corporate food supplier in Allentown,, but he then decided in 1999 to go into business for himself. So Herb moved back to Mt. Airy and began soliciting individuals and companies for catering services. He started at the very bottom rung of the ladder, handing out flyers on the street and going door-to-door to hand out literature. His business was then called Your Personal Chef.
“Many people in Chestnut Hill would not open their doors when they saw my face,” recalls Herb, “and many people would lock their car doors as soon as I approached them, although I was well dressed. It hurt very badly because it was so obviously racial, and I had never experienced that before. I had nothing but rejection for several weeks, and I was on the verge of giving up.
“Then I prayed for guidance, though, and right after I prayed I went home and found a call on my machine. It was from a Chestnut Hill resident who said she wanted me to cook weekly meals for her family. I was so thrilled that I began making the meals for her right away (four dinners a week for four people each).” Scott had promoted his weekly meals because he thought the catering field was already over-saturated. Since fewer people are preparing meals at home from scratch than ever before, Scott surmised that his best chance of success was with the weekly meals program for area families.
However, after word-of-mouth began to circulate, the catering jobs also materialized.
For example, he was hired to cater a party for the African American History Museum. “I was told there would be 60 people,” he said, “so I prepared food for 150 to be on the safe side. Caterers often run out of food because too many people show up. I thought I was in great shape, but guess what! Over 200 people showed up. It was very scary, so I stepped back and said, ‘I’ll leave this one in God’s hands.’ Somehow, the guests all wound up with enough food.”
Scott has catered about 250 events in the past two years. His parties are usually for 75 to 200 people, but his biggest job was for 600 people at Volunteer Appreciation Day for the University of Pennsylvania. Almost all jobs come by word-of-mouth. He has catered events for such major clients as PECO, Greene Street Friends School, Germantown Friends School, American Red Cross, PA Academy of Fine Arts, Arcadia University, The Gap, Banana Republic, Bryn Mawr College, Cheltenham Arts Center, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Magazine, The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Toll Brothers, Drexel University, Verizon, United Way of Greater Pennsylvania and many more. Scott is quick to point out that despite the discouraging incidents he perceived to be racially inspired early in his career, 75 percent of his customers have been white.
Angela Cooper, program coordinator for Corporate Relations & Communications for PECO, said, “Scott does wonderful work, has a great professional attitude and always goes the extra two miles.”
Jean Griffith, of Lansdale, who hired Herb for a baby shower earlier this year, said, “The food, the presentation and the decorations were perfect. Everything went perfectly and smoothly, and that is because of Herb. He handled every situation that came up and made everyone feel good about it.”
In 2014 Scott also initiated a choo-choo train that he calls “Lil & Roy’s BBQ Smoker.” He has done at least 20 jobs with the train, and he now uses it all year long. (Full disclosure: We hired Herb to do a small get-together in our backyard last summer for friends — with the choo-choo train — and everyone there raved about the food and Herb’s personality.)
In July of 1998, Herb was married to a teacher at the Faith Tabernacle Baptist School. She has been an anchor of support. “Laurie (his wife) would be typing menus until 3 a.m., even though she’d have to get up at 5 a.m.,” said Scott. “No one else would have said yes to me. I wouldn’t even have said yes to me.”
The Scotts have three children — Lily, 14, Royal, 13, and Ian, 10.